Grateful Dead

Steal Your Face!

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Some Deadheads and enthusiasts have dismissed this two-disc live set as being foul-sounding and wholly unrepresentative of a typical Grateful Dead show circa 1974. These are undeniably accurate thumbnail assessments. However, somewhat obscured beneath what is not on this collection are a few salvageable performances. The story of why the Dead would contribute to such substandard workmanship has long been grist for the rumor mill. The evidence, however, speaks in the package's indescribably poor song selection and complete lack of cohesion. Steal Your Face is compiled from the same four-night stand (October 16 through October 20, 1974) at Winterland Arena that the Dead filmed for the Grateful Dead Movie (1976). Because the band had announced their decision to cease their incessant touring and essentially go on sabbatical, these concerts were being touted at the time as the "final four." By all accounts there was plenty of inspired musical interaction during the course of the run. So, why weren't those tracks accessed for this release? In essence, this boils down to two factors: the absence of quality control at the time the recordings were made, and some decidedly unsavory and unethical conduct by the band's concurrent management. What listeners are left with is a loose assortment of shorter tracks and self-contained performances. This was written off by the band as an attempt not to duplicate the style of their previous concert releases Live/Dead (1969), Grateful Dead (1971), and Europe '72 (1972) -- all of which were infinitely more realistic and warmly received. There are a few throwaways, such as the Chuck Berry covers "Promised Land" and "Around and Around" as well as Bob Weir's cowboy tunes "Big River" and "El Paso." It should be noted that these particular cuts are not all that bad. However, none of the songs have much room for any ensemble work or extended improvisation -- key elements when capturing the essence of the Grateful Dead live. Conversely, newer originals such as the Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter ballads "Ship of Fools," "It Must Have Been the Roses," and the album's unmitigated gem, "Stella Blue," rate among the package's most thoughtful and lyrical moments.

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