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Published: 2013/02/14
by Larson Sutton

Dead Ahead and Ticket To New Year's

After last year’s reissue of the Grateful Dead’s 14-DVD set All The Years Combine: The DVD Collection, Shout Factory, the current caretaker of the band’s video catalog, has been releasing individually those discs that make up the set. The latest two are Dead Ahead and Ticket to New Year’s, taken from original pay-per-view telecasts dating back to 1980 and 1987, respectively. While the content here is the same as it was when initially released in 2005 by a different label, it is the mere fact that these are once again widely available in the marketplace that should excite.

Dead Ahead captures the band in New York City on Halloween 1980 at the tail end of a 25-show run, split unevenly between San Francisco’s Warfield, New Orleans’ Saenger Theatre, and NYC’s Radio City Music Hall, that celebrated the group’s 15th anniversary. The concert featured an acoustic set and some rare performances as a result, followed by the band’s typical two electric sets. Distinctive to this period in the Dead’s chronology was the arrival in April, 1979 of Brent Mydland replacing Keith Godchaux on keyboards. Resonating with a tour-closer’s sense of relief, the requisite respect for the occasion, the presence of the cameras, and the vigor that rookie Mydland brought naturally, it is both a benchmark evening for the group and a platform from which the band would progress through the next decade.

Ticket to New Year’s comes from 1987’s year-ending event at the Oakland Coliseum Arena and carries with it all the expected energy. A particularly thundering “Bertha” opener puts the audience on notice of the band’s high spirits and finds equal inspiration in second set starter “Hell in a Bucket.” It is an animated, good-time ride that pushes tempo at just the right times, without compromising the penchant for improvisation or passion. The music alone is more than enough incentive to watch, but pre-taped intermission segments with Jerry Garcia as Santa Claus, and as a cook offering hors d’oeuvre and non-alcoholic beverage suggestions, plus a Q & A with the band are as comical as they sound and even a bit of a window inside the personalities and dynamic within the sextet.

True, these releases do not add content to the DVDs offered eight years ago and are redundant for owners of the 2005 versions. The audio here is the same brilliantly remastered stereo and 5.1 surround sound restored by band archivist David Lemieux and audio engineer Jeffrey Norman the first time around. Technically out-of-print, the ’05 issues from the prior distributor still exist in e-commerce stores, mostly at inflated prices set by decreasing supply and increasing demand. These Shout Factory versions and those that follow should rectify that, making them easily attainable at their fair retail cost. This new life, coupled with the historic importance of these shows and the dazzling performances that are contained within, means that Dead Ahead and Ticket to New Year’s can and should be enjoyed all over again.

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