Although there have been no shortage of Grateful Dead archival releases in the wake of the band's dissolution, Go to Nassau (2002) is the first set to be comprised of shows from 1980. The electric Reckoning (1981) and acoustic Dead Set (1981) -- which were culled from the Dead's series of 15th-anniversary shows at the Warfield in San Francisco and New York City's venerable Radio City Music Hall -- are the only other recordings available from this year. Historical significance aside, neither of those releases represents the band as accurately as this double-disc set.
By even the most generous of accounts, the intensely perpetual psychedelic experimentation that had dominated the Grateful Dead's music in the late '60s and early to mid-'70s had begun to level out. Producer and Dead tape archivist David Lemieux cleverly navigated the available materials, synthesizing a composite that is in many ways stronger and tighter than the respective May 15 and May 16 shows from which Go to Nassau was ultimately gleaned. The title is a sly inference to the Dead's 11th studio album, Go to Heaven (1980), which had hit the streets less than a month prior to these mid-May shows. As such, it is no real surprise that this compilation includes half a dozen tracks from their most recent LP -- highlighted by the first live release of the rarely performed "Far From Me" by newly acquired keyboardist Brent Mydland.
The second disc commences with a suite of recent compositions, highlighted by the combo of "Althea," "Lost Sailor," and "Saint of Circumstance," all of which had already begun to show signs of remarkable maturity. These are peppered among other performance staples such as an extended "Franklin's Tower." This version is particularly notable for the variations during the waning moments of improvised instrumentation. Likewise, "Playing in the Band" allows the group the opportunity for some inspired interaction -- although it was no longer the transportational device it had once been in the '70s.
Additional kudos to the sonic spit shine that producer Jeffrey Norman gave to these recordings -- which provide an almost palpable soundstage under even the most tenuous of listening environments.