The latest from the Grateful Dead is Crimson, White & Indigo, a three-CD set (plus a bonus DVD) that’s the complete recording of the band’s July 7, 1989, concert at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. For the uninitiated, those of you who might think it odd that a band that called it quits nearly 15 years ago continues to produce elaborately packaged live CDs that it sells at exorbitant prices ($31.68 at Amazon right now), that’s just part of the continued weirdness that is the legacy of the Dead, the most recorded band ever.
But understand that this release is not really for you. Deadheads, well, you are the demographic regardless of your own particular demographics, and you aren’t going to need my advice or guidance on purchasing this anyway. Suffice it to say that if you’re a fan of the late-’80s era, you’ll be pleased, and if you’re not, well, there’s not much here that’s going to change your mind. (For my next prediction, the sun will rise in the East tomorrow morning — though I’m not yet ready to say where it will set.)
Before you read any further, regardless of which camp you fall into, you might want to just go here and start listening to the audience recording of the show in question. Download it if you want, as it’s free to do so. And know as you listen, that in my and many others opinions, the recording you’re getting gratis is superior to the version on Crimson. Now this is by no means a slam on the quality of the “official” release, it’s just that there’s this notion floating about in Deadheadland that to best appreciate the live Grateful Dead experience, you need to be hearing an audience tape rather than one of the more sanitary soundboard recordings like the one packaged here. I’m not going to claim this idea as my own, nor will I go into any more detail about it, because you can read all about it here. (Probably good just to bookmark the Grateful Dead Listening Guide anyway, as it’s among the best Dead resources on the Web, and if you are or plan on getting into this subculture at all, you will wind up back here eventually.)
So what I’m asking myself in writing this is, am I reviewing the new CD set or am I evaluating the show itself? A show, mind you, that I did not attend, one that happened nearly 21 years ago and is never going to change, no matter what I write about it from a historical perspective today. Because that’s what the Dead is — besides being a big business and an ongoing concern sans Jerry — an historical object worthy of scholarly study and interpretation. But that’s another story, and I’m concerned with the one I’m trying to write right now. What would I even say about this one night in 1989? That, thankfully, there weren’t a preponderance of midi effects employed? That Brent only did one song, and sadly it wasn’t “I Will Take You Home”? That the “Standing On The Moon” sends shivers down my spine? (But don’t they all?) Should I open the Pandora’s box of comparing Summer ’89 to Summer ’91? Or commit heresy and mention ’77 Spring?
Understand that no matter what is written about the Dead today, by me or anyone else, it gets colored by the historical imperative that’s implicit in the 7,581 recordings cataloged and available for listening in the Live Music Archive. Have I heard them all? Have I really heard any of them yet? Have I listened enough? What exactly is enough?
And what of the newcomer? Where do you start? The first show I ever listened to in the Live Music Archive was “my” one and only Dead show, 6/20/91, as it just seemed like the most logical place to start digging. Wasn’t that where I was most likely to find something buried? In fact there was, deep in my subconscious. Now that it’s been unearthed — thank you tapers and crazy Internet archivists — I’ve become a Latter-Day Deadhead. But such an experience, my becoming Born Again, if you will, also leads me to ask, why not start here, with Crimson?