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Rhino’s ongoing 50th anniversary expanded editions of all the Dead releases continues here. It replicates the 10 tracks on Workingman’s Dead on disc one of this triple platter in remastered sound. That’s a disappointment for a rather short disc that clocks in at just over a half hour. The bounty of demos, rehearsals and other rarities has been recently made available to stream though. Still, the improved audio is beautifully rendered and provides more breathing room to appreciate the intertwining guitars on the primarily acoustic track list.
As a teenager previous to this game changing release, I had already attended several mind bending Dead shows at Bill Grahams legendary Fillmore East in the late 60’s and this new musical track was a far cry from the psychedelic, experimental and jam oriented music the band had founded its career on to that point and a total revelation.
From fourty five minute lysergic, feedback filled versions of “Dark Star>st. Stephen>Dark Star” to the sweet simplicity of their four minute fifty one second first semi-commercial hit, “Casey Jones” blew minds of already well blown minds at the time and has influenced bands ever since.
Workingman’s songs are now timeless from subtle chugging of “Uncle John’s Band” and driven by Phil Lesh’s rumbling bass lines with its exquisite Crosby, Stills and Nash styled harmonies, the floating pedal steel country of “Dire Wolf,” the bluegrass/rockabilly of “Cumberland Blues” with Pigpen’s gutsy country blues showcase “Easy Wind,” and the post Altamonte Speedway debacle tribute, “New Speedway Boogie” that would all become staples in Dead concerts for decades to come.
Disc One, Track 04: New Speedway Boogie / 4:06
The two drummers (Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann) aren’t evident on most of these low key tunes where percussion isn’t a significant part of the sound. And other than Pigpen’s few lead vocals, he is barely noticeable in the mix. Regardless, there is no doubt that Workingman’s Dead not only explored new sonic and musical territory for the band, but exposed them to a larger audience by emphasizing a more organic approach.
The real gold in this reissue includes a previously un-released, 2 ½ hour concert recorded at Portchester New York’s Capitol Theatre on February 21, 1971, spread over two discs. Since the performance was after the release of both Workingman’s Dead and the follow-up American Beauty LP, there are plenty of selections from both along with other Dead classics such as “Bertha,” “Loser,” and “China Cat Sunflower> I Know You Rider”.
Disc Two, Track 03: Loser / 6:47
The audio on this nearly 50 year old gig is superb. Each instrument and especially the vocal harmonies are crisp and clear. And even though drummer Mickey Hart is MIA (he was at the beginning of his sabbatical with the band), there is no lack of percussive groove with just Kreutzmann, even on the drum solo section of the show appended to a 17 minute version of the Rascals’ “Good Lovin’.”
Other high points from a setlist of high points include “Cold Rain And Snow”, “Loser”, “Bertha” and “Wharf Rat” all featuring Jerry’s voice as clear and captivating as it ever got and the band totally locked in and deep in the zone and worth the price of admission alone.
Disc Two Track 06: Bertha / 6:12
The Dead were so on top of their game in and out of the studio at this time it is considered by many as their Golden Era of their musical career, especially on live performances such as this one and before hard drugs began taking Jerry down and newer band members like the caterwauling vocalist, Donna Godchaux and the horribly raspy voiced keyboardist, Brent Mydland started making some of their songs unlistenable in later iterations of the band.
Disc Three, Track 05: I’m A King Bee / 7:32
And while Pigpen is mostly missing in the mix for large segments of the gig battling his own imminent demise due to alcohol abuse, he is featured on Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee,” “Easy Wind” and the aforementioned “Good Lovin’” finale. Overall the band is in spirited, energized form and it’s enlightening to hear early live versions of selections from both Workingman’s and Beauty that would stay in the Dead’s set for years, and are still some of the most beloved of the group’s extensive legacy.
And, arguably, the pinnacle of their music career both in studio and in concert. – Mez –
Workingman’s Dead 50th Anniversary Reissue CD Tracklist:
Disc One — Original Album Remastered
1. “Uncle John’s Band”
2. “High Time”
3. “Dire Wolf”
4. “New Speedway Boogie”
5. “Cumberland Blues”
6. “Black Peter”
7. “Easy Wind”
8. “Casey Jones”
Disc Two — Capitol Theatre, Port Chester, NY (2/21/71)
1. “Cold Rain And Snow”
2. “Me and Bobby McGee”
4. “Easy Wind”
5. “Playing in the Band”
7. “Me and My Uncle”
8. “Ripple” (False Start)
10. “Next Time You See Me”
11. “Sugar Magnolia”
12. “Greatest Story Ever Told”
13. “Johnny B. Goode”
Disc Three — Capitol Theatre, Port Chester, NY (2/21/71)
1. “China Cat Sunflower”>
2. “I Know You Rider”>
3. “Bird Song”
4. “Cumberland Blues”
5. “I’m a King Bee”
6. “Beat It on Down The Line”
7. “Wharf Rat”
9. “Casey Jones”
10. “Good Lovin’”
11. “Uncle John’s Band”