Review: Two from the Vault by the Grateful Dead

Label: Grateful Dead Records
Format: Two digital audio CD-ROMS (I think the master was analog)
Cost: About $21.00
Running time: CD-1: 54:50:09, CD-2: 54:22:39
Recording location: Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles
Recording date: Aug. 23-24, 1968 (the weekend before the Democratic Convention in Chicago)
Release date: 1992
I think this may have been the Dead's first location recording. If the Grateful Dead had been able to release this recording right after it was recorded, it probably would have saved them a whole lot of hassle, and Pigpen may have lived a few years longer than he did. But unfortunately, that didn't happen. The Warner Brother's recording engineer did such a bum job with microphone placement (he didn't know about the close miking techniques required to record rock and roll) that the only thing they could do is throw the eight-track master into the vault and hope that some day that technology would develop that would allow them to rescue the botched recording. Well, that didn't do Pigpen any good and he died.

So, the tape stayed in the vault more than 20 years before they found a way to unbotch it. Finally, in 1992, they were able to resurrect that recording from the dead...and it's like beautiful. It's probably the best reflection of what a Grateful Dead concert sounded like. It starts out with one of Pigpen's best numbers, Good Morning, little School Girl but instead of being a wimpy three-minute studio recording like on the Dead's first album, it's over 15 minutes long and live. Pigpen introduces the band and then they play. Then after Pigpen does his thing, Jerry does his and this has to be Jerry at his best in Dark Star. It's my favorite song on the whole album. I've never heard a guitar player control his dynamics (the intensity of each note) as precisely as Jerry does in this song. I had no idea what Tom Wolf was talking about in his book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test when he describes the sound of Jerry's guitar at the acid test at Big Nig's house. Now, I think I understand. There is emotion in every note.

I can't really give a blow by blow account of the rest of the album because I've only listened to it all the way through on two occasions and my goal at the time was to have a wake for Jerry rather than to closely analyze each song. They aren't easy to analyze either because each song is at least 15 minutes long and every time you listen to them, you hear something different.

The way I found out about this album is the Haight-Ashbury CD-ROM draws heavily from it. Then, when Jerry died, I knew I needed to get it. I think it's helped ease the pain of the loss of Jerry and now all I have to worry about are all the other Deadheads. Anyway, this album is a good bet for your tributes for Jerry simply because it captures Jerry's consciousness so well.

My only gripe with this album is the liner notes don't reveal who played what on each song. Besides that, the boys have done a really good job on this one, especially the engineers who rescued it.

Copyright © 1995,
Colin Pringle