Grateful Dead- Sunshine Daydream – 3 CD/DVD Set

[rating=9.00]

deaddaydreamSunshine Daydream is an instance of magnificent serendipity. Originally conceived as a benefit concert that would fill a space in the Grateful Dead’s summer 1972 tour schedule, the endeavor blossomed into a film project that, some four decades after it happened, has come to fruition as yet another splendid archive project from this iconic band. Whether in the digi-pak format available at retail or the web exclusive comprised of a soft & hardbound books in a slipcase (the graphics of which posit tie-die as a mandala-like design rather than kitschy fashion), it is fully worth the time and patience it took to pursue and produce.

Not a concert film per se, but a recounting of the circumstances by which the Dead’s August benefit appearance in Veneta, Oregon came to be, the film is a bit rough in its editing and picture quality. As such, however, it’s an accurate reflection of a cultural paradigm shift in its formative phases, just beginning to crystallize into an alternative set of social values. Footage of Ken Kesey and His Merry Pranksters, including the mythic Neal Casady, is worth seeing the film in and of itself, as is the footnote that, while the concert did not raise sufficient funds to subsidize the continuing function of the organic dairy operation, the Grateful Dead’s organization wrote a check to make up the difference.

Long a grail-like item in this band’s community (the extent of which is apparent in the movie), this three-set show has a more clearly linear pattern than its cinematic counterpart. Perhaps due to the stultifying heat this late summer day, the Grateful Dead refuse to hurry during the course of their performance. Yet they traverse a broad spectrum of material, from the structured likes of “Jack Straw” to the more open-ended “The Other One,” with those compositions that reside in a middle ground, such as “Bertha,” imparting logic to the song sequence. Evincing a deep familiarity with each other’s playing, especially in the way guitarists Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir interact with bassist Phil Lesh, the whole ensemble radiates a sense of discovery about the nuances of their own tunes (“Black-Throated Wind”) plus their choice of covers, including but not limited to ‘cowboy songs’ like “El Paso” and the gorgeous ballad “Sing Me Back Home.”

Nearly thirty minutes of “Dark Star” further demonstrates how this band devised a fluid instrumental style for themselves as their songwriting evolved and the personnel in the band changed. Bill Kreutzmann drums alone here, yet imparts an intricate bounce to this vintage tune, while the prominent presence of Keith Godchaux’ acoustic piano also brings this arrangement in line with more recently written material such as “Birdsong.” The quintet’s collective courage allows them to repeatedly, and for varying duration of the intervals, let go of the melody and rhythm of the song and, in so doing, create a space in which to devise variations on its fundamental themes.

At their best, as here, the Grateful Dead live is a wondrous experience, never more so than in a time and place as captured on the aptly-titled Sunshine Daydream, where their zeitgeist of fraternity and generosity appears forward-thinking in an almost awe-spring form. The five essays relating the history of the event from various angles are as informative as the audio and video restoration quality is remarkable: there may no more noteworthy account of destiny within Grateful Dead history than engineer Jeffrey Norman’s tale of the original recordings’ preservation, but archivist David Lemieux’ tale of pragmatics is a foil for Johnny Dwork’s ode to spiritualism on par with Ken Babb’s paean to community. Reading of this content is akin turning a fine diamond to appreciate the various facets of the gem and Sunshine Daydream is just such a jewel.

 

 

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