Grateful Dead

Blair's Golden Road Blog - Instant Gratification

I just got off YouTube, where I was watching a sharp video of Furthur doing their version of The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” last night (3/11/11) at the Best Buy Theater in NYC. I’d followed the progress of the show in the “Furthur” conference on while it was happening Friday night—one of the site’s administrators, whose nom de web is Dire Wolf, faithfully reports the name of each song as it’s played. So when I went to bed I knew the band had played that Abbey Road gem (not exactly a surprise if you’d been following the tour — they unveiled a different song from AR each night in the same sequence and song position as the album; and then did the whole big Side Two medley on Phil's birthday). But at that point we didn’t have any info on who had sung it; all we had was the title. Thanks to the YouTube video, I learned that Bob sang it; really good version, too. Much better than “Oh, Darling,” for sure.

Now, had this been a few nights earlier, during Furthur’s three-night run at Boston’s intimate Orpheum Theater, I could have heard it live as it happened. You see, there was a guy inside the Orpheum with little shotgun microphones and a Sound Devices 744 digital recorder (the same kind used by film sound effects and production recordists; top-of-the line stuff), and somehow he was able to discreetly transmit the show live over a cell phone to a site that uploaded the signal and let us listen to it on the Internet. The quality wasn’t fantastic, but after a lifetime of listening to some really poor-quality tapes of really good Dead and Jerry Band shows, I’ve trained my ears to listen through noise, distortion, echo, whatever, and hear what’s actually going on in the music. So, sitting at my computer, taking care of some work needs, I was blasting those Boston shows, all the while conversing with other folks doing the same on DNC. Good times! And when it was dinnertime and I had to retreat to the kitchen for a spell, I just cranked it up louder. My computer speakers don’t quite manage “concert volume,” as we call it, but they’re decent; I didn’t miss much.

Then, the following day, in late morning here on the Left Coast, word suddenly spread on the Internet that was broadcasting a soundboard recording from the previous night’s show (as they had the day after other concerts on the tour). Schweeet! Between those kinds of sources and, where fine audience recordings are often available to stream (or download) by the next day, it’s never been easier to follow a tour as it happens. (And people who attend a show can buy an official recording before they leave the venue and listen to it on the ride home, if they like.)

Then, too, I always get an email alert either the day after a show, or a day later, alerting me that I can buy soundboard downloads from I’ve bought a number of Furthur FLAC downloads the last couple of years — sometimes after first listening to audience versions of the show on Archive, but more often just based on the song list. I like to be surprised, and I have yet to be disappointed with one of my purchases.

(This just in: As I’m writing this on Saturday morning (3/12) around 11 a.m., last night’s Best Buy show has just started streaming on “Greatest Story”; nice! Thank you, Furthur!)

Needless to say, things are a bit different today than they were in the Grateful Dead era. Back when we were putting out The Golden Road magazine (’84-’93), we relied on the kindness of friends who were on tour following the band to call us from the road, either late at night after a show or the next day, to run down the set list from a pay phone or hotel room. It was something we really looked forward to because it had an intimacy and immediacy — we could hear the excitement in our friend’s voice, we could relive it with him as he recalled the show (or struggled to: “Wait, there was a ‘Me & My Uncle’ in there after ‘Far From Me,’ before the ‘Bird Song’!”), and if he was high enough, it was often hilarious. Even second-hand accounts (“I just got the call from Sundance — wait till you hear this list!”) were thrilling.

Life in 1987: "Here ya go,
Mr. Jackson, your fall tour
tapes have arrived!"

As for actually hearing the show, well, we always had to wait for the end of the tour and for another kind Head to send us audience tapes via the good ol’ U.S. Mail. Sometimes it would be weeks before certain shows arrived. Ah, but what a wonder to find that parcel in our mailbox!

By the Dead’s later days, the Internet was well-established, and you could usually find set lists on or and probably other places, too, but as a troglodyte in good standing, I didn’t even have the Internet at home until after Jerry died. I was late getting a cell phone, too, and was totally mystified the first couple of times I took my then-young kids to concerts of what was then “their” music and all their peers would be crowded around the stage holding cell phones aloft taking pictures of the stage or, as likely, holding their cell cameras at arm’s length and taking shots of themselves with the band a blur in the background. I remember seeing the Black Eyed Peas at an arena with my daughter and asked everyone to turn on their cell phones and wave them in the air—it was quite a sight; I guess it’s the 21st century equivalent of my generation lighting matches of approval.

