Bands I Pretended to Like for Boys. Part Five: Grateful Dead


Hello I am Opinions and I am on the Internet.

How can you write so many words about the Dead and not mention the huge rift between their live shows and their, in this Deadhead's extremely informed opinion, infinitely superior live shows?

I have listened to thousands of hours of Dead shows. I can name six distinctly differently performances of Deal off of the top of my head. I can explain, in excruciating detail, the huge differences in Pigpen, Keith, and Brent. I can also explain why most of 1990-1995 Dead (relatively) sucked.

Yet I have not once listened to a single Dead album (other than Terrapin Station, which, when played live, rarely deviates from the studio performance significantly) from start to finish, ever. Let me be the first Deadhead to say: studio Dead mostly sucks (with a handful of exceptions like Ripple and Touch of Grey and Box of Rain).

On the other hand, a quick and possibly inaccurate Google search tells me they played around 2,300 shows, and I dare you to find a single one that objectively sucks. Except for the one in Europe when they ate too much hash before playing -- that one doesn't count. As a live band, the Dead were ridiculously consistent over their nearly 30 years of playing their core group. I dare you to find another band that has played nearly as many shows with nearly as much consistency with so few people involved. Phish? Nope. They've played a lot of shows and I loves me some Phish, but all we have to do is listen to 60 seconds of Stash from Coventry to prove that some of them were significantly shittier than others.

In closing, please, when discussing the Dead, be mindful of how bad their studio albums are when compared to their live shows. I realize it is harder to find a "good" live show (hint: they are all good) to listen to than just grabbing a copy of American Beauty or WALSTIB, but maybe try any of the Dick's Picks or "From the Vault" series. Or go straight to the heart of the matter, and grab a copy of May 8th, 1977. I dare any man or woman or other to listen to the performance of Brown Eyed Women from that show and tell me it is not the work of a very talented group of musicians.

Anyway, I like your column :)
"this Deadhead's extremely informed opinion,"


"I have not once listened to a single Dead album (other than Terrapin Station, ....) from start to finish, ever."

so in conclusion I can say

"studio Dead mostly sucks,"


i like your name! But we both know you need to see a neurologist before I can take you seriously.
"Everything the Dead did was right on the edge of being hokey, right on the edge of veering off."

This statement explains, in a way I never really understood to myself, my ambivalence about the Dead.

For what it's worth, I love the acoustic stuff Jerry did (e.g. the albums with the mandolinist buddy, e.g. "Not for Kids Only"), but the jam-band sound just never excited me. Maybe it will in ten years...?
Well done. Slog commenters don't do well with earnestness but please keep these coming.

Man (maaaaaaaaan), I've given the Dead as fair a shake as I can. A friend even pushed those first studio albums on me—know that anything you could describe as "jamming" would be a non-starter—that was closer to what I liked, and... nope. Nothing. I did like that one time Freaks and Geeks used of "Box of Rain", however. That was nice.

Also, Cherry Garcia is great.
American Beauty is probably the tightest, easiest to understand. quintessential Grateful Dead album. It is a bit like Who's Next or Sgt. Pepper's. It is the album you hand to someone if you want to get them to like the band, without simply catering to their taste.

My own favorite Dead album is Terrapin Station, which puts me at odds with a lot of dead heads. I simply like that period in general (my favorite Stones album is Black and Blue). There was something about that early 70s period that I find really appealing. There is a slickness there that a lot of people didn't like, but when those old experienced hippie bands incorporated that style, I think it was fantastic. Terrapin, Blues for Allah, Shakedown Street -- all gems in my book.

As @1 said, though, the best work has to be contained in their live shows. Unlike the Beatles, or just about any band, they simply spent way more time on the road then in the studio. A lot of there music was certainly experimental -- they took a lot of chances -- but when they hit something, it was magic.
The Dead are the only, the ONLY jamband I can tolerate, and I like them a lot. ALL the others give me hives. And formerly decent bands that have rebranded themselves as jambands also give me hives.
oh great, you forced me to google bob weir's tiny shorts. Another reason to wish the Dead would have done the difficult but necessary job of shit-canning him about 1968. They were always hobbled by the "Bobby problem"- the weak link.
I can't even convey the magnitude of my hatred for The Talentless Dead. I will be grateful when every one of them is underground. Buried. That goes for all the thousands of stupid, talentless "jam bands" that followed in their footsteps.
I forgot to add is that I think the Grateful Dead is not a good low fidelity band. There are plenty of bands that sound great on a cheap radio (Rolling Stones come to mind). But with two drummers, two guitarists, keyboards, bass and who knows how many singers, the sound gets very muddled unless you listen to the songs on a good stereo. Just about every album was recorded very well, and even most bootlegs were recorded at a very level. Partly it was because it really wasn't a bootleg. The Dead didn't mind if you recorded their shows, so folks would bring in the most sophisticated mics and recording tools available (recording digitally well before most people had digital equipment in their home).

@5 -- Without knowing your taste in music, it is hard to recommend something. Personally, I didn't like the Dead that much, but being in the company of a lot of stoners with a lot of free time on my hands helped. I am not a big folk/bluegrass fan, and the Dead definitely qualify. I don't personally like Workingman's Dead for that reason, even though it is really popular. The first few albums are OK, but you have to really like psychedelic music or bluegrass. The albums I mentioned are probably the most widely approachable if you like blues and soul music. I recommend two covers. First, the Marvin Gaye song, Dancing in the Street. While none of the Dead can come close to singing it as well as Martha and the Vandellas, the percussion on that song is a blast. The second one I would check out is Good Lovin'. Neither is quintessential Dead, but who gives a fuck. Sometimes the songs you like the most from a band are nothing like most of their material.
hey Kathleen, thank you for your interesting & well-written new column. i've been enjoying each installment, whether or not i agree. an ancient Deadhead (1st show '72, etc), i sincerely hope you saw the band. you should do whatever you can to see the new version Dead & Co on this summer's tour. also Phil & Friends.