In one way, 1973 was a terrible year for the Grateful Dead. Keyboard player Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan died in March, and without him their blues side would shrivel. In October, the jazz-tinged album Wake Of The Flood was their first visit to the US Top 20 since 1970’s American Beauty.
In between, with the new material recorded, they returned to the road. Recorded with exceptional clarity by famed Dead sound engineer Owsley ‘Bear’ Stanley, Here Comes Sunshine 1973 features five concerts from May and June. Its centrepiece, the second of two Robert F Kennedy Stadium concerts, is also released on its own as RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C. 6/10/73, (9/10).
The Robert F Kennedy show is unquestionably a peak, even before Allman Brothers Dickey Betts and Butch Trucks join in towards the end of the five hours. There’s little banter beyond some apologies for undetectable technical shortcomings, but there is almost half an hour of Dark Star, where it’s turned inside out and turned right back around again, and there’s a version of Woody Guthrie’s Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad where Jerry Garcia emphatically states his case to be regarded as a great guitarist.
As with all great Dead, this is music to wallow in. Nevertheless, it’ll still take your breath away.