It's easy to write off the Grateful Dead—and I'll admit I did for years—as aging "hippies stuck in the Summer of Love," as a recent Wired article puts it. But this reputation belies a musical depth due in part, as we pointed out yesterday, to the band's lyrical sophistication. But it isn't only their lyricism, or their self-sustaining subculture, that has consistently won them generations of devoted followers born long after Jerry Garcia and company got their start at Ken Kesey's Acid Test parties. "Long before it became necessary (or cool) to do so," writes Wired, "the band embraced a DIY ethos in everything from manufacturing its own gear to publishing its own music distribution system. The Dead's obsession with technology was almost inseparable from the band's psychedelic ambition and artistic independence."
Not only has the Dead fostered what is surely the most widespread bootleg industry in existence, but they also "pioneered rock concert broadcasts," starting with a Carousel Ballroom show in 1968. Thanks to the spread of the Grateful Dead gospel through channels both official and unofficial, we have access to quality recordings of Jerry Garcia's last show with the Grateful Dead twenty years ago, and to their last shows as a band, played just this past week in a two-city, 50th anniversary "Fare Thee Well" series of concerts in Santa Clara and at Chicago's Soldier Field. The final shows are now largely available online thanks to the efforts of an enterprising "taper," as the diligent amateur recording engineers who capture each Dead show are called.
At the top, hear "The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)"—the first song on the band's 1967 debut album—taped at the July 4th farewell gig. (Head over to NYCtaper's site to hear/download the complete show.) And above, hear "Passenger" from the previous night. (Get the complete 7/3/2015 show here). The final July 5th show is sure to come online soon. Or you can find the shows on Archive.org here:
Opinions on these final gigs have varied widely, but no matter how uneven some of the performances, as always—scattered amidst the ramshackle jams—the Dead conjure trance states of interlocking rhythms and harmonies that make all the listening worthwhile. We may never get the chance to see them sprawl out live on stage again, but thanks to the stalwart taper community, nearly every moment of the Dead's 50 year career in rock and roll—from the confusingly noodly to the truly sublime—has been preserved for the ages. Thousands of concerts can be found at The Internet Archive, one of the best sanctioned Grateful Dead bootleg archives on the web. Don't miss it.