The Grateful Dead • Live/Dead

Columbia/Mobile Fidelity MFSL 2-365
Two 180-gram LPs
1969/2011

Music

Sound

by Paul Bolin | August 8, 2012

ive/Dead was, and is, the first great concert album of the rock era. Recorded in early 1969 at the Fillmore West and the Avalon Ballroom in the band’s native San Francisco, it was the first live LP recorded to 16 tracks. When released in late 1969 it was heralded by critics as capturing the essence of the Dead’s live performance, particularly the band’s remarkable improvisational skills. It has been, for more than forty years, a stone classic of the psychedelic era and adventurous, often brilliant musicianship.

For its reissue of this legendary album, Mobile Fidelity has pulled out all of the stops. This is reflected in the fine-print listing of a veritable Murderer's Row of high-end audio companies whose equipment was used in the remastering of this record. The original master tapes were also used, so nothing was left to chance. This superb edition hearkens back to the legendary MoFi releases of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the music remains as remarkable and transfixing as ever, particularly Jerry Garcia’s deep-space improvisational explorations on "Dark Star" and the marvelous contrapuntal ensemble playing on "St. Stephen" and "The Eleven."

I’ve been listening to a clean, good-quality pressing of this album for over 25 years and have always been impressed by the sound. The Dead were always at the cutting edge of technology, both in terms of the instruments they played and the recording techniques of the late 1960s to the late 1970s, when the rest of the world began to catch up. The original is an excellent representation of the Dead’s live sound of the time, but this MoFi reissue is another thing entirely. The resolution of the pressings begins at such a low level that many more dimensions are added to the subtlest of interplay between the musicians. Phil Lesh’s bass guitar is a massive presence, but not oversized, and Tom Constanten’s spidery keyboards weave an atmosphere around the proceedings in a far more engaging way. "Turn On Your Love Light" boogies massively, with Ron (Pig Pen) McKernan’s voice gruff, imploring, and potent. Like few other rock bands, the Dead, when on, got into complex instrumental weaves and multi-level conversations amongst the players. This reissue adds hugely to that, and I gained an entirely new level of appreciation for Bob Weir’s fluid and thoughtful playing.

Timbral colors on the MoFi release are decidedly richer and more saturated than on the original, with vocals and guitars being particular beneficiaries. Bass is deep, superbly defined and forceful, drums have greater clarity and authority, and hall dimensions are exceedingly vivid. The sensation of a great electric band playing in a real space has never been better captured on a recording, though the Dead themselves would equal this excellence on other occasions with much more fully realized technology at their disposal.

I admit that I have a longstanding and deep affection for the Grateful Dead of this era. That said, this is not a good re-presentation of a classic LP, it is a great one that improves upon the original in every way. Truly, it is difficult to imagine how Mobile Fidelity could have exceeded the level of excellence shown here. If you care at all about this band’s music, this is well beyond essential.

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