JPG: Well, you nicely segued to what I was about to bring up. What’s interesting is that I noticed while listening to the new box set that Jeffrey Norman really caught the ambience of those shows. From attending stadium shows, it really felt like I was there yet it’s done with sonic clarity.
DL: I totally agree. That is a credit to a lot of things. It’s Jeffery’s mixing for certain and he mixed at Bobby’s TRI studios in San Rafael. It’s a studio that’s, first of all, it’s an outstanding studio, but it’s also a studio that Jeffrey knows very well now. John Cutler, who recorded these shows, all five of them, John had been working with the Dead for many years. He’d recorded so much material with the Dead — live setting, studio — that he knew how to capture the band’s sound as good as possible and the recording equipment that they were using,the Le Mobile recording truck for three of the five shows and another truck for the other.So, you’ve got all that and then you’ve got Dave Glasser, who’s been working with us very closely for many years. He did the audio mastering. Plangent Processesdo the audio restoration, which is essentially bringing the tapes back to life, bringing them back to as good as they can possibly sound and as close to what they originally were recorded as. Plus, you’ve got Dan Healey’s live sound, which was outstanding. And then you’ve got the Dead’s equipment onstage, which was also excellent. So, there was a confluence of many, many things that allowed these recordings to sound as good as they do. And they sound unmistakably like excellent Grateful Dead recordings.
the sound, and Jeffrey really was able to get an unbelievablelive sound
out of thesein terms of the ambience of the room. And this is a
stadium, which is about as un-intimate as you can get in the concert
setting. Any band will tell you that they would certainly prefer to play
theaters. Barring that, they would love to play arenas. But do they are in the
Giants Stadium.I saw three of these five shows and I remember as a
16-year-old thinking, “How is this possible? How are the Dead making this 66,00
seat venue feel so intimate?” Clearly, you look around and you’re in a stadium,
you’re not in a beautiful little theater, but, boy, did it ever sound and look
and feel good.
JPG: The clarity makes you feel the humidity that was in the air at that time. The other thing about it is the band sounded like they had a take-no-prisoners attitude with these shows. They are very forceful. They met the challenge of playing in a stadium.
DL: I think you’re right. The nuances of a theater or a smaller arena it might be a little lost. I also think that we’re getting the Dead at three very distinct peaks. In ’87 they were flying incredibly high because of In the Dark,and they were playing well and Jerry was back from his illness. In ’89, some of my favorite stuff, and I know from talking to band members, they feel the same way about ’89. Then ’91, you’ve got this resurgence of energy, largely I think owing to Bruce Hornsby being there and also Vince. It’s certainly not to say anything has grown even remotely stale with Brent there. It wasn’t that at all but Brent was certainly by the very end, his last few shows, you can sense something was up. Just like Jerry maybe in ’86 and Jerry again in summer ‘92, musically there was some good stuff happening but you could just sense that they needed a rest. In Brent’s case, unfortunately, it was the ultimate rest for him.
I do feel that these are three very, very distinct periods of Grateful Dead peaking. It’s interesting. I talked to Cutler about this once,. The Dead had an uncanny ability, I thought, to record when they knew they were playing well. It’s just like the Jerry Band. When they recorded those two live Jerry Band shows, the How Sweet It Is albumand then the double album that came before that, the double CD in 1990. It’s the same thing where Jerry Band played well for decades but they were at a really good peak and that’s when Cutler said or maybe Jerry did, I don’t know, “We’re peaking right now. Let’s record six shows.” Thankfully, those six shows became those two live albums.
So, the Dead similarly in ‘89, they knew they were playing incredibly well. It was time to record a live album, which ultimately became Without a Net. They recorded a lot. They recorded three entire tours for Without a Net.
agree. It’s very forceful playing. I don’t want to say aggressive but it’s
certainly very focused and that’s not easy when you’ve got 60,000 people
looking at you and some of these shows began at daylight hours which is…I’m
always a fan of darker shows, meaning indoor shows with the lights focused on
the band. I find, as a fan, when it’s an outdoor show and it’s still light out,
I’m a little distracted. You can look around. You can look at the sky. You can
look at the people. So, I totally agree with you that the band was incredibly focused
and assertive, maybe aggressive, maybe forceful, but they
were playing incredibly well too.
JPG: The ‘87 show was with Bob Dylan. I looked at a setlist and they ended up doing an encore after the Dylan portion of “Touch of Grey” and “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” Was Dylan on those and that’s why they’re not included?
