This two-CD/three-LP collection was the final live title to have been released by the Grateful Dead during their active performance life. The contents were compiled from a six-month window that included some of the Dead's most uniformly strong shows from the fall of 1989 and the spring of 1990. Without a Net -- the group's first live release in practically a decade -- was also the first to benefit from the additional playing time available on compact disc. More than most other touring bands, the Grateful Dead were able to take full advantage of the technological advancement, as their expanded instrumental jams and sinuously segued suites often lasted in excess of the standard 25 minutes available on a single side of a vinyl album. Without a doubt, this collection is the strongest and most accurate representation of how the concurrent Grateful Dead sounded since the epic Live/Dead album some two decades earlier. One major difference between the two is the lack of new or even recent material on Without a Net. "Victim or the Crime" -- Bob Weir's dark tale of survival -- is the most recent composition, having originally surfaced on the Dead's final studio album, Built to Last (1989). The two covers -- Robert Johnson's "Walkin' Blues" and Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy" -- were the only songs making their debut appearance on a Grateful Dead release. The remaining dozen performances are nuggets mined from the Dead's formidable catalog. There are a few definitive versions of Deadhead favorites, including "Althea," "Bird Song," and "Cassidy," as well as the "Help On the Way"/"Slipknot!"/"Franklin's Tower" medley. In addition to the standard double-disc package, Without a Net was available for a limited time in a "big top edition" that featured picture CDs, an exclusive fold-out poster, and additional circus-themed artwork from longtime Grateful Dead visual collaborator Rick Griffin.
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AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2