Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Grateful Dead 14: Steal Your Face

Back before quitting the road for a spell, the Dead undertook a few projects to buy time and stay in front of fans. One guaranteed crowd-pleaser was The Grateful Dead Movie, which combined performances from a farewell five-night stand at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom with conversations with actual Deadheads plus psychedelic animation. Of course, by the time the film was finished, the band had resumed touring anyway, so to maximize the documentation of the stint, as well as bolster profits for their failing record label, the double live Steal Your Face album was released as a placeholder.
This was the period where the band was using their “Wall of Sound” PA system, a couple hundred speakers that may have sounded fine in person, but wasn’t recorded very well. Also, where previous live albums had ebb, flow, and momentum, this one seemed mostly a grab bag. It was not well-received, nor did it seem the band had much input past playing the songs in the first place. The energy seems subdued, even for them; “Ship Of Fools”, for one, is taken at a funereal pace, making “Beat It On Down The Line” a welcome pick-me-up, even with Donna Godchaux doing her thing. A few R&B and country covers make their first appearances on a Dead LP after having been in their repertoire for a few years; Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land” and “Around And Around” don’t have much life, but “Big River” by Johnny Cash and “El Paso” by Marty Robbins are snappier. Similarly, “solo” tracks like “Sugaree” and “Black Throated Wind” get the full band treatment, and Robert Hunter’s “It Must Have Been The Roses” enjoys another workout.
Despite its relation to the film, Steal Your Face was not the official soundtrack album for their movie, nor was it given much love in their ongoing archival program, getting only a couple of straight CD transfers with no extras. Rather, fans are directed to The Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack, which offers five discs full of mostly complete performances from the shows, though not all of them, and in a mostly ramshackle order. (It still offers more than the double-DVD reissue of the movie itself.) As for the Wall of Sound era, official band archivists have made several shows available for comparison, as listed below.

Grateful Dead Steal Your Face (1976)—3
     Archival releases of same vintage:
     • Dick’s Picks Volume Seven (1997)
     • Dick's Picks Volume Twelve (1998)
     • Dick's Picks Volume Twenty-Four (2002)
     • Dick's Picks Volume 31 (2004)
     • The Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack (2005)
     • Road Trips: Vol. 2, No. 3: Wall Of Sound (2009)
     • Dave’s Picks Volume 2: Dillon Stadium, Hartford, CT 7/31/74 (2012)
     • Dave's Picks Volume 9: Harry Adams Field House, U. of Montana, Missoula, 5/14/74 (2014)
     • Dave’s Picks Volume 13: Winterland, San Francisco, CA 2/24/74 (2015)
     • Dave's Picks Volume 17: Selland Arena, Fresno, CA, 7/19/74 (2016)
     • Pacific Northwest '73-'74: The Complete Recordings (2018)
     • Pacific Northwest '73-'74: Believe It If You Need It (2018)
     • Dave's Picks Volume 34: Jai-Alai Fronton, Miami, FL 6/23/74 (2020)

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