Grateful Dead

Road Trips Volume 2 Number 3

June 1974: Wall of Sound

Can it really be more than 35 years since the Grateful Dead unveiled one of their most audacious (and successful!) experiments—the legendary Wall of Sound? Why, it seems like only yesterday that I was cowering in fear worrying that one of Phil’s bass bombs was going to topple the impressive array of speaker towers that sprawled across the Dead’s enormous stage and rose to a height of more than two stories! What a sight—no one had ever seen anything remotely like it before (or since). What a sound—there had never been a cleaner and or more powerful system. At its peak, it was comprised of nearly 650 loudspeakers powered by 50 giant McIntosh amplifiers, and unlike traditional left-right P.A. systems, this behemoth gave each instrument its own vertical array, and vocals emanated mostly from a center honeycomb cluster above the band. Wow! It was an amazing thing to behold (and a mutha to transport and set up)!

And it just happened to coincide with one of the band’s most fertile musical periods ever, which is why we’ve dipped into the Wall of Sound era for our latest Road Trips release. Talk about your “strangest of places”: These back to back shows from the State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa (6/16/74), and Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky (6/18/74), have long been cherished by Dead Heads for their inventiveness, expansiveness and brilliance of execution. The Des Moines material includes a classic ’74-style “China Cat-Rider,” a spectacular “Eyes of the World” and a marvelously exploratory “Playing in the Band” that clocks in at a mind-bending, never-a-dull-moment 29 minutes! Disc Two comes from the Kentucky show, and it’s another prime batch, from beautiful readings of the poignant Garcia ballads “China Doll” and “Stella Blue,” to Weir’s multi-dimensional “Weather Report Suite”—a highlight of so many shows in this period—and a freewheeling “Other One,” and a jam around the blues tune “It’s A Sin,” a sequence considered by many to be among the finest and most highly-regarded jams in the band's entire career. Check it out and you’ll hear why!

The ultra-clean soundboard master tapes were “crispy” reels (that’s good), and they sound even better now that mastering ace Jeffrey Norman has sprinkled his electronic fairy dust on them and brought them up to HDCD specs. The colorful booklet insert features a cool essay about the Wall of Sound by Grateful Dead historian Dennis McNally and lots of great photos of the band dwarfed by the majestic edifice!

By the end of 1974, the band had begun its 20-month hiatus, and the Wall of Sound—so magnificent, but so impractical on so many levels—was never re-assembled. But it was glorious while it lasted and the incredible music that came blasting out of those hundreds of speakers is the reason why.

For more details about what’s on Road Trips Vol. 2, No. 3: The Wall of Sound, and to order your copy, click here. You won’t regret it!

—Blair Jackson

Track List

Disc 1
Recorded live at State Fairgrounds, Des Moines, IA, 6/16/74

1. China Cat Sunflower>
2. I Know You Rider
3. The Race Is On
4. Eyes Of The World>
5. Big River
6. U.S. Blues
7. Playing In The Band

Disc 2
Recorded live at Freedom Hall, Louisville, KY, 6/18/74

1. Loose Lucy
2. Eyes Of The World>
3. China Doll
4. Weather Report Suite>
5. Jam>
6. Other One>
7. It's A Sin Jam>
8. Stella Blue

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when i first heard grateful dead it was really hard me for to get into them and i wasn't really diggin' the albums my dad had me listen to but later on i heard some some of their other tunes and now i love the grateful dead, haha even the albums my dad has.

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Road Trips Volume 2 Number 3