Grateful Dead - Three From the Vault (2 CDs)


We know what you’re thinking: What took ’em so long? After all, Two from the Vault, the second of the Dead’s archival releases from multitrack master tapes, came out 15 years ago. And of course, there's been a plethora of releases of multitrack material since, spanning much of the band’s career. So what gives? Well, way back in ’92-’93, Dead soundman Dan Healy, who had picked and mixed the first two choices in the Vault series (from August ’75 and August ’68, respectively), chose the 2/19/71 concert from Port Chester’s wonderful Capitol Theatre, as the third entry in the series. He had it mixed and ready to go, but then for various reasons — many now lost to the mists of time — it never came out. Bummer.

The good news, though, is that now this show can be enjoyed in all its glory. Perhaps you’ve heard one of the soundboard versions that have been floating around the taping world for many moons. But I guarantee you’ve never heard it like this. Three from the Vault comes from an intriguing time in the Grateful Dead’s history. Though still riding high from their first serious commercial successes the previous year, the Dead were not ones to rest on their laurels. Indeed, the waterfall of new songs just kept on coming—at the Capitol that February they introduced seven new tunes, all of them strong enough that they became cherished cornerstones of the Dead’s repertoire—and all are represented here. The night before this show (2/18/71) saw the first versions of “Bertha,” “Greatest Story Ever Told,” “Loser,” “Playing in the Band” and “Wharf Rat.” This 2/19 show boasted the first “Bird Song” and “Deal.” Giving birth is rarely easy, and there are definitely a few rough edges here and there in these newly minted gems—“Greatest Story” didn’t have its chorus yet, and “Playing in the Band” hadn’t arrived at its magical symmetry—but you can still hear the thrill of raw discovery in these tracks as the musicians explore and enjoy their musical progeny.

This show also marked the beginning of a five-year period when Bill Kreutzmann was the sole drummer in the band. If he was at all apprehensive about this change, you’d never know it by listening to his fluid and nimble work here; it’s quite amazing, actually. But all the players are on top of their games, as they tear through a great selection of songs, from still-new tunes like “Truckin’,” “Cumberland Blues,” “Casey Jones” and “Easy Wind,” to older numbers, such as “China Cat Sunflower” and the dynamic take of “That’s It for the Other One.” But what struck me most, hearing this show anew with Healy’s sparkling mix, is that Pigpen is really in top form: On the deep blues of “It Hurts Me Too”; a magnificent, serpentine version of “Smokestack Lightning” (which also features some ultra-slinky slide from Mr. Garcia); the chugging proto-funk of “Easy Wind”; and the jammed-out rockin’ crowd-pleaser that closes the second set, “Good Lovin’.” Three From the Vault was originally set to come out in the spring of 1993, sometime around the 20th anniversary of Pigpen’s death. Nearly 15 years later it still stands as a fine tribute to him, and as a document of this band beyond description in a time of triumph and transition.

The 2-CD package also contains a lively historical essay by Gary Lambert, notes from mastering engineer Joe Gastwirt and a number of rare photos. - BJ

Disc One:
Two Ditties: The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down/Spring Song
Cumberland Blues
It Hurts Me Too
Playing in the Band
Dark Hollow
Smokestack Lightning
China Cat Sunflower
I Know You Rider

Disc Two:
Greatest Story Ever Told
Johnny B. Goode
Bird Song
Easy Wind
That's It For The Other One: Cryptical Envelopment >Drums >The Other One
Wharf Rat
Good Lovin'
Casey Jones

Released June 26, 2007