BY HAL BIENSTOCK
If you asked your average Deadhead to name the single best Dead show, the answer has remained unchanged since tape trading went semi-mainstream in the 1980s: the show at Cornell University on May 8, 1977. Over the last few years, as people have been able to stream just about any Dead performance on demand, that conventional wisdom has been questioned. Now, you’ll find just as many people making a case for the Fillmore East shows on Feb. 13-14, 1970 and a more unusual concert, the Springfield Creamery Benefit in Veneta, Oregon, in August 1972. The official release of this last show as Sunshine Daydream may shift the balance of power once and for all. For Deadheads and casual fans alike, this is as good as it gets.
Everything the Dead do well is here: the extended jams (“Playin’ in the Band” and a “Dark Star” that ventures into Miles Davis territory), laid-back country rock (“Deal,” “El Paso”) and straight-ahead Chuck Berry-influenced rock and roll (“Greatest Story Ever Told” “One More Saturday Night” and Berry’s own “The Promised Land”).
While it’s easy to roll your eyes when Deadheads talk about “magic” there is something about a Dead show that is hard to quantify. Some nights the band is locked in, some nights it’s not. Sometimes the jams are aimless, others they’re exploratory in the best possible way. The harmonies can be gorgeous or sloppy. Often you get some of each of these things at different points in a show. Here the band is clicking from start to finish. It’s that simple.
Rhino has done a great job commemorating the show. It sounds great and comes in a beautiful package (tie-dyed of course) complete with liner notes that tell the story of the day from several angles. Best of all, a long-lost professional film of the show is finally available. With this being 1972, you’ll need to have a high tolerance for cheesy “psychedelic” animation and naked hippies. But when the focus is on the band, the film is a joy to watch.
DOWNLOAD: “Dark Star,” “China Cat Sunflower,” “I Know You Rider”