[MUSIC REVIEW] Recent Jam Band Releases

Greg Yost - Browsing the Bins

Grateful Dead - Sunshine Daydream (cover)

Grateful Dead – Sunshine Daydream (Veneta, Oregon 8/27/72) (Rhino Records)

The Grateful Dead organization is known for regularly mining its live archives to reward fans with a steady stream of historic recordings.  Despite the extensive live catalog, there are still some “holy grails” left that demand the attention of every respectable Dead Head.  The band’s gig from August 27, 1972 and the film of that sweltering (both atmospherically and musically) performance is one of those cherished relics.

The performance was originally filmed and the resulting concert documentary, “Sunshine Daydream,” is officially released for the first time on this set.  The film is accompanied by the complete audio from the performance and the collection is available in a variety of formats and packages.

Both the film and audio recording capture a band in fine form, having just recently returned from the European tour which yielded the legendary songs on the tremendously popular Europe ’72 live compilation album.  That momentum is obvious throughout, especially on high-octane uptempo rockers like “Bertha,” “Greatest Story Ever Told,” “Sugar Magnolia” and “One More Saturday Night.”  Clearly the record-high temperatures were not slowing down the band.

A gorgeous and groovy “Bird Song” and a 30-minute exploratory journey courtesy of the band’s signature “Dark Star” jam are two more highlights from a collection packed with memorable moments.

The Rhino Records/Grateful Dead partnership has yielded some terrific packages and this is certainly no exception.  The beautifully remastered content on both the film and audio are bundled in a stunning Courtenay Pollock-designed tie-dye slipcase.  The set also includes a 40-page book with essays that nicely frame the historical significance of the performance.  I also highly recommend the two exclusive versions of this set sold on the band’s Dead.Net online store, which both include a documentary with new footage from the fabled Veneta show called “Grateful Days.”

Grateful Dead - Dave's Pick Vol. 8 (cover)

Grateful Dead – Dave’s Picks Series (Rhino Records)

In addition to special releases like “Sunshine Daydream,” the Grateful Dead organization also has a regular series of tasty archival recordings under the moniker of Dave’s Picks.  The series, which is named after its curator and official Grateful Dead archivist David Lemieux, follows in the wake of the popular but now retired Dick’s Picks and Road Trips series.  Dave’s Picks releases offer full-show recordings of hand-selected performances from deep within the band’s tape vaults.  The multi-disc sets come out on a quarterly basis and are always impressive.

The most recent releases in the series, Dave’s Picks Volume 8, is an excellent showcase of Lemieux’s impeccable taste and the series’ overall quality.   The November 30, 1980 show from Atlanta’s famed Fox Theatre is well-known in Dead Head circles and that night’s second set, which features a particularly memorable “Scarlet Begonias” > “Fire On The Mountain” sequence, is beloved.

Though certainly not as lavish as the Sunshine Daydream package, the 3-disc set with its detailed liner notes, photos and relics, is sure to please any fan of this band.

You can order Dave’s Pick series subscriptions exclusively on the Dead.Net store.

Jerry Garcia Band - GarciaLive Vol. 2 (cover)

Jerry Garcia – GarciaLive Volume Two: August 5th, 1990 Greek Theatre (Jerry Garcia Family LLC/ATO Records)

The glut of recent Dead-related archival releases is not limited strictly to sets from the band.  Earlier in 2013, the estate of Jerry Garcia, the group’s famed frontman/guitarist/songwriter/etc…, put out the second installment of the new GarciaLive series in conjunction with the ATO Records label.

GarciaLive Volume Two features a Jerry Garcia Band show from August 1990 show at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, CA – an evening highlighted by tremendous playing and an extra special guest musician.

The Jerry Garcia Band lineup at the time included Melvin Seals (keyboards) and John Kahn (bass) and they musical interplay on display throughout this recording is evidence of just how cohesive that core unit was.  Listening to the band rip through great cover songs like “Tangled Up In Blue” (Bob Dylan), “And It Stoned Me” (Van Morrison) and “Evangeline” (Los Lobos) you don’t get the sense that this is a side project – they are just too good together.

The real highlights on this set come when you add banjo master Béla Fleck to the mix for two songs.  Peter Rowan’s “Midnight Moonlight,” a song Jerry played as a bluegrass number when he was a member of Old And In The Way, and Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come” are both taken to a new level thanks to Fleck’s impeccable pickin’ skills

Phish - Niagara Falls (cover)

Phish – Niagara Falls (JEMP Records)

Phish’s latest live offering is a terrific 3-CD set capturing a complete show at the Niagara Falls Convention Center in New York from December 7, 1995.  Casual fans may already be familiar with this era in the band’s history if they saw “Bittersweet Motel,” a documentary film directed by Todd Phillips of “The Hangover” series fame.  That feature-length documentary included footage of shows from both before and after the Niagara Falls date.

Shows plucked from the band’s archive for official release are generally all going to be notable for either the quality of performance or historical significance, and this set happens to fit into both categories.  With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that the Niagara Falls show was a precursor to one of the band’s most epic performances, the beloved 2005 New Year’s Eve show at Madison Square Garden.  Therefore, the quality of this release is not surprising at all.  In fact, the combination of an outstanding setlist and the musical prowess on display throughout allows this show to escape a bit from the broad shadow cast by the same month’s year-ending extravaganza.

Although the 23-song release is chock full of great performances, some of the more special moments include a silky smooth transition between “The Curtain” and “AC/DC Bag” early in the show, a tremendous first-set block consisting of “Rift,” “Slave To The Traffic Light” and “Guyute,” a great second-set “Sparkle” > “Mike’s Song” > “Weekapaug Groove” and two set-closing a cappella numbers, the barbershop classic “Hello My Baby” and “Amazing Grace.”

Between the jams, the vocal showcases and a couple of bluegrass covers bookending the show – “The Old Home Place” and “Uncle Pen” – Niagara Falls gives you a terrific single-show snapshot of a band at the height of its quirky and entertaining powers.

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2 Responses to “[MUSIC REVIEW] Recent Jam Band Releases”

  1. Josh Aronoff
    January 30, 2014 at 9:55 pm #

    Sweet! Some of these I knew about, some not! I’ll definitely be checking out the Phish one… I LOVED Bittersweet Motel.

    We are gonna talk about this on Super Dad Show.

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