Best of The B List: 10 Killer Dark Stars

4. 12/2/73 – Check out this Dark Star for an example of how quickly the Dead can move jams from jazzy to spacey to rockin’ thanks to the incredible drumming of Billy Kreutzmann. This jam from Boston’s Music Hall is great, and the segue into Morning Dew is absolutely mind blowing.

5. 11/11/73 – I know, I know I just can’t get enough of ’73 Dead. The band was firing on ALL cylinders on this night

6. 2/13/70 – One of the most triumphant versions of the tune ever laid down took place during the band’s 1970 run at the Fillmore East. A Deadbase readers poll in 1993 listed this version as the best Dark Star ever, and I’m not sure I could argue with that assessment

7. 8/27/72 – The Dead tear Dark Star a new asshole during mind melting 90 degree plus conditions at the Creamery in Springfield, OR. Many of the best Dark Stars are about group improvisation, but this one is all about Jerry letting it rip

8. 10/31/91 – A mature version of the classic tune with special guest Gary Duncan [Quicksilver Messenger Service] that gets ultra emotional when Ken Kesey comes out at the 7:30 mark to riff on death a few short days after Bill Graham passes away


9. 10/18/74 – A jazzy Dark Star that comes out of Phil Lesh and Ned Lagin’s crazy Seastone segment

10. 3/29/90 – On March 29th, 1990 Branford Marsalis joined the band at Nassau Coliseum for the beginning of what would be a beautiful friendship. Marsalis added beautiful horn lines which spiced up the tune

Obviously we haven’t heard ’em all, so if you have a favorite, feel free to let us know by leaving a comment below..

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42 Responses

  1. I know it’s easy, but the Live/Dead version has always been my favorite. I wish I weren’t lame enough to go with the obvious, but there’s a reason it’s on that disc.

    Relatedly, I thought it was interesting that there’s no Dark Star on Fallout from the Phil Zone. Seems like perfect Phil material.

  2. fair list i will give you but wheres rotterdam 11 may 72 a staggering 50 mins in the cosmos and thats not to mention the rest of the show.cheers dave

  3. Have to agree with Dave Weir that Rotterdam 1972 has to be on the list, indeed it was listening to it that sent me to the net & this site to see what others think. Will now listen to as many of the other 9 as I have in my collection

  4. One of the best Dark Stars of all time? That’s an easy one 2/24/74 Winterland Arena. Hand’s down sick shit. Love it.


  5. I saw three GD/Branford shows and although 3-29 was classic 9-10-91 should definitely be recognized as one of the best.
    Branford played the entire show which helped and the setlist is amazing.

    Shakedown Street-> CC Rider-> It Takes A Lot To Laugh It Takes A Train To Cry, Black Throated Wind, High Time, Cassidy, Deal Help On The Way-> Slipknot!-> Franklin’s Tower, Estimated Prophet-> Dark Star-> Drums-> Jam-> Dark Star-> Jam-> I Need A Miracle-> Standing On the Moon-> Turn On Your Love Light, E: It’s All Over Now Baby Blue

  6. What about 6/25/03? Actually, I’m just kidding around. But… for “The Dead,” it’s a scorcher.

    Dark Star (v1)> Lady With A Fan> Peggy-o> Lady With A Fan> Terrapin Station> Drumz> Dark Star (v2)

  7. Fluff, I’d have to echo your sentiments, although you forgot to mention that Mr. Bruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuce Hornsby was with the boys during that stretch as well. The Help>Slip>Franklin’s from that night is undeniable. Just thinkin about Jerry coming in through Bruce’s piano tinklings immediately after Branford’s first solo in Franklins gives me the smiles. Confused? Me too, but just listen to it and it sounds like if Jerry wasn’t playing the guitar at that second he’d have his arms wide open giving everyone inside MSG a collosively monster bear-hug.

  8. 11/11/73 is my personal fave!

    I love when they get really out there and phil starts the desert wind shaman notes…I also think of Don Juan or someone out in the desert. The drop into Eyes is great as well…

  9. Great list Scotty. My fave Dark Star is 9/21/72, as it never feels forced and always stays interesting and somewhat rocking. At over 37 minutes, that’s not an easy feat.

  10. Right now, my favorite is April 5, 1969 at the Avalon Ballroom. Jerry plays every single note beautifully. Throughout the entire song, the guitar sounds like it’s a person talking to you. Then it changes back to a guitar so Jerry can sing the first verse. And then it comes back to life. And what a story it has to tell!

