Steal Your Face isn’t so much a collection of music as a further confirmation of the Dead’s existence. These four live sides aren’t really very good, but few will notice. Nine years after the Summer of Love, the acid mystique lives on.
The Dead are too loose here, and frequently sloppy as well, particularly on the opening verses of Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around.” On another Berry song, “The Promised Land,” Jerry Garcia’s guitar playing is downright careless. But even when everything’s in place, there’s little of the tight ensemble playing that distinguished their early work. “Stella Blue,” for example, has no edge, no pivot for the arrangement. Their slowed down remake of “Cold Rain & Snow” is seductive, but it’s an exception.
The group can still raise some excitement — “U.S. Blues” is a good example — but generally, they don’t seem to want to. The emphasis isn’t on what they’re playing, but that they’re playing at all. It shows in the sameness of the arrangements, Garcia’s reluctance to attempt new changes and the fading of Bill Kreutzmann’s once sharp and decisive drumming. And this incarnation of the Dead still lacks a capable vocalist. Steal Your Face could have been a musical testament — instead, it’s only a memento.