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plus there's good reading under the trading community label.
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Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Quiet Allure Of Audience Tapes

Upon launching the Grateful Dead Listening Guide I brought up a somewhat understated intention that went beyond the overarching goal of helping folks navigate the endless choices of Dead concert recordings online. Early on I came clean on the point that I was particularly fond of audience recordings, and that in years past I had devoted much of my time and energy to spreading the word of audience tapes and the joys within. There was little denying that throughout my ongoing ramblings there would be a sometimes subtle, sometime outright, push to wake people up to the beauty of audience recordings and my opinion that they (yes, I’ll say it) put the soundboard medium to shame on many levels critical to enjoying the magic of the Dead’s music.

Well, I haven’t been keeping any kind of score card, but I can safely tell you that after general e-mails and comments thanking me for putting up the guide overall, nothing quite comes close to the number of people who confess to having been converted over to an appreciation of audience tapes where before they wouldn’t have given them a chance. And, with readership growing steadily, the frequency of converts continues to rise. It’s a good thing, and it seems to be happening naturally, without my wildly banging some audience tape gong.

I often look at the collective readership of the GDLG like that single person I described at the start of this project who discovered the old grizzled deadhead living across the street (still not sure why I always paint him as old and grizzled. I’d like to think that I’m not particularly either), and began borrowing tapes, listening to stories, and building a collection of music not ever to be found in the nearby record stores. So here after nearly a year and a half, the old deadhead has turned this fellow on to about 80 shows. And being careful as he has been, he has slowly let his personal preference for audience tapes whisper its way into the newcomer’s ear. And slowly, being unconcerned with succeeding, the audience tape medium has been allowed to work its magic and gain another passionate devotee.

There can be little doubt that something more than music is going on when you listen to audience tapes, and this goes well beyond the simple fact that these recordings capture the crowd noise and room ambience. As has been recently articulated by folks commenting on the passing of legendary taper, Jerry Moore, when you listen to a good audience tape you can’t help but experience a layer of gratitude for the person who saw fit to deal with all the rigmarole of taping in the first place. This gratitude quickly expands to a difficult to describe sharing of the taper’s experience as it happened, placing a certain physical layer into the soundscape where we come to discern the true scale of the live musical experience (readily displayed when listening to tapes of 1974’s Wall Of Sound. Worth checking out the podcast too). And then we also come to appreciate the fact that the audience recording is a document completely separate from the world of commercial music. It is the product of people, shared from friend to friend, not packaged onto the shelves of record stores. This most quiet social/cultural layer is on every tape, and infuses the listening experience before during and after the tape is actually playing.

It is no wonder that the Grateful Dead Listening Guide is doing such a fine job of showing people the light of audience tapes. They work on so many levels, one only needs a slight nudge in their direction. From there, the tapes themselves begin to shed light on many things, not the least of which is the actual music itself as it flowed from the stage to the audience.

I once thought that an audience tape was only bringing us a small fraction of the listening experience at a Dead show, like how a photograph is a two dimensional take away from a four dimensional experience. But, when we consider everything “coming off the tape” when listening to audience recordings in particular, they appear more akin to the experience of discovering a rich layer of complexity hiding just below the surface of something we hitherto thought we fully comprehended. There is far more within them than a surface view can reveal, like fractals within fractals, and the sub atomic universe deeper within physical matter than any microscope can see.

It’s the crazy talk of a Deadhead, I know. But I struggle to find any more concrete means to explain the experience of the Dead’s music preserved under the glass of a pristine audience recording. That it is really there defies proof, yet the effects of its being there ripple into our more discernable perceptions of the experience. We know it's there because of the impact it leaves on us. People do turn on to audience tapes. The ear does tune to the spectrum of frequencies caught on tape after a short while allowing the listening experience to unfold like a blooming flower. A slight nudge really is enough to draw in the masses.

There is an invisible pied piper playing a siren song here – crazy as any deadhead out there. I’ve been drawn in by that song for a good long time, and I’m glad to see others hear it too.


  1. I've been listening to the Dead since about 1974. Live shows since around 79. After Jerry passed, I went through a phase where I tried to listen to all of my tapes and anything I could get my hands on. Then darkness.

