Album Review of:
‘THE ARISTA YEARS’
by THE GRATEFUL DEAD
Dead songs are never finished. Weirdologists already know this. The Dead were a fractured family orbiting their tribe like strange planets around a Dark Star. They began forging future-sounds from chemicals, electricity, and smidges of Jugband Surrealism in the late Sixties, and they just kept on keeping on, from endless promise to tired resignation. ‘Going to hell in a bucket’ and enjoying the ride, all the way through into the Nineties, until they were America’s premier anti-realists in the cold new age of realism. If they’d gone any further they’d be hanging off the edge of the horizon. But they lived fast. And sometimes not so fast. They didn’t die young. But they left a few grizzled corpses in their wake. And they left this double-CD shot through with epic space and time curving away into limitless distance.
And later, with tracks lifted from their unexpected commercial rejuvenation ‘In The Dark’ (1987) and ‘Built To Last’ (1989), it all becomes an alchemy of wonderful strangeness, harbouring wry humour and wistful reflection. ‘Too much of everything’ was just about enough. But because Dead songs are never finished, it’s live that their continuously evolving fluidity is most accurately captured. So there’s inevitable live material too, including a free-form 16:25-minute “Without A Net”, illuminated by unpremeditated sax from Branford Marsalis. Dead/Not Dead. Those improvisations probably continue on some alternate plane of reality, as well as in collective memory – or, as Richard Gehr says it in the sleeve notes, in ‘magnetic and mnemonic form’. Weirdologists already know that.