Those were with Dylan and we would have included them otherwise. So, those were
nonstarters. I’ve been with the Dead for a little while now and we have looked
into — certainly not a conversation I had — but we have looked into putting
out something of Dylan and the Dead. It’s just really more of a nonstarter
where it’s just never been really discussed too seriously because I don’t think
it’s going to happen; certainly not any time soon. So, the Dylan stuff was not
a possibility on this, which is in a way it’s very fine. If ever the Dylan and
the Dead stuff does come out, it should be a little more separate rather than
to be part of this 14 CD thing of the Dead from three different years and then
a 15th CD of the Dead with Dylan. This isn’t the right project for that. I
don’t even know if it’s possible and I would think it’s probably not.
JPG: I imagine part of the hang-up is whether Rhino releases it as part of the Dead catalog or Columbia does as part of the Dylan Bootleg Series. I’m always hopeful for that to happen someday because I listened to the rehearsals for the Dylan and the Dead tour and they sounded good together. It would be interesting at some point if there’s a more expanded version of the Dylan and the Dead release.
DL: I hope so too. I know that when David Gans produced Postcards of the Hanging in 2002 and that was the Dead’s live covers of all of the Bob Dylan material. Also, David was fortunate to be able to get the Dylan management and Dylan to agree to include one song from those rehearsal sessions. I remember going through those rehearsals. We made mixdowns of everything or at least two-track. I remember hearing quite a bit of it with David and it was a little overwhelming in terms of how good it was. It was a very tough choice to find the one song that David was able to put on that album because there was definitely a lot of rehearsal stuff, half-attempts of songs and things like that but there was some really good material in the rehearsals.
heard all of the Dylan and the Dead sets from the ‘87 shows and, while I don’t
know about complete sets, but there is certainly some very good material
throughout those six shows. There’s a good amount of material from the
shows that maybesomething else could be done. I hope so. I’m a huge Dylan
fan. I love the Dead in that era and Jerry plays pedal steel a little bit.
That’s kinda cool, too.
JPG: The other thing about ‘87 that I thought was interesting. They ended the second set in ’87, the first nights of ’89 and ’91 with the same two songs — “Throwing Stones” and “Not Fade Away.”
DL: It is. It was a pretty common set closer at the time, the “Throwing Stones”>”Not Fade Away.” It’s interesting when I look at Grateful Dead setlists I’m always amazed that some things happen in the same city a year apart. There’s this weird confluence sometimes of a song…it happens more often than not where let’s say a song like “Shakedown Street” is played very rarely in a certain year, like four times and four times the next year, but it happens to be the same city thatthey play it or they play “Comes a Time,” another very rare song, and they play it again or “Morning Dew.”
I’ve noticed a lot of those little things. I certainly know the Dead weren’t looking at setlists before a show saying, “What did we play here two years ago when we were here? Let’s do something like that.” It’s not like that at all. There weren’t that many closers in this era. There was “Sugar Mag,” “Around and Around,” “Good Lovin’” “Turn On Your Lovelight, occasionally “Morning Dew.” Then, “Throwing Stones”>“Not Fade Away” would be one of the primary five or six main closers. These are incredibly powerful versions. The “Throwing Stones”>“Not Fade Away” from the ‘87 show is one of my favorites. I really really love it.
JPG: I just found it as a weird coincidence. Back to sound clarity, is that Mickey playing triangle during “West L.A. Fadeaway” in ’87?
DL: It could be a sample, too. “West L.A. in particular and “Hell in a Bucket” were two songs from In the Dark that there were a lot of samples on. I saw some versions in ‘87 of “Hell in a Bucket” where you have the whip cracking and the motorcycle revving. So, it could be a sample or it could be Brent or it could be Mickey doing something percussive, but I know what you mean.
With the multi-track if something is a very appropriate part of the song, which this one was, Jeffrey can accentuate it and make it sound where it should be. That’s the one thing that Jeffrey Norman is always conscious of is to not put things anywhere that don’t belong at that level. He’s very good at that.
