With the news that the National are releasing a Grateful Dead tribute album, the Dead are on our mind. The Grateful Dead have always been known for their live shows, partially because there is a massive archive of recordings out there, with entire communities based around the recording and exchanging of tapes (loooong before the internet made that type of thing easy). Over their thirty year career, there have been countless recordings of the over 2,000 live shows they played so sifting through it all can get a bit overwhelming; just look at all their albums on Spotify (Spoiler: there's A LOT). But you needn't worry, fateful friends, we've whittled the selection down to four very unique, fantastic shows to get you started. However, know that this is only the beginning of trying to comprehend the long, strange trip that was the Grateful Dead.
Sunshine Daydream: 8/27/72 (Old Renaissance Faire Grounds, Veneta, Oregon)
Fresh off of their massively successful Europe '72 tour, the Grateful Dead reunited with the Merry Pranksters for what is considered the very last of the "Acid Tests" as part of a benefit for Ken Kesey's family creamery. It offers a wonderful peek into the lifestyle, complete with hoards of lost children (shout out to Carl) and a fire engine coming by to help combat the heat, plus some of the best, most concise jams from a band not necessarily known for conciseness.
Wake Up To Find Out: 3/29/90 (Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY)
What makes this show special is that the Dead are joined by saxophone legend Branford Marsalis for the what was supposed to be just "Bird Song" before they encouraged him to stay and play the entire second set, making it one of the jazziest, most distinct sounding Dead shows you'll ever hear. Seriously some of the most amazing freestyle improv I have ever heard. Keep your ears open for "Dark Star">"Drums">"Space">"Dark Star (Reprise)." It's some of Mickey and Billy's finest work.
The Closing Of Winterland: 12/31/78 (Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA)
A momentous event...the hometown legends The Dead played the closing of the iconic San Fran venue, Winterland on New Years of 1979. The recording is full of special guests beginning with Dan Aykroyd counting in the New Year, Ken Kesey on the thunder machine, and Bill Graham as the emcee. It was a rare simulcast event, and they played the classic "Dark Star" for the first time in almost 1,500 shows on their home turf. If you can get your hands on the DVD set, it's really a sight to behold, the three set, two encore show comes out to just over four hours of pure bliss.
Live At The Fillmore East, 2/11/69: 2/11/69 (Fillmore East, New York, NY)
An earlier set than the others on this list, and recorded during the Live/Dead tour, this show gives us a taste of the blues/psych roots of the Dead that are often overlooked. The Fillmore East, a now legendary venue that helped launch their careers, was the perfect place for them to show their chops to a crowd who was primarily there for the headliner, (and, according to stories, were disappointed by a drunk) Janis Joplin. Plus, it includes the first ever live recording of their version of "Hey Jude." It's a great bit of insight into the Dead before they had completely found their niche, but the seeds of what was to come are unmistakable and ever-evident.