Cell phone photos are so 2007, though. Now, everyone (except me) has a smart phone with high quality video capabilities and more memory, allowing same-day or next-day uploading of entire songs onto YouTube or Facebook or wherever. There’s a video of “The Other One” from the 3/10 Best Buy concert that went up on YouTube the following morning that blew my mind: it was mostly astonishingly clear closeups of the guitarists’ hands, and the audio quality was excellent to boot. Trust me, if the Grateful Dead was still touring, every minute of every song (in varying degrees of quality) would be on YouTube the next morning.

Is that a good thing? I guess. I’m sure I’d be right there watching every clip (in order, of course). But I also can’t help thinking that something — some amount of connectivity — is lost when so many people in the crowd are distracted by the incessant cell phone activity (photos/video/Internet searching/phone calls) that is evident at every show by almost any band these days. But I suppose it’s just par for the course in this distracted, multitasking age.

What do you think? Has the avalanche of new technologies and new ways to listen to and see bands affected your overall enjoyment of music in any way? Does access to so much free music make you less inclined to buy music or go see bands live? Or are you discovering cool new things on the Web?


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gratefaldean's picture
Joined: Jun 22 2007
I saw a My Morning Jacket show

Last year, started out hugging the rail. There was a helpful young soul with his smart phone giving me the setlist blow-by-blow ("last time they played this was a year ago," that sort of thing). And everyone around me talking, taking pictures, staring at their little personal screens. It was so distracting that I moved out of the scrum to calmer ground where I was then able to actually enjoy the incredible music being played, seemingly, for my benefit alone.

We use music so much as the background soundtrack to so many things that we do, I think sometimes that some of us have lost sight of (or never knew) that when you are at a live music event, music is supposed to be the upfront, foreground, full-on experience, the raison d'etre...and not yet just another place where it's the background soundtrack for our personal comedies and dramas.

Or maybe I should just lighten up.

lamagonzo (not verified)
The experience of listening vs. participating

It has hit me in the last six months or so a kind of let down when I went to a show. The world has speeded-up and if all you're doing is passively listening it doesn't seem like much fun. At GD shows there were always non-tech things to do while concentrating on the music that seemed to enhance the experience of the music.

Now, as quite a few have said, people seem distracted or addicted to multi-tasking. I can't help but laugh when I think of the recent news clip of a woman texting as she walked through a mall and fell right into a fountain. Of course, assuming it wasn't the security camera, capturing this moment was the product of somebody with a gadget phone!

The thing of it is, why are you there (or not)? If you're there, be there and forget the technical stuff. If you're thee for others pleasure at home, Thank You!. But if you're playing with your toys please stay out of my way because I paid my money and made the effort TO BE THERE and not on my cell phone, smart phone or video camera app. attached with sound transmitter.

Just one head's opinion who really enjoyed bathing in the experience of Furthur's sound at the Orpheum with like-minded heads.

Joined: Oct 13 2008
amazed and confused

as i sat and listen to a live stream of tonights show from pa. this is not pay per veiw or a live broacast from a radio station this the technology that was once provided by few which is now in the palms of deadheads them selves,so they can leave in bobbys "we'll be back in a little bit" or stage banter and not have it chopped out to put in a commercial,taking a technology away from a corporate entity i'm all for it especialy if it concerns the Grateful Dead. I know some of the guys in the dead and their crew are forward thinkers but i dont think they forsaw the technologies that we have today ,but for the most part they have stuck to the" let the words be your yours i'm done with mine' (which as just took on new meaning to me as i typed it)-outa sight the band that keeps on giving-i digress-of letting people tape a show. i can think of a few instances were im glad i got to hear a tune from a show insted of a lite beer comercial. as some one else comented "this is a great time to be a dead" we are really blessed to fans of this music

Joined: Mar 18 2010
How it's gonna be....

