Beyond Description (1973Ė1989)
Part Eight: Dead Set
The Music Box's #8 specialty package for 2004
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2004, Volume 11, #12
Written by John Metzger
Four months after the release of Reckoning, the Grateful Dead issued Dead Set, which culled additional material from the groupís 15th anniversary performances in San Francisco and New York in October 1980. Meant to highlight the electric aspects of the bandís music, Dead Set fell victim to the limitations of vinyl recording media. Although the double-album attempted to mirror, at least in part, the structural make-up of the ensembleís concerts, the end result not only was devoid of continuity, but it also frequently felt like an inferior remake of Europe í72. In essence, when removed from the lyrical context of a particular show, the songs lost the thread of thought that bound them together, and the final package did little to build a new framework for these disparate parts.
Unfortunately, these problems continue to plague Dead Set even in its new incarnation as a double CD. To be fair, however, these deficiencies are so deeply rooted within the albumís architecture that they only could be rectified fully through a complete reconfiguration of the collection, one that would alter the affair to the point where all that it shared with its original format was a name. That said, many of the individual songs ó the delicate refrains of Friend of the Devil, Candyman, and Loser, for example ó that appeared on Dead Set were remarkably well-performed, and not surprisingly, the outing was most successful in highlighting the more commercially viable facets of the Grateful Dead. From traditional folk (Samson and Delilah) to classic blues (Little Red Rooster), from groovy funk (Feel Like a Stranger) to lilting reggae (Fire on the Mountain), and from tender ballads (Brokedown Palace) to straight-ahead rock (Passenger), the effort covered nearly all of the bases in demonstrating both the bandís eclectic nature as well as its ability to paint poetically lyrical portraitures of Americana.
Where Dead Set suffered, however, was in capturing the Grateful Deadís freewheeling spirit. Simply put, there were no mind-bending journeys to be found on the outing, and hence, the bandís ability to creatively twist a tune into knots, dart through its entangled web, and discover an entire, new universe on the other side ó a significant piece of the groupís enigmatic essence ó was utterly missing. In a sense, this is what the bonus material featured on the newly minted second disc seeks to regain, and while it, too, fails to build links among the collectionís individual compositions, it does, at least, prevail in restoring some semblance of cosmic playfulness to Dead Setís contents. For starters, the torrential rendition of Let It Grow that opens the proceedings packs more punch than the entirety of the original album, and followed closely by a mind-bending saunter through Sugaree, thereís little doubt that the effort has been improved considerably. Elsewhere, the pairing of Lazy Lightning and Supplication is punctuated by the probing interlude between the songs; Row Jimmy is tenderly colored with light, airy shades, and the result is absolutely breathtaking; Bob Weir growls his way through a potent C.C. Rider; and although itís a little shaky at first, Shakedown Street quietly explodes in a swirling blast of blazing guitar and steamy rhythms. Beautifully remastered, Dead Set now sparkles with a significantly enhanced sonic clarity, and even if it still isnít the definitive concert collection by the Grateful Dead, there are far too many worthwhile moments contained on the refurbished outing for it to continue to be ignored completely. Ĺ
This is the eighth installment of a ten-part
series, which will examine Beyond Description (1973Ė1989) on
an album by album basis. The entire set is rated:
Beyond Description (1973-1989)
Beyond Description (1973-1989) is available from Barnes & Noble.
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Dead Set [REMASTERED] is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box