Grateful Dead: P.N.E. Garden Auditorium, Vancouver, 7/29/66
Even after all these decades of trading tapes, copying CDs, downloading digital files and whatnot, there’s still something unbeatably rewarding about lowering the tonearm of a turntable onto a slab of vinyl and hearing the music that comes out. The tracks on this special Record Store Day 2017 two-LP release were first made available last year on CD and in digital formats, as a bonus disc with The Grateful Dead (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition), but it sounds that much richer and fuller on 180-gram vinyl. (And hurry if you want one, because only 6,600 were pressed.) As for the jams, the Grateful Dead were still so raw and unformed in the summer of ‘66—part garage/punk, part tough blues band, a bit of folk-rock and experimental zeal all filtered through a Prankster-informed lysergic mischievousness—but the elements are all in place. And they’re quite often on fire here—the still-speedy “I Know You Rider,” soon-to-be-debut album tracks like “Cream Puff War,” “Sittin’ on Top of the World,” a very rough “New, New Minglewood Blues” (Bobby, calm down!) and, of course, an insane “Viola Lee Blues”—but hints of the tenderness they would later cultivate in their original ballads also turn up. (The cover of Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” is sweet and moving). They’re still primarily a cover band at this stage—their own tunes are not even close to what they’d soon start turning out when Robert Hunter became involved—but there’s no denying the inherent originality and enormity of what they’ve got going on. The closest officially released parallels in their catalog to the 7/29/66 Vancouver set (which also includes a side of tracks from 7/30, the two shows the Dead’s first-ever outside of the U.S.) was a pair of primal LPs—Vintage Dead and Historic Dead—tossed out into the market in the early ‘70s. Like those, P.N.E. provides an open window into the early development of an unsurpassed American musical and cultural phenomenon.