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Published: 2008/07/22
by Brian Ferdman

Road Trips, vol. 1, no. 3: Summer ’71 – Grateful Dead

Grateful Dead Productions 6003

Pleasing the vast array of Deadheads with a live CD release is no simple task. They are an opinionated, not to mention fairly knowledgeable lot, and when something is not to their liking, they are quick to cry foul. When the beloved Dick’s Picks series ground to a halt after 36 releases and was replaced by the Road Trips series, there were some unhappy campers. In particular, the completists had no desire to own these compilations of the best offerings from certain runs of shows. However, a little time has passed, and as iPods and similar mobile music devices have swept through the marketplace, people have become somewhat conditioned to listening to individual tracks rather than complete albums or entire recordings of concerts. Moreover, Deadheads have begun to accept the fact that there are some stellar moments in mediocre shows or technically uneven recordings in the vault that deserve to see the light of day, previously unreleased concert highlights that are the core strength of the Road Trips series. With that in mind, there is no reason why Deadheads shouldn’t be lining up to purchase Road Trips, Vol. 1 No. 3: Summer 71.

Culled from the legendary "Houseboat Tapes," which were given to the late Keith Godchaux to study before joining the band (and were posthumously discovered on a family houseboat), these recordings showcase the Grateful Dead as a lean, mean, fighting machine, and unlike the tracks from these tapes that were released on Dick’s Picks 35, the cuts on Road Trips, Vol. 1 No. 3: Summer 71 are all muscle with no fat. Stripped down to the core quartet of Jerry Garcia, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh, and Bob Weir (with occasional vocal, harmonica, and percussive contributions from Pigpen), this Spring-Summer 1971 lineup was nimble, adventurous, and soulful.

The tracks for this release have been assembled from New Haven’s Yale Bowl on July 31st and Chicago’s Auditorium Theater on August 23rd, as well as a bonus disc with additional material from July 31st, the Hollywood Palladiums August 6th show (famous for it’s spectacular audience recording, although these are soundboard tracks), and the August 4th performance at Terminal Island Correctional Facility in San Pedro, California, temporary home of Dead mentor and acid guru Owsley Stanley. If you like your Dead funky, this is the release for you because there are some real gems here in the form of the live debut of what may be the most groovin’ "Mr. Charlie" ever, two stellar turns on "Hard To Handle" (although sadly, the 8/6/71 soundboard doesn’t hold a candle to the crackling energy of the brilliant audience recording), and a bopping "China Cat Sunflower." The latter is fueled by Lesh’s free roaming bass grooves. Never one to stay at home, Phil is more adventurous than ever on these cuts, pulling out novel, improvised basslines for nearly every song, and his bass is very present in the mix.

Unique segues are well represented here, courtesy of both the spacey "Dark Star > Bird Song" pairing and the mammoth "Cryptical Envelopment > The Other One > Me and My Uncle > The Other One > Cryptical Envelopment > Wharf Rat" sandwich. At this time, the band was somewhat fresh off the heels of American Beauty, so heartfelt, Americana ballads are here in the form of a fine ‘Brokedown Palace,’ the rare but beautiful ‘Sing Me Back Home,’ and a cathartic ‘Sugaree,’ which ripples with wisdom and depth despite the fact that the song was not far from it’s embryonic stage. This band could really rock in 1971, and they go full guns a-blazin’ on ‘Johnny B. Goode,’ a hard-driving ‘Big Railroad Blues,’ a rollicking Bertha, and a ‘Sugar Magnolia’ that rips with the best of them. Of course, 1971 was also prime territory for the Not Fade Away > Goin Down The Road Feeling Bad medley, and two excellent versions are represented here with one including a swinging Turn On Your Lovelight coda.

The beauty of this particular release is that in comparison to past live Grateful Dead albums, Road Trips, Vol. 1 No. 3: Summer 71 has no weak spots. There are no duds; there are no time killers. This collection is nothing more than highlight after highlight with excellent sound, and the tracklist includes almost all of the major numbers of 1971. It is the perfect way to capture this short-lived but nonetheless brilliant lineup of the Grateful Dead.

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