I'm still leaving my options open on this one, but I have a few that stand out, probably b/c I've listened to them the most:
-the China Doll off of Reckoning - when they nail that harmony on "just a little nervous" I get chills
-Friend of the Devil off Dead set - even though when i tracked down the original I didn't like Brent's solo as much, it's still one the tightest well played solos I've heard
-Sugaree - 5/5/77 (just heard this one and I'm still in shock)
-Scarlet/Fire - 5/8/77 - call me mainstream
-Mountains of the moon -> dark -> etc - 2/11/69 - this has been one of my favorite jams for awhile, but I'm wrestling with some other recently procured copies from the Fillmore West that may end up winning out. . .
-LL Rain - just heard this ridiculous version on Sirius, they didn't tell me where it's from. Bobby says something like "now for a sad song" at the beginning and Jerry is playing slide on the whole thing . . . I'm hoping someone with a little more experience might know where this came from.
I agree with many comments I've read that it's hard to pick all time favorites. My opinions change from day to day. However, here are 2 all time favorite versions, both for very personal reasons.
My all time favorite version of Iko Iko is fron the Hampton Coliseum March 23, 1987. This was my first ever Dead show which I attended with two friends who had spent the last year introducing me to the music. My 8 year old son was also with us. He loved the song Iko Iko and was very attached to a dog one of my Dead Head buddies owned named Iko. In the parking lot before the show my son kept saying he couldn't wait to here Iko. We were all afraid he would be disappointed. I'll never forget my sense of wonder when during a break between songs in the first set the crowd started clapping out the rhythm to Iko and the band picked up on it and played the song!!! That's when my son and I realized this was not just a rock and roll concert! Can anyone tell me where I could get a good quality recording of this show (preferably with the audience participation)?
My all time favorite version of Looks Like Rain was performed by Bob and Rob Wasserman in Richmond, VA shortly after Jerry's death (I think this was their first show after Jerry passed). Enough said.
Dark Star on Dick's Picks 4 is certainly up there - that incredible dissonant crescendo in the middle! Pure Dead. So were Casey Jones and Dancin'... those nights definitely deserve their long-standing reputation. I always loved Feel Like a Stranger on Without a Net and 04/01/80 the most (though I'm trying to re-find a keyboard-solo performance from the mid-'80s - that was amazing.) Shakedown on 01/10/79! Just heard it. Too many songs to mention now, though - but my all-time favorite concert so far might be 06-14-1968 :)
Greatest Story Ever Told- 11/11/73... oh my god this version is so insane
The Music Never Stopped- 5/3/77.. I really wish I was alive cause I would be going nuts, the band is having a great night and you could hear it. Donna's vocals are crisp and smoking hot. The jam is sick.
Playing In The Band- 10-15-83.. This is one of my all time favorite shows. mickey and bill are so tight the whole second set. Jerry's playing reaches a new level on the jam. its unreal and goes into one of my favorite china dolls
5/19/66 Midnight Hour
and from the ticket stub collection:
10/27/79 Dancin > Franklin's
4/1/80 Promised Land (on different instruments); US Blues (Belushi cart wheels)
6/21/80 Playin' > Brent's Alaska jam
12/26/81 The Eleven jam
12/31/81 Dark Star
6/14/85 Keep on Growin'
10/9/89 Dark Star
Jerry is just wild on this one.
He's Gone - 12-15-72
Wharf Rat - 12-31-78
Takes all you got just to stay on the beat . . .
Hard to Handle - 8-6-71 [on Fallout from the Phil Zone]
Mason's Children - 12-28-69
Dancin' in the Streets (early arrangement) - 5-6-70 [Dark Star feel]
Dancin' in the Streets (late arrangement) - 5-8-77 [endlessly inventive variations by Garcia - bonus track on Terrapin Station reissue]
Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad - 5-19-74 [32? bar solo - Jerry just keeps going, better and better; of course the whole jam is great including Tico Tico]
Foolish Heart - 5-25-95 [gave me chills]
So many golden moments . . .
My money is on 12.1.71 Boston Music Hall. It blistered.
When I was in college, I had a handful of precious tapes. One had a fantastic version of The Other>Me and My Uncle. The tape was from the early 1970's. What were some of the best? This sounded like the horses were thundering across the plain, into a murderous melee. Any suggestions? The tape's been lost for years.