Excellent article, as always Blair. I'm trying not to be too critical- but the phrase "Flash in the pan" keeps popping up. Maybe it's because in this age of - must have it now, instant availability, the shelf life is, well, like a flash in the pan. How approriate it is then, that it took nearly 40 years for the release of the complete Europe '72 Tour.

giantnerd's picture
Joined: Jun 24 2007

It's great that there are all of these videos available on youtube. I recently found that the entire first show I ever saw was on youtube so thank you to all those who record the shows. Personally I just like to sit back and listen. Anything else seems like work!!! As far as new technology goes I still love old vinyl records. It's great to get an analog sound that has never been digitized, which is pretty much impossible in this day and age. Plus, getting up to change the record and examining the sleeve is an event in itself. That computer is half for work and half to store Grateful Dead music. Would love to see all the Vault DVD's on an mpeg, downloadable format. They don't seem to be selling them anymore anyways. Why not put them on iTunes? I'd re-buy them to have them on my iPod. Only Dead video I have on my iPod is one I bought in Paris which also had mpeg files...not available in the US...

Deadicated's picture
Joined: Jun 4 2007

gratification is cool as long as it's not at the expense of others. When a new Charlie Miller comes up on the LMA, I'm instantly gratified. On the other hand, delayed gratification can be just as cool. The E'72 Box has a wonderfully delicious wait time of many, many months - sometimes the wait is better than the actual gratification! I know I'm an old fart, but I dig patience. All good things in all good time.

" Where does the time go? "

deadmike's picture
Joined: Jun 13 2007
Well ...

I clearly remember the exitement I felt when the April 1985 Frost Amphitheater shows arrived in the mail some three weeks after the actual shows. A Deadhead friend I met through The Golden Road magazine tapetrader ads, taped the concerts and rushed copies to me. It was fantastic, I thought back then. Just in three weeks ... ;-)

These days I pay 99 SEK (about 15,70 USD) a month for an Internet service called Spotify (there is a free version but then every third track or so is interrupted by a minute of disturbing commercials). There I can listen to whole albums by many bands. The albums available with our Boys are almost everyone except The Road Trips series, the 10 CD Fillmore West version and perhaps some others. Spotify have all volumes of Dick's Picks, they have all volumes of the Download series and more or less everything else.

A lot of folks I know have stopped buying psysical products while other do as I, i.e. listen through Spotify and if I like what I hear, I purchase the actual CD's. But then again I might only listen to the physical records once in a while and more often listen to them through Spotify. On the other hand, with the purchase I get the covers and the little books - those are not available through Spotify.

Every now and then the music industry says the era of manufacturing physical products are over and that the era of digital downlaods have replaced them. But last year in Sweden, physical records and such, sold better than the last couple of years. More people also buy vinyl records. Some people I know buy new vinyl albums of old records and since many of them are not sold in Europe, they buy them from the US and pay a lot in postage.

Myself, I do freetime volontary work in a second hand store. My specialities are record, books and hifi products, and we get more money these days for analog tape recorders. Some people rather make demo recordings on tape than through some digital media. The purchase of used vinyl records are more of interest to people than buying used CD's.

Out of the two shops that sell used vinyls in my hometown, one of them would pay me less than 5 USD for any volume of Dick's Picks. But if I had a Dick's Picks on vinyl I would get a lot more ... a lot ...

So, I'm not that scared of the technical developement. I was for a while, when it looked like records could only be purchased through digital downloads but these days when the younger generations say they want more background noices while listening to music, I feel secure that the physical products will not dissappear during my time on the planet.

Micke Östlund,
Växjö, Sweden

My record collection:

Joined: Aug 7 2007
Different Types

If you go to any Sci Fi Convention in this country, you will see all sorts of folks. From the costumed fanatics who can recite the entire script to any Star Trek film, to the guy who just likes to see the ladies dressed as Catwoman. Thus is my take on the shows we attend. You have folks who have the luxury of being able to use any technology that can be purchased so that they have an exact recording prior to leaving the building, all the way to the guy who is standing there in his own world loving every note with his eyes closed and mind opened. It takes all types to make the community of Heads, and we treasure each one of them in their own light to give us a show worth remembering, digital copy or not.

Joined: Jun 13 2007

I like instant
information if
I can't be at the show.
Love ya Blair!

marye's picture
Joined: May 26 2007

I think it's true that the Dead scene in particular (though, from what I've seen, others like Marty Balin were acutely aware of it also) was very long on people who knew from the beginning that these were historic times and were obsessive about archiving it, with the result that even now we're in a much better position with respect to the early stuff than one might otherwise expect. I think an awful lot of people pretty much knew from their first show that this changed everything and started documenting it like mad.


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