Over the past nine years, I’ve tried to listen to a complete Grateful Dead show on every workday. Some days I don’t make it through the full performance and occasionally I don’t even have the time to choose, let alone play, a show, but I’ve been a pretty habitual listener.
When I first started doing this on a daily basis, I chose shows primarily from 1972 – 1977 because, in my opinion (which hasn’t changed), those were the Dead’s most consistently great years. But after a few years of essentially random show selection and a lot of repeat listening, I decided to try and only listen to shows that took place on the day of the year that mirrored the present day. I did this solely to open my ears to new things and it has only deepened my appreciation and love of the Grateful Dead.
Although I’ve been a daily listener for a while, my writing about the Grateful Dead shows that I listen to has only been going on (sporadically) for a couple of years. I started writing about these shows because I wanted a record of what I was hearing and I wanted to become a better writer. I had read somewhere that in order to improve, a writer should put pen to paper every day. So, I figured, why not write about Grateful Dead shows? I like the music a lot (obviously) and the material changes all of the time. How hard could it be to write a couple hundred words a day about a show that I’d just listened to?
It turns out that it’s not very hard to write reviews of Grateful Dead shows if you don’t mind being incredibly repetitive, especially when it comes to the use of adjectives. The art (and calling this thing art is really stretching it) is in trying to say very similar things in dissimilar ways, post after post, show after show. Because for all of the musical variety inherent in the Grateful Dead’s almost 30 year recorded history, there are still only a couple of ways to say “jammy” or “noodle”.
If I were writing a post a day about a random album from my CD collection, my vocabulary would probably be sufficient, because each performer in that collection has a different style. But when it comes to Dead shows, once you reach a certain point, you’re going repeat yourself. For instance, in one post I wrote that Nassau Coliseum “always seemed to bring out the best in the Grateful Dead”. A few months before that, I said that Chicago’s Uptown Theater “always seems to bring out the best in the Grateful Dead”. The statement is correct in both cases, but there are only so many ways to say it.
Trying not to duplicate descriptions of venues is easy, but not mirroring descriptions of songs is damn near impossible. Nine times out of ten, Brokedown Palace is going to be “sentimental”. Around and Around is almost always “rockin'” (except in 1976). Dark Star usually goes “out there”. You’ll stumble across these phrases a lot in these pages, and it’s entirely my fault as a writer that I can’t come up with 300 different words or phrases to describe what happens in Not Fade Away.
Having spent three paragraphs talking about duplicating descriptions, I have to say that when I’m actually writing a review, I don’t worry about repetition too much because this project is designed to be considered in pieces, one review at a time. If you believe WordPress, most of the visitors to this site come for one particular show and then they’re done. It’s incredibly rare for one person to sit down and read ten posts in a row. This frees me up to be lazy, and although I try to avoid it, sometimes Around and Around is just going to have to “rock”.
Although the site’s language is important, I also want to talk briefly about its philosophy. As I said before, I started this as a writing exercise to help me remember the Grateful Dead shows that I’ve listened to. But I also want this site to be a helpful reference for people who might be exploring the Grateful Dead and who don’t know what to listen to. Unfortunately, this requires me to provide my opinion, and opinions, as we all know, are like @%*$ holes. Everyone has one.
Reviews of shows on the Archive, where all of these shows are stored, tend to fall into three main categories. One type of review describes the experience of actually being at a particular concert, ie “I was on the rail tripping balls and Jerry looked at me and rainbows shot out of his face and I knew right then that I couldn’t go back to work on Monday.” Another type of review describes the experience of listening to the recorded show, but the reviewer often focuses on the quality of the taping job at the expense of actually talking about the music being played – something along the lines of “if the taper had just extended the mic boom another six inches and used those Beyer M88’s, there wouldn’t be as much low end noise and Terrapin Station would have been infinitely better”.
The third type of review, and what I’m generally aiming for here, is an actual discussion of the music, as recorded. This means that sometimes I do have to comment on recording quality, like when important parts of songs are missing or where the only available recording stinks. I’ll also touch on the band’s history, or the circumstances surrounding the show, but usually only when necessary to explain why things sound like they do or when something is particularly historical. These notes are essential to an evaluation of the music in a way that a discussion of the parking lot scene at Alpine Valley typically isn’t.
So there it is – the why and how of this site. I hope you enjoy it half as much as I’ve enjoyed creating it.