The Dead at their improvisational best
When the Grateful Dead’s stage presence failed to materialise in the studio after three albums, debts and doubts began to build up at the record label.
A live album, then, represented a not only cost-cutting exercise but an opportunity for the band to show what they were capable of.
Expanding Dark Star into a brooding, freeform epic over seven times the length of the original laid the perfect start. At 23 minutes, this is as close as it gets to a definitive version: the guitars drift instinctively into darkness, the cymbals sound like jet planes, and neither the band nor the listeners are sure where it’s headed.
That propulsive momentum carries over into a sequence of rock, blues, gospel and bluegrass so seamless that it never slips into over-indulgence and by the time And We Bid You Goodnight draws the set to a close, the ‘trip’ has been encapsulated perfectly.
As an excursion into controlled excess, Live/Dead not only captures the essence of the Dead at a vital point of transition, but its sheer cohesion makes it a contender for one of the best live albums ever made.