Sunshine Daydream: Restoring Faith in the Dead
The Grateful Dead finally release their ‘greatest concert’ as a lavish 3 CD/DVD box set
It’s not always easy loving the Grateful Dead. Anyone who’s a Deadhead already knows how much abuse such an affection can entail and has probably heard lots of versions of the joke about the fan who goes to a Grateful Dead concert without being stoned only to wonder who the shitty band is and why they’re playing for so long. And, if you’ve ever tried to convey the excitement and magic of their music to people who have never heard it before (and don’t care if they ever do) you’ll know how difficult that can be as well. It doesn’t matter how many great live versions of ‘Help – Slip – Franklin’s Tower’ you play for some people; they’re still going to look baffled, and you’ll find yourself mumbling some variation of ‘It was great in concert. Well, I guess you had to be there.’ And, to a large extent it’s true.
It’s no secret that rock music is an art form that – as far as live performance goes – exists primarily in the moment. There are not very many good rock films or live albums that stand up well on their own. ‘Bob Marley Live at The Lyceum’ and The Talking Heads’ ‘Stop Making Sense’ are often cited examples, but it’s a lot easier to think of examples of how great music is often poorly translated – Led Zeppelin’s ‘The Song Remains The Same’ comes readily to mind – than it is to think of times it’s been captured in all its wild and raging glory. There’s nowhere that is this more true than with the music – or rather the experience – of The Grateful Dead.
For many people, The Grateful Dead are synonymous with the sixties culture of psychedelic drugs and free love, and it’s easy to understand how this understanding evolved. Even for the most ardent follower of the band, the music they played was only ever part of the equation. The Grateful Dead gave people an opportunity to connect with likeminded people at concerts, experience the open road, travel and take part in an uplifting collective experience. Those kinds of opportunities are all too rare in our culture that has over the last decades removed all traditional rites of passage and downplayed the power of magic and the spirit. So the opportunity to partake in good food, camping, beautiful scenery, sex and mind expanding drugs is understandably very appealing. Unfortunately, with all of that peripheral excitement, the music, the very good music, the Grateful Dead played has come to take a back seat in people’s memories. ‘Sunshine Daydream’ is a beautiful new 3 CD and 1 DVD set that captures the band’s August 27, 1972 set in Veneta, Oregon and it should go a long way towards changing that and putting the whole experience into context for people. This concert has long been a favourite amongst Deadheads and is one of the most traded and collected shows of The Grateful Dead’s career. It’s easy to see why.
The three CDS of music on ‘Sunshine Daydream’ show off the band in top form. They’d just come back from their first tour of Europe that would soon be sampled from as a triple live album, ‘Europe ‘72’, and in many ways they never played better before or since than they did that year. With their old acid test buddy, Ken Kesey and the pranksters organizing the Veneta gig and creating the ambience, Jerry Garcia and company were obviously very comfortable and well looked after on friendly turf, and the good vibes can be felt listening to their very long performance that day.
So, whether you choose to listen to the whole concert on DVD or watch samples from the show interspersed throughout the film, Sunshine Daydream communicates the magic of The Grateful Dead better than any other product they’ve ever released. For the music fan who can’t distinguish between the note perfect improvisational heyday of The Grateful Dead in Spring 1977 from the slimmed down reborn rockers of the late 1980’s, Sunshine Daydream is the perfect place to make sense and discover what’s so appealing about the band’s music. In 1972, the members of the band were still young, vibrant and unjaded and so were their fans who were treated to absolutely out of this world versions of some of their greatest songs including ‘Bird Song’, ‘China Cat Sunflower’ and a very long and trippy ‘Dark Star.’
One of the things that distinguishes ‘Sunshine Daydream’ from other rock films of the same era is the quality of the photography and direction. Even high budget films like ‘Concert For Bangladesh’ come off as unfocused and poorly directed by comparison. In terms of capturing images of visual interest, fluidity of editing and pacing, ‘Sunshine Daydream’ is surprisingly accomplished and other than a low budget Terry Gilliam type animation sequence during ‘Dark Star’ that is still kind of endearing, the film stands on its own as a cinematic work. It is also historically important as watching the scenes captured on that hot August day in Oregon in 1972, it’s easy for the viewer to get the feeling that he or she is witnessing the last true hippie event of the era.
If you were to own only one Grateful Dead box set, or if you finally corralled your reluctant friend to sit down and give the band a try, ‘Sunshine Daydream’ is the one to go with. It’s as close to perfect as anything the band ever did, and unlike many of the other sets gathering dust in my office, I’ll be pulling it down and listening and watching it all over again before long. Beautiful!
This posting originally appeared at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com
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