Looking for some good picnic music on the Fourth of July? Well, here you go. Greg Davis (of the folktronic Arbor and Curling Pond Woods albums on Carpark Records, and the artfully drowsy drone-minimalism of Somnia on Kranky) has posted an hour-long melange of 17 Grateful Dead performances in the podcast section of the soundarc.net site. Call it Greg’s Picks. The set emphasizes, as he puts it, “the weirder, more psychedelic side of the grateful dead at the same time supplying you with the catchy classics.” The mix (MP3) opens with inchoate static, culled from a live recording at the Fillmore West in 1968, before crossfading into the catchy “China Cat,” off the Aozomozoa album. Davis’ set moves back and forth accordingly, between recognizable folk-rock favorites and sonic experimentation that reminds you whence the Dead came, from the San Francisco Bay Area in the mid- to late 1960s, when social and cultural experimentation was peaking (as, of course, were its participants).
Hearing all the sonic collages and freeform sound experimentation here puts those noodling, moebius-strip guitar solos in perspective. And when “Uncle John’s Band” fades into what is, apparently, a Merry Prankster sound collage, you know what Jerry Garcia means when he sings, “How does this song go?” If you want to better appreciate Dead bassist Phil Lesh’s anecdotes about Luciano Berio, Steve Reich and the San Francisco Mime Troupe from his recent autobiography (Searching for the Sound), not to mention Sonic Youth member Jim O’Rourke’s association with alt-country group Wilco, or Davis’ own adaptation of Incredible String Band and Beach Boys tunes on Curling Pond Woods, this extended Dead mix will be your spirit guide.
There may not be a rock band, especially one that came out of the late-1960s, whose fame is so counterbalanced by their relative absence from FM radio more than the Grateful Dead. Perhaps podcasting will prove to be their appropriate broadcast medium. Davis’ soundarc.net post helpfully includes a detailed setlist (link). Happy holiday.