The music packed into these four CDs features the Grateful Dead's entire three-set show that formally retired the Bay Area rock and roll palace, Winterland Arena. The content comes directly from the original 24-track analogue tapes, which sound nothing short of sublime. The Closing Of Winterland (2003) is the audio only companion to the two-DVD title of the same name. One major difference between the two is that these CDs only contain the standard stereo 2.0 mix -- as opposed to the respective DTS and Dolby 5.1 mixes on the DVD. By late 1978, the Grateful Dead were at an undeniable crossroads. Even though the tenure of husband and wife team Keith Godchaux (keyboards), and former session vocalist at Muscle Shoals Studios, Donna Jean Godchaux (vocals) was drawing to a close, the band still functioned with their ever-voracious appetite for improvisation and the kind of in-the-moment musicianship that became the cornerstone of the Grateful Dead's mere existence. For this very special performance, they pull out all the stops with a healthy sampling of both new as well as seminal selections from their classic repertoire. Like musical magicians, the Grateful Dead seamlessly maneuver between the lengthy and thoroughly psychedelic coupling of "Scarlet Begonias" with "Fire On The Mountain," or the open-throttle arrangement of the Bob Weir (guitar/vocals) led cowboy medley of "Me and My Uncle" and "Big River." Other impressive selections from the first set include a snarling cover of the Womack's "All Over Now," and a rare solo lead vocal from Donna Jean Godchaux on "From The Heart Of Me." The ante is upped during the second set, commencing with a thoroughly funky take on Rev. Gary Davis' "Samson And Delilah." The band continue to rise to the auspicious occasion as they wind through a stellar and extended medley with "Terrapin Station" and "Playing In The Band." The "Rhythm Devils" percussion break spotlights Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, and long-time enthusiast and noted author, Ken Kesey -- who is actually playing the amplified remnants of Thunder Machine -- the infamous "Further" bus that the Merry Pranksters traveled in. For most seasoned Grateful Deadheads, the third set will command the most attention, as they effortlessly weave their unmistakable musical and definitely muse-inspired magic. From the opening notes of the first "Dark Star" to be performed in over four years, through to the recently revived "St. Stephen," the band use their uncanny abilities of communal sonic transportation to envelope the listener and incrementally relocate. Although they would continue through a number of personnel changes for another 17 years, they would rarely (if ever) regain the fortitude and above all, the passion that is represented on this collection. The Closing Of Winterland is a must-own for every degree of Grateful Dead listener, and is an ideal trial-by-fire springboard for the curious.