A dance band. A blues band. A psychedelic band. A cowboy band. A cover band. A band of songwriters. A rock ‘n’ roll band.
The Good ol’ Grateful Dead are all that and more on Grateful Dead, the 1971 live album that was nearly named Skull Fuck and is known colloquially as Skull and Roses.
Back to the original quintet of guitarists Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh, drummer Bill Kreutzmann and keyboardist Pigpen following the departures of Tom Constanten (keys) and Mickey Hart (percussion) this iteration band is taut, yet expansive; earthy and spacey, performing numbers that range from three minutes to more than a quarter-hour.
Out in a 50th-anniversary edition with a remastered recording of the original LP and 11 tracks from the group’s July 2, 1971, show at Fillmore West, this 2.5-hour collection traverses originals like “Bertha” and “Wharf Rat,” with essential overdubs from keys man Merl Saunders; C&W classics such as “Me & Bobby McGee” and “Sing Me Back Home;” rooted-in-the-’60s pieces like “Cryptical Envelopment;” the foundational “Johnny B. Goode;” and Pigpen showcases “Good Lovin’,” and “Big Boss Man,” the latter replete with harp solos.
Heavy on repeats, the bonus material nevertheless features superior versions of “Mama Tried,” “The Other One” and the “Not Fade Away” -> “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” pairing that was popular at the time. Whether they’re more bracing due to their relative unfamiliarity or because the Dead picked inferior performances the first time around is unknowable. But when Weir and Pigpen trade exuberant vocals on the “NFA” reprise at the end of the bonus disc, the answer seems clearer.