Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Grateful Dead 2: Anthem Of The Sun

As the Dead gained notoriety for their free-form live performances, they faced the challenge of translating that energy to albums. Apparently they didn’t have the pull at the label to just release a live album, nor the technical ability to record something of releasable quality. Therefore, Anthem Of The Sun consisted of various live recordings edited and embellished in the studio, with all the locations dutifully listed on the back cover.
While the album can seem random at points, there is structure within. “That’s It For The Other One” begins with a plaintive Garcia melody, eventually exploding into a jam that leads into another melody led by Bob Weir, back to the Garcia part and ending with a very avant-garde collage of prepared piano and percussion. Because the track is listed as having four parts, the listener can have fun trying to guess where each one lies. The seamless transition to “New Potato Caboose”, another lengthy jam, might be hard to spot, while the shorter “Born Cross-Eyed” had been a single. Either way, without clear breaks between tracks, the listener might be surprised when the side ends.
Side two lists only two tracks, which were often played together anyway. “Alligator” sports a prominent kazoo at the start, which is gratefully retired not to far into the song. Piano from new member Tom Constanten better fills out the first half of the song, before the switch to a live performance, exhortations for audience members to clap their hands, instrumental solos and more consolidated boogie. Sharp ears will recognize the melody from Donovan’s “There Is A Mountain”, soon to be appropriated by the Allman Brothers. Despite its title, “Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks)” is possibly closest to the blues influences on the first album, being an extensive exploration on the single idea of something a gypsy woman said. It ends the album with extensive feedback, which would be a feature of future live albums, often listed as a separate track.
While ramshackle, Anthem Of The Sun does hold together as an album, hinting at how they really sounded in their true element. These songs would only develop further in performance, as the bonus tracks on the expanded CD demonstrate. (For those seeking the original shows that were used to make up the album, some of those have become officially available, and are listed below.)

The Grateful Dead Anthem Of The Sun (1968)—3
2003 CD reissue: same as 1967, plus 4 extra tracks
     Archival releases of same vintage:
     • Dick's Picks Vol. 22 (2001)
     • Download Series Vol. 6 (2005)
     • Road Trips Vol. 2, No. 2 (2009)

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