Two months after the passing of co-founder Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, the Grateful Dead dove deep into the music as a means of mourning, celebrating and honoring what had previously been accomplished and what could now be created in the present moment. The band’s musical palette widened with the addition of jazz along with rock, folk, country and R&B. On the 17 CDs that make up Here Comes Sunshine 1973 the band members show that they gained an understanding of how to incorporate the seemingly disparate genres into one stylistic, crystalline musical gumbo that came to represent the Dead’s own distinct place in the music world.
The latest installment in the San Francisco icon’s live box set releases produced by Vault Archivist David Lemieux brings together five previously unreleased concerts — Iowa State Fairgrounds, Des Moines, IA (5/13/73), Campus Stadium, UCSB, Santa Barbara, CA (5/20/73), Kezar Stadium, San Francisco, CA (5/26/73) and Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, Washington, D.C. (6/9/73) and (6/1//73). Both RFK dates were recorded by sound visionary, Owsley “Bear” Stanley.
The legendary June 10th show, which includes a near hour long sit-in by Dickey Betts and Butch Trucks of the Allman Brothers Band, is also available separately as a 4-CD format as well as digitally and as a limited-edition 8-LPs.
The set features material that would be recorded that summer for “Wake of the Flood” including “Mississippi Half-Step Toodeloo,” “Row Jimmy,” “Stella Blue,” “Eyes Of The World,” and, of course, “Here Comes Sunshine.” Early live versions of “China Doll,” “Loose Lucy,” and “Wave That Flag” (which eventually transformed into “U.S. Blues”) also make the setlists long before they are recorded in the studio for the Dead’s 1974 album “From the Mars Hotel.”
The new material resides well alongside the songs played on the 1972 European tour (“Jack Straw,” “Tennessee Jed,” “Brown-Eyed Women”), Chuck Berry perennials (“Promised Land,” “Around And Around”), cowboy country (“Big River,” “El Paso,” “The Race Is On”).
To understand the Grateful Dead one must recognize that the parts are equal to the end result that’s created. These recordings consistently display seven musicians onstage whose individuality, personality and background morphed collectively into one sonic organism. It doesn’t make sense and doesn’t have to make sense. All that’s necessary is to listen and its joyfulness takes over.
Throughout these shows the band sounds dialed-in and solid. As you’re already hooked by the songwriting, musical interplay and tapestry of notes, the band then takes you on exquisite journeys — from “Here Comes Sunshine” and “Playing in the Band” in Iowa to a roller coaster ride for the mind at Kezar with a buoyant “Truckin’” to a dive into deep space on “The Other One” then a jubilant “Eyes of the World” and eventually landing to the delicate strains of “China Doll” plus Donna Jean Godchaux gets to sing on “You Ain’t Woman Enough” rather than strain to be heard over six electrified instruments, and, of course, the entire second night co-headlining with the Allman Brothers Band at RFK — a legendary nearly five-hour performance with an opening statement, “Morning Dew,” that rips your heart out through lengthy workouts on “Bird Song,” “Here Comes Sunshine” and a cosmic traveling “Dark Star.”
As per any of these massive box sets, the recordings are handled with extreme audio care so that the clarity and separation of instruments and voices give listeners the absolute best “seat” in the venue. It’s another triumph in the ongoing series of live documents to the Grateful Dead’s timelessness and enduring greatness.