So the other day I tried to organize a get-together with my Dead Head friends and like minded people to do a music swap. The main idea behind it was that I had way too much Dead (ha!, as if) and other people had way too little. In my head this gathering would involve half-a-dozen people, a dozen flash drives, and other people's laptops. In reality, one other person brought a flash drive with no computer, but some good music (Portugal, the Man) on it that I swapped for some of my music. The only other two people who were there were people I drove, and neither had a working laptop or flash drive, two things I didn't think you could lack while simultaneously being a college student. So mainly we just watched some Dead videos in an empty classroom, cleverly hooking my laptop up to the projector and sound system. So all in all it was not a complete success, but in preparing for it I came up with two very useful lists that I'll share with all of you as a kind of Christmas gift.
Both of these lists were created spur of the moment with no edits or tinkering. Too much deliberation would have left me sitting at my desk for weeks considering the minute details of every show I had, so I had to be decisive early on. The first is "Desert Island" collection, in other words the ten shows that I'd have if I could have no others. The second is a lot less concise, but still only about a quarter of what I have, and it's a list of shows that I think every Dead Head should hear, if not have for themselves. Both of these lists are mostly comprised of non-released shows, just because the released ones are easier to stumble across whereas the recordings on the archive, etc. can just look like a bunch of random dates to a newcomer to being a Dead Head.
So here's my Desert Island list, which I wanted to contain a good amount of variety, so it has one show from every year from 1968-1977. Two are official releases, the newly released Sunshine Daydream (the Field Trip, if you ask me) and One From the Vault. The latter is on there because to me it's the best of the few '75 performances there are and, as with the others on the list, it's been a long-time favorite of mine.
Some of these are pretty obvious I think: I already reviewed the '69 one, the '70 one seems pretty legendary in most circles, and the official releases are obviously good enough to be released! Some might not be familiar to you: the '73 and '74 ones I came across while looking for the longest versions of Dark Star and Playin' in the Band, respectively. While the longest Dark Star question is constantly debated because the song was frequently broken up by drum breaks, thematic jams, or whole other songs, I consider this one the longest one just because that's how I found it. If you think another version is the longest, you might be right, but this one is fused with my brain, so I'll politely dismiss your assertions to the contrary. The '74 one is definitely (to my knowledge at least, and I'll take any correction very well) the longest Playin' there is. Besides these two monster jams, both shows are filled with excellence like you wouldn't believe, except for a rare and iffy performance of Money, Money on the '74 one. The '76 show I'm not sure how well known it is, but I've heard some controversy around it that I believe is rooted in anti-'76 biases. I looked it up because it's a show my dad was at, and the setlist and playing are incredible.
The '77 and '71 shows might surprise people because they both took place around the time that more famous shows did. There's the Hollywood Bowl show in '71 that took place just a week before this one, and obviously the Barton Hall show the day before in '77 (as well as just about any other May '77 show). But this is my list, dammit, and I want the shows I love on there! I've always been willing to tell anyone who will listen that the Buffalo show (05-09-77) is better than the Cornell show, partly because I've always been a huge sucker for Help On the Way > Slipknot! > Franklin's Tower, and the Other One, but also because I think the overall playing is better. Obviously Cornell has that Dancing in the Streets(!), Scarlet Fire (!!), Not Fade Away, and Morning Dew (!!!) all going for it, but I stand by my opinion. I'd say more for it, but I just decided that will be my next review, so I'll save it. As far as the two '71 shows go, there's hardly any comparison in my mind; the fame of the Hollywood show doesn't compare to the shear power of the other show. The '68 one may be surprising to some because it's from the period in time where the Jerry, Phil, and Mickey were becoming dissatisfied with Bobby's and Pig's musical development, but I think it's a solid time for the Dead in overall: it's a good mix between the primal, frenzied energy of earlier '68 and the more in control, spacier energy of '69. Phil is pretty heavy in my mix of it, but I consider that a bonus because he is absolutely on fire for every song they do.
I obviously can't go into much detail about my larger list of essential shows because that would take a looooong time, of which I have plenty, but it would be a lot for you guys to filter through. Instead, why don't you put your comments, questions, concerns, or quarrels in the comments, and we can hash it out like adults!
Not sure how to end this post, really, so here's a rather abrupt ending!