Visual documentation of the Grateful Dead has a been a fickle beast; releases sell out, stay out of print for a few years, reappear briefly, disappear again ... if you don't get 'em while they're hot, it's the eBay/Amazon gamble, for which exorbitant prices are likely paid.
Happily, this latest in the recent avalanche of Grateful Dead archival material makes it easy: all 14 official DVD releases collected in one box.
Missed Ticket to New Year's for that seeming five minutes it was in print? It's here. So's 1977's Grateful Dead Movie (shot in '74), still the best document ever made of what it was to go to a show and see the band. Everything else the Dead have ever put out is here too, plus a few extras unique to this set. The bonus disc has a handful of performances in the View From the Vault vein (i.e., late '80s and early '90s), along with a new interview with archivist David Lemieux (hilariously noting how, for a Deadhead, Jerry bending his knees a little while he plays is the thrilling equivalent of Pete Townshend smashing his guitar) and, best of the bonus stuff, Justin Kreutzmann's short musical documentary Backstage Pass, the only place here where you get an ample helping of the Pigpen era. Another highlight is the first-time-on-DVD So Far — a psychic trip through the Dead via 1985 concert and studio footage melded with a stream-of-consciousness melange of abstract images. The Dead sure didn't look good in this era (especially Jerry, bloated and sporting an unsettling ashen complexion), but their playing was at a mid-period peak.
While any liner notes and packaging artwork from original releases have been dropped in favor of one longer overview essay by longtime Dead scribe Blair Jackson, the contents of the discs themselves are identical to their original counterparts, all bonus materials intact. Also, the set tends to lean heavily on late-period Dead, as there's just not much early footage of the band. But a potential complaint is: There must be some! Would've been nice to have some hot early nuggets on the bonus materials at least. And one real complaint: Where the hell is Sunshine Daydream, the film completed — completed! — back in 1972, of their August 27 performance of that year, hailed by many to be one of the best shows the Dead ever played and a very cool film to boot? Well, this is a very nice set, complete in its own way. For everything else we still have YouTube.
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