A multi-track recording fully mastered and shelved for nigh on thirty years, Grateful Dead's Three From the Vault marks the beginning of a significant period in the San Francisco rock band's musical progression. Plus, it effectively picks up where the initial effort to archive the band left off over a quarter-century ago.
The recording marks two crucial junctures for the Grateful Dead. Taken from a weeklong run at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York in February 1971, this was the first set of dates with Bill Kreutzmann as the sole drummer (rhythm partner Mickey Hart having temporarily left the group). Joe Gastwirt's mastering preserves a separation of instruments that clarifies the ballast bassist Phil Lesh comprising Kreutzmann, while highlighting the interplay with guitarist Jerry Garcia. It's evident on both "Truckin' and the more improvisational,"Playing in the Band.
As a logical extension of their in-person bonding with audiences, Grateful Dead set the standard for live recordings early in their career as well as fully conceiving the art of archiving. Three From the Vault was to be the third installment in an ongoing series, warts and allwhat's a muffed lyric or two when there's such a deeply reciprocal pleasure shared by a band on stage and its audience?
Interestingly, the most extended tracks, apart from the suite "That's It For The Other One, are relegated to spotlights for Ron "Pigpen McKernan. On "Smokestack Lightning and "Turn On Your Lovelight, the band's playing is redolent with nonchalance. The keyboardist, harpist and resident blues aficionado, McKernan remained a prominent participant (his health failed precipitously in the year to come). Garcia had yet to succumb to his own demons at this point, so there's an unusual zest emanating from the Dead's playing, returning to the stage after a two month break, in one of their favorite cities.
Abrupt edits aside, the two complete sets also include debuts of material such as "Birdsong," "Wharf Rate" and "Deal that would come to form the core of a repertoire that would continue expanding until the band went on its self-imposed hiatus in 1976.
Bob Weir was beginning to compose for the band at this point (as well as Robert Hunter in collaboration with Garcia); "Greatest Story Ever Told is juxtaposed here with soon-to-be famous tunes, "Bertha, as well as country and blues traditional, "Dark Hollow and "It Hurts Me Too. No song or style sounds more or less important to the Dead in this performance.
This double CD is no match for 2007's previous archive release, Live at the Cow Palace. But it is a worthy missing link in the Grateful Dead's musical development as well as their organization's continuing effort to document one of the few truly groundbreaking bands in the history of rock.
CD1: Two Ditties; The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down; Spring Song; Truckin
Jerry Garcia: lead guitar, vocals; Phil Lesh: bass, vocals; Rob "Pigpen" McKernan: keyboards, harmonica, percussion, vocals; Bill Kreutzmann: drums; Bob Weir: rhythm guitar, vocals.
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