There is no denying it. Nothing quite describes the Grateful Dead’s deepest level of musical magic better than Dark Star. It’s at once some of the most “cosmic” music the band made, and at the same time the most personal. It’s hardly the first taste of the Dead you’d typically want to give someone, but it’s the one thing that can cement the band’s music into the soul forever onward.
Please note that this is not a list of the Grateful Dead’s best Dark Stars of all time. Far from it. The song defies being stacked up in such a way. Yes, one can have their favorite versions, but I never even set about reviewing shows for the Guide based upon which Dark Stars I find to be “best.” Those on this trail serve to provide a direct path to some of the noteworthy version that have already turned up in reviews here. Nothing more than that. I get the sense that if I was new to exploring the Grateful Dead and found my way to these pages, I might want to easily be pointed to some good Dark Stars. Thus, the Dark Star garden has been created.
Here is a listening trail not for the faint of heart. The entrance isn’t brightly lit near the front of the park, and you might have to make friends with the park ranger before he will trust you to traverse this path alone. But the seclusion and secretive nature of this trail only enhances its enchantments.
So, in swirling mist and a perception of perspective and direction that undulates like heat off a road at its entrance, let’s take a stroll past a few of the GDLG’s current Dark Stars. There is no hope of stacking these up in order of importance, so we’ll just take them chronologically.
Please follow the links below to fully enjoy this Listening Trail.
06/14/69 – I was surprised after posting this review to learn how few people knew about this show. I guess 1969 can be that way in that the entire year tends to blur into one long peak along the Dead’s long strange trip. Here, we come face to face with the cauldron of molten fire which forged the very soul of the Dead’s musical exploration. The review knows better than to attempt a true charting of the musical journey. The music speaks a thousand whispering voices forever.
06/24/70 – You may have bumped into this show already, but if not, you are a sure goner now. This Dark Star weaves in and out of view while also providing the driving force behind some of the greatest musical expression the band ever produced. Dark Star > Attics > Dark Star > Sugar Magnolia > Dark Star > St. Stephen and beyond. There’s a reason this show ranks as one of the best of the best, and it is well captured as this Dark Star ebbs, flows, and explodes.
07/26/72 – By 1972 Dark Star was not only everything it ever had been, but also a great deal more. This colossal version tipping the scale at over thirty minutes delivers everything you could ever expect, and then rushes into a musical adventure which typified the Dead’s most blissful destination of the day. It’s as if it took until 1972 for Dark Star to fully open the doors to an improvisational land where the Dead could romp and dance freely, and their hearts fill to bursting with this Dark Star.
08/01/73 – A liquidly lovely, jazzy jam filled, outdoor summer Dark Star that exudes that certain special flavor that only 1973 could bring. This Dark Star not only demonstrates the best of these elements, but also paints haunted and mournful stories out of twisted night filled landscapes like none other. This is some of the most satisfying music 1973 has to offer, during a time when Dark Star was still king.