Doug Collette’s ongoing look at the Road Trips series by The Grateful Dead, which usually combines songs from several shows of a tour; this installment is the first to include a complete concert, just like the previous Dick’s Picks series. This review comes from All About Jazz, dated May 17, 2009…
Road Trips Volume 2 Number 2 not only contains a complete show—2/14/68 at San Francisco’s Carousel Ballroom—but in keeping with the original concept of this archive series, excerpts from other shows during The Grateful Dead’s winter tour of that same year. Experimenting in a second attempt to record its follow-up Warner Bros. album Anthem of the Sun (1968), this juncture is a pivotal period for the halcyon group and these performances find The Dead on the cusp of dance band deluxe and experimental improvisers extraordinaire.
The Grateful Dead’s suggestion to label president Joe Smith to conduct live recording of shows to then intermingle with studio work was revolutionary in its own way but eminently practical for the band itself: it was never truly comfortable in a studio, but at this point, was rapidly becoming fluent on stage as it mastered new originals, the likes of which comprise much of disc two.
The suite of songs including “That’s It for the Other One,” as well as “Spanish Jam” and the freeform “Feedback” are light years from the R&B staples fronted by vocalist/keyboardist/harpist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan—”In the Midnight Hour,” “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” and “Turn on Your Lovelight.” The septet’s collective enthusiasm in playing throughout provides continuity and precludes any identity crisis per se.
The latter pair of staples also appear on the bonus third disc of this set and sound equally of a piece and well-contrasted with more exploratory likes of “Dark Star,” “The Eleven” and “China Cat Sunflower,” all of which numbers the Dead render in a tone at once playful and probing.
While many of these recordings have been in unofficial circulation for years, Jeffrey Norman’s mastering for HDCD sound makes these forty-one year recordings by road engineer Dan Healy sound pristine in clarity and resounding in depth (with some exceptions on the bonus material on disc one). The stereo separation highlights the dual drumming of Bill Kreutzmann and relative newcomer Mickey Hart.
The group’s other instrumentation is precise and uncluttered, Jerry Garcia’s guitar in particular as big and sharp as it ever got as he cuts a swath through the air rivaled in aggression only by bassist Lesh in these months leading to the groundbreaking Fillmore shows recorded approximately a year later.
Blair Jackson’s essay including reminiscence of rhythm guitarist and vocalist Bob Weir around Grateful Dead’s relationship with Neal Casady might better set the historical stage for that epoch but regardless, the Grateful Dead’s instinctive prescience in preserving its work is as laudable as the current archivists and designers of Road Trips.