For the well-heeled hippie in your life, an 80-disc, 30-concert box set awaits. This four-disc summary picks one song from each of those gigs, themselves representing each of the Dead’s years until Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995.
The fiercely direct psychedelic blues of 1966’s Cream Puff War, where the Dead clearly sound like Jefferson Airplane’s Haight-Ashbury brethren, isn’t heard much in what follows. The trademark long jams have a signature sound thanks to Garcia’s bubbling ripples of guitar and Phil Lesh’s imaginative bass anchor, but the improvisation often doesn’t arrive anywhere remarkable.
Bob Weir shifts the mood with Estimated Prophet’s paranoid reggae, but it’s when Garcia steps to the front in the mid-80s, his voice and health already starting to be ravaged and frail, that the music is at its most intimate and exposed. Comes A Time (’86) is racked country soul, with Garcia insisting ‘only love can heal’ as feedback rises around him.
Morning Dew (’87), finds him fragile yet majestic, pushing what’s left of his voice to appreciative roars, inspiring his stinging lead guitar and the whole band towards a ragged, epic climax. It’s the highlight of a fair introduction to rock’s most prodigious live project.