Granted the double-disc Out of Your Skull (1993) is a wholly unauthorized European import. Likewise, it was overpriced and includes a mere two-thirds of the Grateful Dead's gargantuan May 9, 1977 gig at the War Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo, NY. In spite of these detractions, there are several factors that made this title among the better bootlegs to have emerged from the late '80s and early to mid-'90s proliferation of (sometimes) acceptable quality, yet elicit CDs of questionable derivation. A primary positive that the package has going for it is an excellent source tape. In fact, the origins of the superior sounding oxide can be traced back to a "leaked" soundboard. The tapes were originally made by Betty Cantor-Jackson -- one of the band's most endearing and enduring live and studio audio engineers. Her penchant for capturing superior grade fidelity earned her a well-deserved place in the hearts and minds of Deadheads worldwide, who subsequently dubbed her sonic stash with the apropos nickname "betty boards." And Cantor-Jackson's handiwork is evident. As are the collective skills of Jerry Garcia (lead guitar/vocals), Phil Lesh (bass/vocals), Bob Weir (guitar/vocals), Bill Kreutzmann (percussion), Mickey Hart (percussion), Keith Godchaux (keyboards), and his wife Donna Jean Godchaux (vocals). Ask any scholarly Grateful Dead enthusiast and they will undoubtedly laud the merits of 1977 as a profound year for live shows, but more specifically the spring East Coast tour as it yielded some of the most revered audio documents in the combos 30-year history. Even as the evening's song selection is somewhat typical, the performances are thoroughly and uniformly excellent. Tricky time signatures on the "Help on the Way"/"Slipknot!"/"Franklin's Tower" trifecta are executed with agility and rugged precision -- despite a lyrical gaffe or two from Garcia. He makes up for it with the penetrating and searching melodies infused within his exemplary soloing. Weir's "Cassidy," among his best offerings, has not fully developed its improvisational boundaries, particularly prior to the final "...flight of the sea birds..." coda. Garcia's adaptation of the traditional folk ballad "Pretty Peggy-O" is full of subtle and charming nuances, while Donna Jean Godchaux's "Sunrise" (the song is misidentified as "Sugaree" within the packaging) is arguably one of her best versions of the haunting musical tribute. The second set of the show -- beginning with "Bertha" -- is chock-full o' nuggets, although only half of it is presented here. Weir's newly mined "Estimated Prophet" smokes with Garcia's unique wah-wah fretwork oozing transcendent lines during the systematically stretched concluding jam that eventually evolves into a sinuous "Other One." It is at this point that Out of Your Skull concludes, with a good quarter-hour or so remaining. For that reason, it is a worthwhile investment to seek the rest of the proceedings via most any Grateful Dead audio trader.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2