Thursday, March 11, 2010

Grateful Dead (Skeleton Live) 1971

I always liked this particular live record by the Dead. Stripped down to a five piece with one drummer, bass, two guitars, and Pigpen's occasional keyboards, they sound terrific. I actually should be talking about only half the record. The last time I listened to side two (a pretty good The Other One, as I recall) and side four (Wharf Rat, Not Fade Away, Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad) was a while back, and I didn't even do the responsible thing and listen to them for this entry.

Anyway, sides one and three are well worth the price of admission, and whatever you spend to buy this music. Bertha opens the record on a high note, a grand Dead rocker with a twisted hook in the chorus that's rhythmically difficult, even for these guys. Mama Tried follows and they do a wonderful arrangement of Merle's classic. The oft recorded Playing In The Band is presented in a nice, relatively concise version.

Side three is the Dead at their best. Me And My Uncle is a tale of familial deceit that is both gruesome and hilarious. Big Boss Man is the definitive version of this blues classic. Me & Bobby McGee, with Bob Weir giving one of his best vocal leads- the song is perfect for him- is almost as good as Janis' original, albeit in a totally different stylistic interpretation. The Dead were a really good covers band most of the time. A rocking (real rocking, not just Dead rocking) Johnny B. Good finishes things off in grand style.

The original vinyl is wonderful sounding, and probably has more bass content than is actually needed. It's warm and casual, and it sounds excellent. I've never heard the CD, but it's probably similar (let's hope).

I'm not a Deadhead by any stretch, and their good studio albums are few, but when they're on, they're good. Nowhere else is a more simple and direct explanation of what was great about this band to be found than right on this record. Flashback to right now.

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