Back in to the Vault

Reviving the Dead's latest from Rhino's vaults.

It’s no big secret, though some haven’t figured it out, that I’m a Deadhead. No, not one of those. I went to about 20 or 30 shows from 1972 to 1994, and I still listen to a lot of their music, but I was never fanatical to the point of going on tour, collecting tapes, or digging too deep into the mythology. I was just into the music.

It’s a jones that’s been continually fed with a remarkable stream of live releases and box sets since Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995. The latest, Three From the Vault (Rhino), was released this week and while it’s an interesting set, the real story, at least to me, is the changes apparent since Rhino has taken over the release of the Dead’s archival material.

1991 saw the release of the original One From the Vault, quickly followed by Two. An extraordinary 53 live albums followed, which ranged from complete individual concerts to compilations from specific tours to career-spanning box sets. Most of those, especially the Dick’s Picks series, which is now up to #36, were woefully lacking in any historical context or liner notes.

That has been rectified with the agreement that was reached about a year ago, when the band made Rhino "the exclusive manager of its entire repertoire of intellectual property." Live at the Cow Palace: New Years Eve 1976, released earlier this year, featured expanded liner notes, giving the story behind the release and why it was significant.

This continues with Three, where we discover that the February 19, 1971 show in Port Chester, NY, presented in it’s entirety, features the second-ever performances of "Loser," "Bertha," "Playing in the Band," "Greatest Story Ever Told," and "Wharf Rat," plus the world premieres of "Bird Song" and "Deal." Some of the new tunes had an intriguing, work-in-progress feel to them, especially those that would become road maps for extended exploration in the future. Also significant is the absence of drummer Micky Hart, who decided to leave the band after the first of the six-show run at Port Chester’s Capitol Theatre.

Originally slated as a follow up to Two From the Vault, the tapes for Three were mixed, mastered, and then, for some reason, forgotten for a decade and a half. Now you can hear the Dead in the amazingly fertile period that followed the release of Workingman's Dead and American Beauty. With a healthy helping of Pigpen’s lowdown blues ’n’ boogie, especially on “Easy Wind” and the expansive “Good Lovin’,” among other treats. This one is worth checking out, whether you’re a Deadhead or not.

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Grateful Dead, Rhino

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