Reviews

Grateful Dead / Sunshine Daydream

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Sunshine Daydream is a 4-disc set (click to enlarge)

In his notes on this 3CD+DVD celebration of the Grateful Dead‘s 1972 Sunshine Daydream concert in Veneta, Oregon in California, archivist David Lemieux explains that part of the reason it’s taken so long (41 years!) to release the Kesey Creamery benefit performance is that “we’ve never been interested in releasing just the music, because the film, with its images of the day, is so integral to the enjoyment of the event and to the understanding of the importance of this show”.

Never has a truer word been spoken. While the music sounds superb (mixed into 5.1 surround on the DVD) it’s the combination of the music and visuals that really excites.

A simple example is the spoken introduction that kicks off this three CD set. What is a little bit rambling and irritating when you listen to just the audio – in a get-on-with-the-show kind of a way – is charming and enjoyable when you see the film footage of the band and audience preparing for the gig.

In fact it’s a full ten minutes on the film before the band start playing. This is a wonderful sequence showing the road crew in action 1972-style: hand scribbled lists of personnel get passed around with vague mumbling about how ‘everyone has a specific job’ and massive wooden posts are dragged across fields by anyone around to help a hand. We see the stage being built and hear radio communication from organisers very worried about the extreme heat (the 27 August 1972 ended up being one of the hottest ever days in Oregon). The word ‘crisis’ is mentioned more than once, with serious concerns about hydration and staying cool. One guy is told to ‘keep calm’ over the radio after expressing concerns, but he’s not convinced, suggesting “it might be time to get out of here when 30,000 hippies start running up and down looking for water!”

Eventually, the concert begins with the Dead’s cover of Chuck Berry’s Promised Land. Over three CDs the entire gig (almost three hours) is presented in full, newly mixed and mastered on to HDCD. The highlights include a 21 minute version of Playing In The Band, the China Cat Sunflower/I Know You Rider medley and a rendition of Dark Star that is so long (31 minutes) that on the 4LP vinyl version of this release, it has to be split across two sides.

The Sunshine Daydream film is not the complete concert, presenting just highlights. The movie was shot on 16mm with some super 8 cutaways, and animated sections (notably during Dark Star). Audience shots sometimes have effects applied –  speeded up and slowed down – but the actual band footage always looks great and there are no sync problems to speak of.

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8-panel digi-pack 

Because of the heat of the day the crowd is a sea of skin – topless long-haired ‘Dead Heads’ letting it all hang out. Literally, in some cases. Yes, we regret to inform you that the pube count is higher than you might like. Footage of men and women ‘dancing’ around naked are plentiful, the kind of shots used in counterculture documentaries to show kids of today what ‘hippies’ did, instead of getting a day job. Members of the band aren’t the only members you will see during the 90 minutes. Amusingly, the filmmakers don’t preserve anyone’s modesty or let the naked, stoned antics of the individuals in question blend into vibe of the day. Rather the camera zoom is deployed regularly to make sure we get a good eyeful.

Water is still a worry and someone apologises over the tannoy because the truck that was going to spray everyone with water had not arrived. It turned out that the vehicle in question was the one used “to drain the shitters” and as is pointed out “we weren’t going to have you guys having shit sprayed all over you”.

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4LP vinyl looks stunning and limited to 5000 copies

The band’s covers of Mary Robbins’ El Paso and Merle Haggard’s Sing Me Back Home are played in fading light and the quality of the footage becomes noticeably grainy. Buy hey, the ramshackle nature of the event is all part of the charm. Who needs lighting anyway?

The whole thing is absolutely charming and the film is full of lovely moments like when a dirty faced baby sitting in a discarded truck wheel gets what looks like an ice cream eaten by an opportunistic doggie!

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Eight sides of vinyl

The 4LP vinyl set (limited to 5000) benefits from some fine packaging and design, but loses points for the work required to get up and down and either turn the record over or replace it with the next disc. In fact even the three CDs format isn’t perfect, because you really want to dim the lights, light an incense stick, grab a glass of red wine and listen to the whole thing uninterrupted. To that end, this would have been a fine contender for the Blu-ray Audio treatment which would have the capacity to allow the full audio to be played (not just the edited concert audio).

Regardless, one of the most requested (and bootlegged) Grateful Dead shows lives up to its billing. Sunshine Daydream sounds and looks superb. Highly recommended.


The Grateful Dead / Sunshine Daydream 3CD+DVD

3CD+DVD box set

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4LP Vinyl box set


More photos:

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Front of the vinyl

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Wonderful design

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One response to Grateful Dead / Sunshine Daydream

  1. Ted says:

    Excellent sounding disc. The band was obviously having a good time and I’m sure Ken Kesey’s home-made lemonade was quite refreshing.

    The visual aspect (no pun intended) is ok. It feels like a home movie on 16mm film. I could’ve done without close ups of dirty looking burn outs running around and climbing on light poles with their willies and ball sacks dangling. I put it on with my kids in the room and was a bit nonplussed.

    By the way, how come every keyboardist other than Tom C. (who was only a part time player) died grisly deaths? The first dude drank himself to liver disease at 27, the next space shot drove himself off a road, Brent ODed just before reporting to prison and the last guy offed himself once he realized he looked like Larry Fine from the 3 Stooges. Obviously, it is more than a coincidence and may be cosmic retribution for the Wake of the Flood album.

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