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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.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Listening Trail – The Dark Star Garden

Another installment in the GDLG Listening Trails Series

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.


  1. Cool post! I won't dare list my favorites, either.... But some trivia for the 'uninitiated': longest Dark Star was 5-11-1972 clocking in at just over 47 mins...
    Also, while the tune was an absolute fave by fans, it began to disappear in 1974 (played only 6 times that year, vs. it's heavy rotation in '72-73)... and only reappeared again in 1978 for New Years... After that there were 2 in 1979... One in 1981... One in 1984... Then gone...
    It was a *very* big deal when they brought it back in 1989.

  2. An interesting contrast is the very nice, very different Dark Star from the (not Grateful) Dead's 4/14/09 show in DC on the recent spring tour. In and out of it for the better part of the second set. Daniel Kopp's aud is fantastic:

    And amusingly, I was just listening to the 7/12/90 Dark Star - the Pete Ebel aud from that date is very very nice, especially considering the heavy rain throughout the show.

  3. June, July, you think the Summer had a big effect on Dark Star or more on the band?

  4. Thanks for all the comments, folks.

    I think summer was a special time, indeed. But not so much to say things were always "highest" in those months.

    Winter could really shine too. A coulple of Dark Stars off the top of my head that would have been on the list, if only I had reviewed the shows already, are 01/02/70 and 12/06/73. All in good time.

  5. There was a DS from the '72 tour in Europe that was one of the most frightening things I had ever heard when I first encountered it. The version actually scared me at certain moments it was so atonal and veering off into noise that sounded like (years later) Sonic Youth-esque. A buddy of mine had it on an unlabeled bootleg LP. It wasn't even marked but we later determined it to be from Europe '72, somewhere in the hinterlands.

    I can't remember the exact date or the place without digging through my archives and looking it up (sorry, teaser!), but anyone who's heard it knows. I'm sure all you guys do. It stands out in my mind not as the greatest DS but as one of the absolute wiggiest. I always loved that about the Dead: Their ability to take you out there right to the edge of oblivion, dance you over the edge for just a moment or three, and then come flying back to earth for a safe landing on good ole mother dirt.

  6. Dark Star from the album Live Dead is analyzed, deconstructed, and more on a video by Dave Frank. It can be found easily on youtube. Amazing analysis, and even though it's very technical, it's entertaining even for those people like me with no formal musical background nor training. I am not associated with Mr. Frank in any way, just stumbled across it and thought it might be relevant here. Hope this is appropriate.


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