Grateful Dead

Dead Ahead: New York City, October 1980 [Video]

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Commemorating 15 years on the road, in late 1980 the Grateful Dead presented a total of 25 -- or 26 if you count New Year's Eve -- concerts highlighted by a rare acoustic set. Appropriately enough, this run of shows reached an apex on Halloween with a closed-circuit TV special and FM radio simulcast throughout North America. Choice moments were then compiled and unleashed into the burgeoning home video market as Dead Ahead in 1981. Also integrated into the final presentation were "unplugged" versions of "On the Road Again" -- which was trotted out specifically for these gigs after a 14-year absence -- and a stunningly poignant reading of "To Lay Me Down" from the previous evening (October 30). The Grateful Dead are in exceptional form throughout, especially the contributions from Brent Mydland (keyboard/vocals), who had effectively replaced the husband-and-wife team of pianist Keith Godchaux and vocalist Donna Jean Godchaux just the year before. Mydland's slightly raspy tenor voice complements the ensemble with an undeniable depth of soul during "Bird Song" and "To Lay Me Down." His respective organ solos on "Little Red Rooster" and "Don't Ease Me In" hark back to the days of seminal Grateful Dead keyboardist Ron "Pigpen" McKernan. Taking into account that there really isn't a subpar selection in the lot, among the standouts is Bob Weir's medley linking "Lost Sailor" and "Saint of Circumstance" from the Dead's concurrent studio LP, 1980's Go to Heaven. Although edited, "Rhythm Devils" featuring percussionists Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann is particularly inspired, as is the funky "Fire on the Mountain" that follows. The 2005 DVD reissue is sizably upgraded with five additional tunes from October 30th -- including a stellar acoustic take of Weir's "Heaven Help the Fool." The sound has been completely remastered with a new digital pass for the stereo from the original Dead Ahead program. Or, for those not too fussy about fake Surround Sound, consumers can select a digitally extrapolated 5.1 mix. The bonus material is comparatively stunning as Grateful Dead engineer Jeffrey Norman returned to the master multi-track tapes to provide a breathtakingly realistic 5.1 experience.

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