Generally, Jeffrey would do a mix a day, a song a day, and he would send me the song at night when he leaves the studio, and then I would listen to it. Dave Glasser would listen to it too. Dave was an incredible resource on this, both as a mastering engineer and a Deadhead and an audio guy. So, we could listen back, Dave and I and overnight send Jeffrey our notes. Could you please turn the bass up a little bit or, like you’re saying, the triangle? Can you make those a little louder or less loud? Then, Jeffrey would come in in the morning and the mix would already be set up the way he left it the previous night. He would just be able to very easily tweak those things that we sent notes on and then he has an hour of work to do to do that, lays down the mix and then goes into the next song. Spends eight or 10 hours working on it and the same thing where that night he would send us that song.
It’s a pretty amazing system. I loved working on this. I love working on all multi-track projects with Jeffrey because it’s a lot of communication and that’s what it really comes down to is communication. Having faith that Jeffery’s first mix is going to be generally 95% there, if not even a 100%. There’s oftentimes, the mix will come back and I’ll be listening, I’ll be looking to critique something and there’s nothing to add to it. That happens quite a bit where we get to that point.
JPG: Is he sending it to you
in FLAC or something else?
DL: Usually a wav file, which is, basically, we’re talking about CD quality, which is good enough for me to really hear everything. I always give everything two primary listens. My firstlisten is very loud on the speakers. That way I get a good sense of “Okay, how is this feeling? Am I getting the stereo of picture that I want? Am I getting the low end that I want?” All those kinds of things. Then, I give it a headphone listen and that’s where the real critiquing comes in. The nuances of saying, “Could you turn this up, this down?” Basically, it’s a headphone listen for the micro stuff and the macro level is the big speaker listen. I really love the process, for sure.
JPG: The 6/17/91 show, it has “Dark Star” weaving throughout both sets. I noticed that some places list it and some don’t. Since the song or a verse was never played, what was the reasoning behind listing it and did you ever find out why they did what they did?
DL: If it’s the distinct theme, for instance, the big one that occurs in the first set is very distinctly a “Dark Star” thematic thing. The few in the second set that are distinctly…and there’s a big one in the second set where they don’t do the vocals but it’s clearly a “Dark Star” jam.
It certainly isn’t arbitrary but it’s to break up between the songs where there is a distinct “Dark Star” thematic jam, whether it’s a minute-and-a-half or the bigger one that’s several minutes long. It’s to break it up so that it’s clearly not “Uncle John’s Band” or “New Speedway Boogie” or “Truckin’.” It’s the jam that comes before or after those. So, it’s really more about if it’s distinctly not the song preceding it then we would give it a “Dark Star.”
“Dark Star” is a very clear chord progression. When it happens it’s not just a little bit of spacey segue music. It’s clearly something “Dark Star” related and we figure that this would be the show to do it.
I heard it a lot with Phil Lesh & Friends in the early 2000s where a lot of the songs were joined by very distinct, very unique jams but they didn’t have a thematic unity like the way the “Dark Star” does. So, it’s very different than something Phil would be doing where he would be joining a lot of songs, particularly second set songs with very distinct jams. They were not by any means just the song ending and then the next song beginning. It was definitely a case of jamming with something but something that was created and was unique at the time that I would not venture to label whereas these are very distinctly “Dark Star.”
The one thing that really blew me away about the “Dark Star.” I knew this show. John, you were listening to tapes in ’91. You know this show. Once we got into listening to the nuances of it — and this is something I might have noticed back when I used to listened to this show a lot – but I really picked up on it is that there’s a number of times throughout the show in the middle of songs where Bruce in particular drops in the “Dark Star” riff. And it’s the most amazing thing because if you listen to a song that’s got its structure and all of a sudden out of nowhere Bruce will drop in the “Dark Star” riff. So, it was clearly on the mind whether they walked onstage and said, “Hey, let’s do a bunch of “Dark Star” themes tonight.” I don’t know. I don’t know if there was that much thought into it.
One thing I’ve noticed with Grateful Dead videos and watching them up close now that we’ve released a lot and we’ve done a lot of Meet Up At The Movies, I’m sure a lot of people have seen these…there’s a lot of eye contact. A lot of the Grateful Dead is based on eye contact and, I think, a lot of it would be something like that where the riff would be played, whether it’s by Bruce or Bobby going into it, and then somebody looks at another and they just pick up on it.
I really don’t know. I get asked that a lot. “Do they plan this?” I really have no idea. I wish I did but I don’t know what the Dead planned or did not plan, especially when it’s something this unique. It’s one thing “Did they plan “Scarlet”> “Touch” > “Fire” in 1984 when they played it a couple of times. I don’t know. Possibly. Probably. But in this case when it’s this unique and different, I really don’t know.