  11. C’mon 9-2-68 Betty Nelsons Organic Rasberry Farm or 3-29-69 Ice Palace. These are a couple of my perssonal favorites.

  12. The Dark > Me and My Uncle > Star from ’72 on “Rockin’ the Rhein” is sick. Really out there.

    I’m also a fan of the I think it’s 2.18.71 in Port Chester Dark > Wharf Rat (debut) > Star in which the jam out of Wharf Rat has been dubbed simply “Beautiful Jam”

    Good to see Veneta here. Personally, I don’t think there’s a bad version of this classic tune.

  13. Definitely a solid list. I love the inclusion of 10/31/91 Dark Star. That’s a one of a kind moment and the jam in there knows the cliff is coming up and keeps running faster until it jumps right off the side. While it is very hard to narrow Dark Star down to 10, it never stops being fun. We all have different taste and with a song that often included so many different styles getting even 2 or 3 people to agree on the 10 best is impossible. That said, I have to say I agree that 5/11/72 belongs on any list. I can get over that one, I can’t get over omitting 4/8/72, featured on Steppin’ Out. That one is sitting right next to 9/21/72 on top of the mountain.

    My list would have to include 9/19/70 and 11/2/69 as well.
    Some other must hears, 12/6/73, 4/22/69, 1/2/70, 5/15/70, 8/21/72, and 8/24/72. For my money, 8/21, and 8/24 take the week over 8/27…well maybe just 8/21, but 8/24 puts up a good fight.

  14. 11/8/69 is amazing. Going from Dark Star to The Other One to an embryonic Uncle John’s Band while weaving Dark Star in and out is fantastic. It’s on Dick’s Picks Volume 16.

  15. 2/18/71 10/31/71 9/19/70 5/15/70 11/2/69 and 8/21/72 are noticeably absent (most of these mentioned above). perhaps top 10 is not long enough, but all 6 of these dates have no trouble bumping the 1990 versions back a peg.

  16. any DS with the feel good/feelin’ goovy/beautiful/tighten up jam is ok by me
    Best examples of this are is 2 18 71 ,9 19 70 and 10 31 71, which have all been mentioned above.
    other faves are 2 22 69 (Vallejo, CA.) and 6 14 69 (Monterey, CA).

  17. Please don’t forget about the perfectly woven D.S. of 6/24/70 Port Chester, NY….A venerable tapestry of Grateful Dead shapes and colors.

  18. Ummmm, where the hell is 2/24/74????????????!!!!!!!!!!! Quite possibly THE best Dark Star of all time.

    Jeeze Louise.

    1. Completely agree! I have a version of that DS mashed up with Ginsberg reading Howl. It is uncanny how well they fit together. I can almost picture him onstage.

      1. Hey Gypsy_poet,

        Where did you get that Dark Star mashed up with the Ginsberg Howl? I am very very curious. Please, please reply.

  19. Ah, ’73 GD. I don’t think it’s an accident that DP Vol1 was ’73. I just love ’em. Try Kezar Stadium from May.

  20. please mention john oswald’s ‘greyfolded’ and t. constanten’s version of dark star from his solo album, with insane guitar by henry kaiser.

  21. No Dark Star was performed on 12/2/73. I wish I could divine which one the author actually had in mind, I love DS>Dew.

  22. Great list! Some of these I haven’t heard yet, so thank you. I wanted to throw in my vote for a couple other great versions.
    Dark Star of 9/24/72 at Palace Theater in Waterbury CT–it has many great moments of delicate beauty, and other moments of howling intensity. One thing that stands out (and is easy enough to describe) is a slow-motion gothic bass-chord solo by Lesh. They go into Drums after half an hour or so, but don’t miss how they go back into Dark Star for some extra brilliance.
    Another great one is the very next one they played: 9/27/72 Stanley Theater in New Jersey. SO different from the previous version…it just goes to show how creative they were. This long version does NOT have any moments of howling, shredding intensity. So why am I mentioning it here? It is just gorgeous music–every note by everyone seems perfect. And somewhere far into it, it reaches a very quiet, amazing Lesh space which makes me feel like I’m floating past a huge, silent supernova…or like I’ve drifted all the way to the bottom of the ocean to bounce gently once or twice off the ocean floor. I’m guessing it’s quite a unique version.
    Well thanks, I’m off to search for 9-21-72. Thanks again!!!

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