Lately I've been rediscovering archive.org. It's a place I dip in and out of over time, going back when I need a fix, filling up and then leaving it alone for a while. Home to hours and hours of live recordings of the Grateful Dead, it can suck you in and keep you warmly nestled up like an old friend or a comfy pair of trousers.
Until last year this site provided free downloads of the soundboard tapes spanning 30 years of the Grateful Dead. The band had an unofficial policy of allowing audience members to tape record (remember cassettes?!) their shows. In the mid 80's they even setting up a section behind the sound desk exclusively for the tapers to set up their gear and roll. Unfortunately I'm told that recently someone in the organization decided there was money to be made now on these quality recordings and the decision was made to take all the soundboard tapes off the internet. Luckily you can still enjoy the audience versions. The quality isn't as pure but all the energy is there and it's nice to be able to re-visit those memories of my youth in aural form.
Perhaps another day I'll try to properly explain the magic that was the Grateful Dead. Suffice to say that it would be very difficult for anyone who wasn't able to see them live to truly understand the power that the band and audience combined could have. I must say I always feel silly trying to describe what the Dead meant to me. It was more than the music. A Dead show involved so many aspects beyond the actual 3 hour (or more) concert. The travel to, the build up on the day, the camping and parking lot scene, the show, the wind down, the night, the plans for the next day and the next show. Of course the music was the reason I was there and on the nights when the band truly came through it was the highest time I've ever know as an audience member.
Funny, there are still days when a certain smell in the air or a cloud formation or something else can flash me back to moment of anticipation before a Dead show. It's a really powerful thing. I love, absolutely, the Beatles and everything they were and continue to be. Steely Dan showed me the magic of combining intelligent jazz concepts with pop music. Frank Zappa proved that humour does belong in music. Joni, Rickie, Metheny, Evans, Coltrane, Wilco, and many more continue to inspire and blow me away. But there is, and will ever be, only one Grateful Dead. As Bill Graham said, "They're not the best at what they do, they're the only ones who what they do". I miss them on a daily basis but I'm so glad I had the time with them that I did.
Pick up Europe '72 or Blues For Allah. Maybe go more gently with American Beauty or Working Man's Dead". Perhaps you'll find a live show on archive.org or even a live DVD on Ebay or through dead.net that grabs you. I can't tell you the best way to "get it" but you just might. Either way, I'll keep flying the flag. Proudly.