Box Set Keeps the Dead Alive

September 23, 1999 12:00 AM ET

"For a major-label product, this is an incredibly subversive collection of very outside-looking music," says Steve Silberman of the upcoming five-CD Grateful Dead box set, So Many Roads (1965-1995).| Silberman, author of Skeleton Key: A Dictionary for Deadheads, co-produced the set along with fellow San Francisco Bay Area Deadheads Blair Jackson, author of the new Jerry Garcia biography Garcia: An American Life, and David Gans, host of the nationally syndicated radio show The Grateful Dead Hour.

With all but two of the tracks previously unreleased, the box set collects rarities and live recordings and contains a sixty-page booklet with dozens of unpublished photographs. Among the rarities are demos the band recorded in 1965 under the name "Emergency Crew," back when they were playing Bay Area clubs as the Warlocks. "The earliest stuff sounds really hip right now," Silberman says. "It's the real stripped-down garage-y vibe. It's almost proto-punky: surf guitar and a B3 organ, kind of like ? and the Mysterians on acid."

As for the live stuff, well, not surprisingly, there's hours of it. "Doing a thirty-year retrospective of a band that played somewhere between two thousand and three thousand shows -- and each show was kind of a unique performance of each song -- is a hopeless task," says Silberman, a veteran of some 350 shows himself. "So, we tried to choose representative peaks where the communication between the band members was especially high."

Such peaks include the legendary spontaneous jam known as the "Watkins Glen Soundcheck" and a version of "So Many Roads" taken from the band's final show, at Chicago's Soldier Field in 1995.

"You really see the architecture of the whole career, which is something that's not possible on single-show releases," Silberman says.

Silberman hopes that the box set will capture new fans as well as serve the faithful. "The conventional wisdom is 'The studio albums are not that good, but, man, you should have heard them live!'" he says. "Well, this isn't hearing them live, because it's not the huge sound system and the five thousand people tripping around you, but it is an effort to put across some of the most outstanding live, intense, collaborative, out-there performances."

T-shirts and Cosmic brownies separately...

The track listing for So Many Roads (1965-1995):

Disc One: "Can't Come Down," "Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks)," "You Don't Have To Ask," "On the Road Again," "Cream Puff War," "I Know You Rider," "The Same Thing," "Dark Star/China Cat Sunflower/The Eleven," "Clementine," "Mason's Children," "To Lay Me Down"

Disc Two: "That's It for the Other One," "Beautiful Jam," "Chinatown Shuffle," "Sing Me Back Home," "Watkins Glen Soundcheck Jam," "Dark Star Jam/Spanish Jam/U.S. Blues"

Disc Three: "Eyes of the World," "The Wheel," "Stella Blue," "Estimated Prophet," "The Music Never Stopped," "Shakedown Street"

Disc Four: "Cassidy," "Hey Pocky Way," "Believe It or Not," "Playing in the Band," "Gentlemen, Start Your Engines," "Death Don't Have No Mercy," "Scarlet Begonias/Fire on the Mountain," "Bird Song," "Jam Out of Terrapin"

Disc Five: "Terrapin Station," "Jam Out of Foolish Heart," "Way to Go Home," "Liberty," "Lazy River Road," "Eternity," "Jam into Days Between," "Days Between," "Whiskey in the Jar," "So Many Roads."

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