JPG: Speaking of eye contact, when I was watching the 6/17/91 film, it was interesting to see Bruce’s facial expression and interactions with Jerry early on in the first set. He almost looked tentative or even shy but Garcia would just smile and stare at him in an encouraging manner and Bruce would eventually let loose with a solo that got more and more assertive.
DL: I know the look you’re talking about. Bruce by this point had been, I won’t say in the Dead, I don’t know if he ever was officially in the Dead but he certainly was with the Dead for about a year at this point, almost. So, he’s certainly grown comfortable. But remember Bruce is coming from a place where the last seven or eight years he’s led his own band and has done it very successfully. Now, he’s sitting in with an ensemble that has been playing together at this point for over 25 years.
I know the look you’re talking about but I’ve always seen it as Bruce…how do I put this? The Dead are clearly professional but Bruce is the consummate professional. Let’s put it that way. I think that look on his face is one of intense focus. Bruce is intensely focused on what’s going on onstage and he wants to make sure that every note he plays matters.
I remember being in the studio once with Jeffrey and he was tuning the speakers, which means basically getting the EQ up to a level he wants for general stereo playback. I guess you could call it tuning the room. Sometimes, he would play Steely Dan. Sometimes he would play Paul McCartney. I’d say, “Why did you specifically choose these?” And he said, “Because literally every single sound on these albums was put there for a reason.” There were no wasted things, no arbitrary “Lets put this sound in or note.” I’d like to think this is true for every album that anybody puts out. I find that with Bruce too. He is incredibly conscious that everything he plays matters.
So, the look you’re talking about, maybe it is shy or maybe it’s him not quite stepping up the way Jerry would want him to do but I also look at it as very very focused, and he really was focused. It was incredible how focused he was.
JPG: What was touching was seeing Jerry’s smiling encouragement and Bruce rewarding that.
DL: It reminds me a lot of the Jerry/Brent intimacy. If you look at the Buffalo ’89 show, just before the Giants Stadium ’89 shows, there’s a version of “Not Fade Away” on the Truckin’ Up to Buffalo video and I’m sure it’s online somewhere. That’s the one where you can very clearly — and there’s dozens of examples like this — but the rapport between Jerry and Brent is so tight. These are two people who loved listening to each other. I think that’s what’s happening too with a lot of the Bruce era Grateful Dead where Bruce is so intently listening to Jerry and the band. I love it. Watching that interaction…that’s what I love about the videos.
The Dead certainly aren’t theatrical the way that some bands are. They’re not hopping around the stage. They’re not doing too much. Yeah, Bobby does some fun stuff. Otherwise, what I’m watching are the nuances of the interaction. Watching how these six guys, seven in this case, created this music that is so perfectly unified and, for the most part, precise while at the same being something that was not overly rehearsed by any means except for 26 years of rehearsing live onstage. It’s amazing. I love Grateful Dead interactions.
JPG: Well, thanks for your work and getting the music out in the right way so it sounds good.
DL: Thank you. I really do appreciate that, really, kudos to Jeffrey and Dave Glasser and John Cutler for recording it. This goes back to all of the work that we do. While some things may not sound quite the same because they’re not from a multi-track, everything we do is as good as it could possibly be, and that’s something that is really a credit to Jeffrey and how much he cares about the audio and Rhino for allowing us to spend so much time on audio.
A multi-track mix when you’re doing a song a day…and how many songs are in this? Probably close to 100, maybe even more. So, you’re talking four months of mixing plus surround sound for the DVD/Blu-ray of the final show. Studios are not cheap, even though it’s Bob’s studio (TRI Studios), it’s certainly a commercial venture for him. The record company pays for this stuff. We’re in very good hands with Rhino because they understand and they care as much as we do. And I mean that. Rhino knows that if we’re coming to them with a certain budget as it relates to the audio that we’ve done our due diligence and this is in order to make it sound as good as possible.
Mark Pinkus, Doran Tyson and Yvette Ramos, this is an incredible crew of people who understand that with the Dead, performance quality is number one, sound quality is very very close behind and treating the fans well is right up there with all of that. As Deadheads, I’m very grateful of the situation that we have with Rhino. I really am. Every day I get to work with these guys is a gift because they trust us, they respect us and they respect the process.