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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.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Listening Trail - Call Of The Wall

You aren’t going to get very far into Grateful Dead tape collecting without hearing about the Wall Of Sound. Considering 1974, the year of the Wall’s existence, the Dead’s sound system marked a triumph in audio engineering. Beautifully loud and remarkably clear according to those who recount the experience of being in its presence, the Wall Of Sound was as much a part of the mid-70’s Grateful Dead sound as the band that was making the music.

As one traverses the musical history of the Grateful Dead, conversations about what it was like to see the band in 1974 are common. The Wall Of Sound was a lot like a work of theater in that it came and went - all the technical and creative elements were assembled for a brief stretch of time, like a play’s run on Broadway, and then were gone. Fans of 1974 Dead who weren’t there due to the pesky laws of time, can’t help but pine over what the Wall experience was like.

Understandably, wanting to get a taste of what the Wall sounded like is something that can truly only be approached through tapes recorded by fans in the audience. Soundboards from this year are not the Wall, at all. Luckily, there are a number of very nice aural documents to enjoy, and the year itself consistently delivers some of the most thrilling improvisational music the band ever produced. So, we end up with a true win-win every time.

This Listening Trail could serve double duty. While there aren’t nearly enough reviews on the guide to foster the production of trails based on each and every year, by focusing on the Wall Of Sound, this trail will certainly highlight the particular magic that was 1974 Grateful Dead all the same.

07/21/74 – This tape is like the Wall Of Sound expertly preserved under glass. Rob Bertrando had everything gelling on this day as he recorded the show from an ideal spot in the crowd. Not surprisingly, this is an outdoor recording – hearing the Wall in an open space where it could fully flex its muscle, makes for an ideal setting. The entire show is a gem, but head to the lovely China>Rider or the sensational Playin’ In The Band jam to get right down to business.

07/31/74 – Never one to get a lot of attention, mostly because the long circulating soundboard was only so-so, and no audience tapes circulated, when Bill Degen’s tape first crossed my ears in the late 90's it was an unforgettable moment. While this outdoor crowd could tend to be somewhat noisy, and the wind here and there can be intrusive, all of this fades away more often than not when you really need it to. Eyes Of The World is an unforgettable experience on this tape, and the Truckin’ jam is… well... just listen. This is the Dead, loud.

06/23/74 – Jerry Moore’s recording goes down as one of the most famous of them all. Capturing a crowd more mellow than you might ever hear anywhere else in 1974, this recording comes off as a church service, full of a quiet grace. The opening of set two, the Let It Grow, the Dark Star, a beautiful To Lay Me Down, and one of my favorite versions of Cumberland Blues, all combine to set this tape in its rightful place on the top shelf of ’74.

05/12/74 – The Wall’s first outdoor appearance and another remarkable tape demonstrating the towering power of the sound system. Hearing the Truckin’ explode after a minute or two of great crowd cheering and song requesting sets the stage for one of the most enjoyable and acrobatic improvisational jams of the year. Even as a mono recording, this tape draws the listener in with it’s full sound spectrum, and deep in the jam you may find yourself very thankful that someone (we don’t know who) was sitting there in the audience taping it for you.

08/06/74 - A welcome addition to any trail (also found on the Best Dead Shows trail), the electricity beams off of this tape as the Wall Of Sound casts the crowd into rapt silence and attention. The highlights of set one will make you forever glad that this was being caught on tape.


  1. I need new hard drives thanks to your blog.
    But that's a good thing....many thanks.

  2. Great book, Grateful Dead Gear: The Band's Instruments, Sound Systems, and Recording Sessions, From 1965 to 1995. Very in depth

  3. I love the clarity of the Wall. Especially the 07/21/74 recording. The tapes are clear and I enjoy hearing the crowd chatter.

  4. Just to give some balance... AUD tapes are the only way to hear how a sound system sounded from an audience perspective, but this is a very different thing from the 'highest fidelity'. Different strokes for different folks always.. I just hope that anyone starting their jouney into Dead Listening will give both SBDs and AUDs a try because they are quite different. As stated, AUDs preserve what it was like to be there in the crowd, but SBDs for sure convey what was going on onstage with much greater spectral accuracy and fidelity (ie. clearer top and bottom end with less phasing issues), most notably on drums. Plus (as you touched on) not all listeners want to hear crowd chatter, wind noise, etc.

    Just giving the 'other side' a fair shake ;+)
    Keep up the great work - loving the original gig posters! :+)

  5. Anonymous is right on regarding both sides of the picture. For the music it's soundboards, for the music PLUS the soul of the room (or venue)it's gotta be audience recordings. Thanks for posting, Anonymous...

  6. I've just been looking around '74 for some good quality AUDs lately, and have found many, but I would greatly appreciate a list of another 10-20 (or more) AUD recordings from '74 that you think are good quality. This listening trail is nice, but once I'm past those it's just a big ocean to wade through, your help would just be awesome. :)
    Many thanks for all this blog has done.

    p.s. I'd love to see another post (or a few), it's been a while since I've gotten some new words from you.

  7. How about June 74. I'm surprised the 28th didn't make it here. What a phenomenal show.


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