Well, if there was one holy week in Grateful Dead performing history, it certainly was the pre-New Year’s Eve week, culminating with the big New Year’s extravaganza hosted by Bill Graham and his party planners. Fortunately, most of the Grateful Dead’s New Year’s eve concerts exist on tape in the vault, and equally good news, most of the pre-New Year’s concerts are also in there, with a few exceptions, through the years.
New Year’s Eve 1968 saw the Dead playing their first of many New Year’s Eve shows at Winterland, sharing a bill with the usual suspects. In regards to taping, this show holds very special meaning in the history of recorded music, as it was the first ever live concert recorded to 2-inch 16-track tape. Unfortunately, the band had the big shows at the Avalon coming at the end of January, 1969, so the reels to 12/31/68 were erased to record the Avalon shows (hey, tape was expensive!), with one lonely Midnight Hour left on tape, featuring all of the musicians who performed that night in an all-star jam. The sound on this 16-track recording is very poor, filled with distortion, but it’s still a very unique historical document.
1969 saw the band play their only New Year’s show outside of California, at the Boston Tea Party, which exists as a Bear reel-to-reel recording and which sounds very good. Although a decent show, the previous night is stronger (a recurring theme through the band’s NYE history). 1970 saw the band return to Winterland, with the 16-track recording machine in tow. A few songs have been released from these shows, including this wonderful electric Monkey and the Engineer on the Download Series-Family Dog release and one of the better versions of Easy Wind ever performed. Later that night, at the very end of the show, there was a “Musician’s Jam,” featuring loads of the musicians from that night. Although not recorded to 16-track, there is a nice 2-track reel of that jam in the vault, featuring amongst other things this excellent Around and Around.
1971 was another excellent Winterland show, with a KSAN radio broadcast, and 1972 saw the band return with the 16-track machine, recording only the 2nd set (or at least that’s all that’s in the vault). Although a great 2nd set, the first set (on 2-track reel only) features some great music, including this exceptional Playing in the Band. I’m hopeful that the 2nd set will get a proper Normanized mix someday, as the Truckin’>Other One>Morning Dew is certainly worthy of release. A typically hot late 1972-concert, and one of the best New Year’s shows in the band’s history.
1976 saw the return to NYE shows after a four-year break, this time at the Cow Palace. I won’t go into too much detail, as this show is going to hit your ears any day now mixed from the 16-track masters, but suffice it to say that this is up there with 12/31/72 as one of the top few NYE shows. Having just heard a reference CD of the show, Jeffrey Norman has once again done a wonderful job mixing and mastering. 1977, recorded by Betty on 2-track tapes at 7.5 ips, was the first big run of shows at New Year’s, and the music here is exceptional, enshrined on Dick’s Picks Vol. 10 from 12/29&30/77, with some excellent music also played on 12/31/77, as heard on this Scarlet Begonias>Fire On The Mountain. 1978 is perhaps one of the best-documented New Year’s shows, recorded to 24-track tape and video taped on 2-inch Quad video (a video format that celebrated its 50th anniversary this month!).
Worth noting on the 1979 run is these were the final shows recorded by Betty on 2-track tape. She continued to do excellent work as part of the team that recorded the 1980 Warfield and Radio City shows, but this was the end of the mix-to-tape (as opposed to PA tapes) era of 2-track recordings, with a few exceptions through the years. A few years later, another New Year’s run would hold major significance to the vault’s contents: NYE 1982 at the Oakland Auditorium (later the Kaiser) would be the first run of shows taped digitally on Beta PCM tapes. Some of these still sound great, as heard on this Shakedown Street from 12/30/83 at the San Francisco Civic (now Bill Graham Civic). The 1984 run at SF Civic also exists on PCMs, as well as reels and cassettes. The 1987 shows feature the introduction or yet another format to the Dead’s vault, DAT, with every show from 12/27/87 to the end recorded to this digital format. Like the PCMs, many of these still sound great, as heard in this Uncle John’s Band>I Need A Miracle>Jam from 12/28/88. The rest of the New Year’s runs beyond 1987 are all on DAT, with the 1989 run also featuring 24-track masters recorded for Without A Net. Here is a rough mix from the multi-tracks of the Bird Song from 12/27/89, complete with some stunning MIDI work by Jerry.
Check back next week when we’ll look at some of the few shows in the week after New Year’s, as well as a few mystery nuggets to fill out the docket. Feel free to get in touch with questions or comments, or if there is any particular show about which you’re curious of the vault source (if any), don’t hesitate to ask. We’ll try to address your curiosity in future entries, date-appropriate, of course.
vault [at] dead.net