How do you properly evaluate a Grateful Dead show from 1968 when they often played the same bunch of songs (give or take a few) every night at a consistently amazing level? Well, I guess you can tell a bad 1968 show if you hear one, but, at least so far as it comes to this site, I’ve never heard a bad one. I’ve never even heard a mediocre show from 1968. They’re either otherworldly or really, really good. This one is otherworldly.
The whole show is one big highlight reel – there aren’t any clunky moments at all. Certain instruments stand out today – Phil, Jerry and the drummers in particular – especially the drummers, who are dialed into some other realm from the moment the recording kicks off, midway through Cryptical Envelopment. The drumming in the brilliant Alligator is also ferocious, and what to say about where Jerry goes during that song? You’ve got to figure it out for yourselves because my description ain’t going to work. Phil, meanwhile, is everywhere, doing everything.
And this is only the first part of the show. The second set has a gooey Dark Star (we had to listen to Dark Star on a day with a total American eclipse) and a St. Stephen>The Eleven that will melt your face, especially The Eleven. Just when you think things can’t get any more intense, Jerry lowers the boom with a skull-burning Death Don’t Have No Mercy, and then it’s time for Pigpen. And oh boy, do the boys let it rip behind Pigpen tonight, with a huge Lovelight (truncated on the tape, unfortunately) and an In The Midnight Hour encore that really brings Bob Weir’s guitar front and center for a time, which is unusual in 1968 recordings.
This is the real deal – play it loud: https://archive.org/details/gd68-08-21.sbd.cotsman.17355.sbeok.shnf