Still Grateful for the Dead

Jaden Clarke, Contributor

1972 is a hallowed year for followers of the Grateful Dead. This year saw the band cross the pond and go on tour in Europe, creating scores of hours of recordings, all of which beat many bands studio performances. 1972 also saw the Grateful Dead record themselves on video for the first time at the Old Renaissance fairgrounds in Veneta Oregon on August 27th. It is often referred to as Sunshine Daydream. The show features three sets, making it one absurdly long concert.

Sunshine Daydream saw the band add two members, Keith and Donna Godchaux. Donna sang while Keith played the keys. These two made one of their first appearances with the Dead at Veneta, but the absence of Mickey Hart on the drums is felt keenly. The rest of the lineup is rounded out by Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir on Guitar and Vocals, Phil Lesh on the bass, and Bill Kreutzman on the drums.

 The film of the show was unreleased for decades, shown only at special events until it’s online release in 2013. Be forewarned, there is lots of full nudity in this film, but it is not presented in a pornographic light. Emceed by renowned author Ken Kesey and fellow Merry Prankster Ken Babs, listening to this performance is integral to an understanding of American counterculture of the era. 

At this time the Dead had just completed their esteemed Europe 72 tour and translated that momentum into some killer shows back in the states. Two years earlier they had enjoyed their first studio successes, the albums American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead. These albums demonstrated the band’s folk/country roots, and while they use electric instruments, much of that same influence is felt in Veneta. The greatest contrast between this show and those two albums is the tone and revamped line up. While the 1970 Dead were often melancholic and pensive, Sunshine Daydream is a nonstop party, ebullient and free. The effect the Godchaux’s had on the band’s sound is a mixed bag. While Keith has an eerie understanding of harmony and how to not take up too much space in the mix, a critical skill in a band with so many members, Donna is out of tune, off the beat, and drowning out superior performances from the rest of the band. 

This means the best parts of this performance are the ones without vocals. Oftentimes it was painfully obvious that she did not know the lyrics or cues to many of the songs. Conversely, the instrumental elements of the band experience uncanny coordination despite the improvisational nature of their music. Naturally, the performance of Dark Star clocks in at upwards of thirty minutes. Another gem from this album is the Janis Joplin tribute Bird Song, as the feeling of loss is still fresh in the Band’s collective heart just two years after her passing. While it does have it’s highlighted, one must listen to the entire album in order to capture even a glimmer of the experience, warts and all.