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Not Sure Where To Begin?

The intro posts are always a good start, followed logically by
my thoughts on Music & Being, which guide my writing.
You could also try my current favorite show on the blog,
plus there's good reading under the trading community label.
Or, take a walk on a
Listening Trail.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Listening Trail - Best AUDs Ever

Another installment in the GDLG Listening Trails Series

In the world of Grateful Dead tape collecting, we could debate which audience tapes have the best sound quality until we grow too old to press the play button. The list of “Best Grateful Dead AUD tapes” goes on and on. However, there are a few recordings (some of which have been featured on the Guide already) which stand the test of time as tapes that can stop you in your tracks and make you say, “Wait a minute. That’s an audience tape?” Often, these recordings serve well in warming one’s ears to the medium of audience taping itself.

And while they’re at it, these tapes also do a good job of dispelling the myth that all audience recordings from way way back in the 70’s (gasp!) pale to what more “modern” taping equipment can produce. Yes, caveats should be given for certain technical limitations of the day. But, with these tapes, we can absolutely gain an understanding of how amazing the Dead really sounded way back when (and even not so way back).

Rather than ranking them against each other, they are listed simply in chronological order below. This is a subject that will easily allow for the future creation of more than just this one trail. But, this first one is surely one of our most well worn paths. Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile.

Please follow the links below to fully enjoy this Listening Trail.

05/03/69 – It’s almost unfair, and like something from another dimension. Audience tapes in 1969 don’t sound this good, ever. Vocals-shmocals, the mics on stage miss the PA speakers that carried the vocals, so the singing is a bit buried. It’s 1969. Get over it.

08/06/71 – Perhaps the most famous Grateful Dead AUD tape of them all. Your ear will quickly acclimate to the sonic landscape and be rewarded with some amazing 1971 magic. Set two will leave you giddy.

09/28/75 – Again, like stacking the deck, we learn that if you can pull off setting up directly on the lip of the stage, the Grateful Dead will reward you many times over. Quite possibly, this is the outdoor recording of all outdoor recordings. Portions can also be heard in podcast listening session 001.

05/13/83 – Score the perfect seats, in the perfect row, at the perfect outdoor venue, on a perfect day. It’s all gravy from there when the Dead deliver a soul quenching performance. Portions can also be heard in podcast listening session 001.

09/19/90 – A tip of the hat to the progress of taping technology! The stars line up here to completely shatter the limitations of any preconceived notions you might have around audience tapes, even if those notions were already pretty good.


  1. Noah,

    Thank you for your insightful and imaginative writing, and for all the time and work you have devoted to sharing this music.

    I also discovered the Dead in the mid 80's and it changed everything I thought was possible as a musician. I've gone on to play guitar, bass, and mandolin with all kinds of bands - both professionally and less so - and got into audio engineering along the way. I now work as a mastering engineer, so my enthusiasm and appreciation of these audio documents spans both sides of the brain.

    (BTW, I know from your posts you are humble about it, but your high quality transfer work and seamless editing deserve acknowledgment. Big ups!!!)

    Recently I got the GD jones again in a big way, thanks in no small part to this blog. I've had a few months since then to dive deep, relearn the songs on guitar (thanks, JDarks!), play them for the baby... Having this blog as a guide has been invaluable; truly mind-opening and educational about the history and processes of the band and taping community.

    One of your recurring themes has intrigued me throughout my perusal: AUD Love. When I found this post, I had to comment because you'd already made me an AUD convert early on.

    After getting over memories of the hazy hours back in the day spent listening to zillionth-generation cassettes of who-knows-what show, in my first visits to this blog I downloaded a few dates you recommended, totally unprepared for the discovery that was coming my way.

    Like you and probably many readers here, I often listen to these shows as I commute on mass transit. With a decent pair of noise-cancelling headphones it can be a transcendent experience. The music can lift you away from the grind (or create a sense of synchronicity, as you described in one great post about listening as you cruised into Chicago on the train).

    Nothing creates the audio illusion of a natural yet different time/space than a two mic stereo recording. Listening to these AUDs with their many shades of ambience, I found myself "at" shows that I could have only hoped to have traveled back in time to see.

    It's amazing how in "real life" we adapt to hear through chatter and noise when we want to focus our attention on a sound source, and listening through the walla of any AUD tape demands the same effort. I think this is part of the intense illusory effect, though: our deepest sense of hearing is awakened, and somewhere in the amygdila a happy neuron is anticipating Jerry's next note...

    So, I'm really looking forward to following this trail and reading more great reviews from you. Thanks again, Noah, and keep following your bliss!


  2. These are the BEST AUDs (maybe you already know these?). Early 80's too. Great shows.

  3. Nice blog and recommendations. Thanks for the effort.

    I like to play these shows, also from MSG, on a good system to demonstrate how good audience recordings can be:

  4. It's far from perfect, but let me steer you to my very first recording, Georgetown Univ., Washington, DC, 10-23-70. With people crammed into an extremely warm gym, it's a short but very intense show. We got there late but bribed an usher with some mescaline and ended up about 10-15 ft. from the stage. Cheap, no-name tape, a Sony TC-124 with it's one-point stereo microphone and a bunch of flipped out tripsters, you get some of the feel of really being there that doesn't come across in a SBD. Derek McCabe of MOTB did a fine job of remastering it for digital from my cassette originals. You can find it at the LMA.

  5. Cary, very nice to have you poking around these pages. :-). Your wonderful recording is featured here, for those who want to check it out: 10/23/70

  6. wolfson, you old dog! you played that tape on our show on KGNU radio what, 20 years ago? still sounds good.

  7. Listening to 9-19-90. It is phenomenal! Sound is amazing and Hornsby is lifting the band to another level.


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