    Aside from the occasional audio berserker sessions, the Dead comprised maybe 4%-5% of my overall listening time at the most.

    I have to say that this blog really ignites my passion for Grateful Dead (and related) music every time I view it. Whenever I come back, I have the urge to break out what I have, go to the Internet Archive, check out your posts, and seek out whatever Dead I'm in the mood for.

    Thanks for sticking with this blog. And thanks for taking the time to construct the podcasts. It's a sometimes daily, sometimes weekly reminder of one of my all-time favorite bands!

  2. Mega-dittoes to WWW! Thanks for being a keeper of the flame. (Got a light?)

  3. Just a big *thank you* for the love and devotion you put into this blog.

  4. Your stories about how the audience tapes came into being really brings the human component back into my listening to the music. I only traded a little bit before usenet and the archive took the place of trading (at least for me), but I really do miss the establishing of relationships through trading and the excitement (and sometimes disappointment) of getting a package in the mail and then sitting down to listen to music I had never heard before. I will never forget receiving a "bonus" tape of 9-19-70 during a b+p deal and how much that tape moved me.

    Thanks for doing what you do. There is deep, deep beauty in this music that can be accessed by mindful listening; you are an able facilitator and guide in that process.


  5. Hey thanks for thsi blog. I have been reading for a while (almost every post). I agree AUD tapes can do it for me sometimes better than a SBD. Here is a site that has helped me find the best sounding AUDS out there.

    I couldn't keep this site a secret after your passionate reviews on AUD.

  6. I came across the GDLG last spring, about the
    same time I started listening to the Dead
    again after a few years off. It helped
    inspire me to become a complete aud freak, so
    since getting back on the bus I've listened
    to nothing but auds. I miss a few of my old
    board favorites (especially 5/2/70), but have
    found some great shows that I never paid
    attention to before, like 4/15/69, 9/26/69,
    3/7/70, 9/17/70 and 6/17/72. And as you
    point out, auds give you more of the "you are
    there" show experience, that is completely
    missing on the boards. After having your
    mind blown by the 12/1/71 O1 > M&MU > O1,
    it's great to hear the similar response from
    someone near the taper exclaiming "OMG!!" as
    they start NFA, or the joy of the two guys on
    9/16/72 when they start Dark Star: "Dark
    Star! Dark Star? Cool!". Thanks for helping
    to spread the word about auds!

  7. I appreciate your applying techie knowledge to the vast reservoir of Grateful Dead AUDS. With the gift of a new iPod (and my son imparting to me the ability to download AUDS from links on your site!), I've begun traipsing down the Listening Trails you've created.
    I would appreciate your insight into song development. Take an early version of "I Know You Rider." The version on Disc 1 of "So Many Roads" is vastly different than late 80s early 90s versions. It might be interesting to take a single song and follow its "development" through successive tours.
    Just a thought.
    Keep up the great work. Your show suggestions have been stellar. You've done your homework and dug up some really top notch recordings.
    Another suggestion (as is you needed one!): Your top 10 favorite posters, why and their best resordings.
    Again, thanks for all the effort!


  8. I love the 'Old Grizzled Deadhead' across the street. He lived across the street from my parents, looked like Jerry circa 1974 and while being a friendly family guy, had been going to shows since the late 60's. He was never a tape trader, just accumulated tapes over the years. I prodded him into letting me dub his collection, which resided in an old cardboard box in his basement. It was the seeds of my own collection, and mostly audience recordings. He also took me to a bunch of shows, which was very cool. Of course by that time, he and his friends were tired of the scene, driving mini-vans and avoiding the parking lot. They had hit the "concierge, send up 4 hits of blotter acid" point of their lives, but were fun to hang out with none the less.

    Thanks for the great site, and helping me remember how it all started.

  9. @Dogstarz: Thanks for the link! I'm now enjoying a pristine aud from my very first show, 7/13/89 @RFK. It's almost *too* good...and I can't believe it's been nearly 20 years since I turned on and tuned in.

    And of course, mad props to icepetal for this brilliant site!


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