Grateful Dead were at the peak of their powers on RED ROCKS 7/8/78, the latest live release from the vaults of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers. The 3-CD set was recorded between TERRAPIN STATION and SHAKEDOWN STREET, whose the stellar seven-piece line-up makes the band’s first visit to the Morrison, Colorado amphitheatre a memorable one. The venue's outstanding acoustics are further burnished by the skills of faithful Dead engineer Betty Cantor-Jackson, whose crisp soundboard recordings are renown among fans as “Betty Boards.” From the opening notes of “Bertha” through such favorites as “Estimated Prophet” and “Wharf Rat” until a gleeful closing version of Warren Zevon's “Werewolves Of London,” the energy and inspired performances never let up.
When it was announced in early 2015 that the Grateful Dead's 50th anniversary celebration would include a handful of reunion gigs – their first live appearances since the 1995 death of founder Jerry Garcia – the news was met with a cautious optimism. In the two decades since officially disbanding, numerous iterations have toured the band's catalog (the Dead, the Other Ones, etc.) featuring surviving members Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart, collectively considered the "core four." Until 2015, though, the Grateful Dead brand had not been revived and, for some fans, the thought of playing a proper Dead show without Garcia still seemed sacrilegious.
The primary impetus behind this ambitious 12-disc box set is to gather all nine of the Grateful Dead's Warner Brothers titles. However, the staggeringly high quotient of previously unissued bonus material rivals – and at times exceeds – the content of those original albums. The Golden Road (1965-1973) truly has something – and usually a lot of it – for every degree of Deadhead…
With 1970's Workingman's Dead, the Grateful Dead went through an overnight metamorphosis, turning abruptly from tripped-out free-form rock toward sublime acoustic folk and Americana. Taking notes on vocal harmonies from friends Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the Dead used the softer statements of their fourth studio album as a subtle but moving reflection on the turmoil, heaviness, and hope America's youth was facing as the idealistic '60s ended. American Beauty was recorded just a few months after its predecessor, both expanding and improving on the bluegrass, folk, and psychedelic country explorations of Workingman's Dead with some of the band's most brilliant compositions. The songs here have a noticeably more relaxed and joyous feel. Having dived headfirst into this new sound with the previous album, the bandmembers found the summit of their collaborative powers here, with lyricist Robert Hunter penning some of his most poetic work, Jerry Garcia focusing more on gliding pedal steel than his regular electric lead guitar work, and standout lead vocal performances coming from Bob Weir (on the anthem to hippie love "Sugar Magnolia"), Ron "Pigpen" McKernan (on the husky blues of "Operator"), and Phil Lesh (on the near-perfect opening tune, "Box of Rain").