Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dark Star - Grateful Dead Song Review

Dark Star.
What can you say about Dark Star? It is almost larger than life.

As you can see I took a 3 year hiatus from the blog to think about this post.  Not really, but it's good to be back (had some technical/google/login type issues).

Dark Star is perfect - a simple motif that represented a vehicle for free form exploration.  The lyrics are simple and utterly psychedelic. "Glass hand dissolving to ice petal flowers revolving." Perfect.

Throughout the band's entire career this song was anticipated and probably even more so toward the end of the  band's tenure in the 90's. I never got to see this song in concert, but there's a few versions that I have close to my heart that I will briefly discuss:

Dark Star from Live/Dead Album (in 1967)
This to me is "the original." It's just fantastic.  The band really does a nice job locking into patterns with each other and evolving gradually and collectively  - with Jerry's twangy guitar leading the way.

There's also a "2:45 "Single Version" on the Live/Dead reissue that is really cool, with a jumpy beat, a nice shaker, and a tamboura in the background.

Dark Star from Sunshine Daydream Movie (Veneta Oregon Concert in 1972)

In this performance the Dead appears to be able to play this song completely unconsciously, thus allowing them to really let themselves go and (apparently) trip out on the performance.  Jerry looks to be "far, far away" in this performance.

I highly recommend you check this movie out, there's some great footage (and especially audio) of the extended Grateful Dead Family putting on a concert.   Part of the Dark Star has been posted to youtube. It claims to be "1 of  4 parts" but I can't find the other 3 and it's not a satisfying way to enjoy the footage anyway (on youtube's flash player). The DVD is out there -  if you can possibly get your hands on it, I recommend doing so.

Dark Star from "Warlock's" Shows in Hampton Virginia (October 9th, 1989)

Must see video on Youtube is here.  The band announced these shows and sold tickets as "The Warlocks" or "Formerly the Warlocks" or something like that.  Can you imagine being there for that run? Wow, here are some notes from the youtube uploader:
In addition to the spectacular renditions of each song, it was also the 1st Dark Star since Berkley 1984, the 2nd Death Don't Have No Mercy since 1972, the 1st Attics of My Life since 10-28-1972 and the 1st time Dark Star and Death Don't were played in the same show since 11-2-69 ...
That video gives me chills, and I return to it often.

Dark Star from First Set at Shoreline (August 16th, 1991)
I am a veteran of several Shoreline shows (not this one though) and you may know that I am biased towards late Dead.  So I am fascinated that on a summer day in 1991 during a pretty routine 1st set Jerry played Dark Star between Desolation Row and Promised Land. WHAT? I love trying to imagine having been there for that. I bet it was still daylight even. It's a "short" version and none too expansive, but still very novel. The last time they played Dark Star in the first set was 20 years prior (in 1971).

This show has a ridiculous 2nd set opening medley - check it out if you can.

Dark Star from Dick's Picks Volume 27 (December 16th, 1992)

This is my favorite Dark Star.  I know I know.... most Deadheads would laugh at this 5 minute "half a Dark Star" and hey, "how can you pick a favorite anyway," right?  Still, I just love hearing the hint and the tease and then the crowd's reaction the instant Jerry plays the notes.   Also, it's at Oakland Coliseum where I have some powerful memories.  They don't even play the opening "theme" (which always seemed to get butchered in later years anyway).  It's a "second half" of the Dark Star that presumably "started" on some previous night.

I've heard other versions where the crowd's reaction is unbelievably loud (like on audience recordings) but that was many years ago when I had a tape collection. I love hearing the crowd react when they recognize what song the Dead are going to play.

For serious musicians: take a look at this "Master Class" piano exploration of Dark Star. This video is over an hour and a half and I admit I haven't even made it into this video further than a few minutes. Still, there's gotta be some amazing insight in there about how the Grateful Dead approached Dark Star.

Dark Star Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 10.0

Disclaimer: This is part of my review of every Grateful Dead song from A-Z. Music is a beautiful thing because it is so personal and subjective, so keep in mind that this is one man's opinion (and be sure to read my blog manifesto to understand a little more about where I'm coming from).

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