The Grateful Dead’s new archival box set, Here Comes Sunshine released this past Friday, June 30th via Rhino Records. Seemingly acknowledging the unspoken part, Legacy Manager and Audio Archivist, David Lemieux now refers to the box set release as an annual affair. One he indicates essentially, though unofficially, begun in 2011 with the widely successful Europe ’72: The Complete Recordings box set release. Each year, also partnered with Rhino, and sold primarily by subscription, Lemieux also releases his exceptional Dave’s Picks series quarterly, but it’s the box release each year that’s most eagerly anticipated among fans, and the reason is simple. They’re amazing inside and out, and in all seriousness, they’re more than just some random release of live recordings. These are a labor of love.
What makes them so special? They’re simply works of art: compiled, polished and gift wrapped in stunning packaging, from fans to other fans of the Grateful Dead. The boxes are a limited numbered set, and are highly collectible, and sought after, typically selling out prior or shortly after release. Indeed, Here Comes Sunshine was a series of 10,000 which sold out the day of release. Considering all that goes into the releases, they’re not exactly cheap. (Here Comes Sunshine was listed at $186.98 for the CD version. In comparison, Europe ’72: The Complete Recordings originally sold for $450. Today, I see 3 of them available on Discogs, with the lowest priced around $2500.) I know of individuals that buy a pair for each and every release. One to enjoy, and the other gets squirreled away. Hey, which ever way your pleasure tends.
Here Comes Sunshine is a wonderful slice of the Grateful Dead in the Spring of 1973. Capturing a consecutive five show spring run, the release features five complete, previously unreleased performances on 17 CDs.
The shows consist of :
Des Moines, IA 5/13/73
Santa Barbara, CA 5/20/73
San Francisco, CA 5/26/73
Washington, D.C. 6/9/73
Washington, D.C. 6/10/73
The shows were recorded by a trio of the best, Kidd Candelario, Betty Cantor-Jackson, and Owsley Stanley and have been newly restored with speed-corrected audio by Plangent Processes, with Jeffrey Norman continuing to do a, dare I say, masterful job mastering these recordings. But these sets aren’t just about the technical aspects. Featuring art and design by GRAMMY® Award-winning Art Director, Masaki Koike, Here Comes Sunshine visually compliments the sonic delectation. Koike’s design begins with the exterior cardboard shipping box, continuing to the exquisite yet sturdy slip cased, lidded main box wrapped in a custom-dyed Tenugui (a Japanese type of handkerchief). The design continues throughout, including the CD holders and booklets and an exclusive poster featuring an illustration by Mary Ann Mayer.
Diving deeper, there are extensive liner notes from Canadian author and poet Ray Robertson. Robertson contributed liners on Dave’s Picks #45, and I really enjoyed his wit and writing style then, and I’m happy to see he’s returned to give each show its due diligence here. Also contributing to the liner notes are Starfinder Stanley, Hawk and Pete Bell of the Owsley Stanley Foundation team. with an insightful look at the infamous Wall of Sound, the 6/09 & 6/10 RFK shows that were recorded by Bear himself, as well as a glimpse into the relationship between The Dead and the Allman Brothers Band and in particular, Garcia and Dickey Betts. Each booklet is chock filled with wonderful show specific photography as well, but probably most intriguing to me was Lemeiux’s own “Producer’s Note,” unassumingly tucked away at the end of the main booklet. Within, there’s a great look at the processes involved in these archival undertakings. Each one is, at minimum, an 18-month process involving a tremendous amount of fine, detailed work from a small yet obviously dedicated team. Again, a labor of love.
Ultimately though, we’re really here for the music, and these five shows sound tremendous. Musically, by 1973 the Dead had some miles and experience under their belt, and seemed pretty comfortable in their own skin. They’d released American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead, and had also begun working the songs that would appear on Wake of the Flood into their shows. Garcia and Bob Weir had both released strong “solo” albums in 1972 with many of those songs now also part of the repertoire. That’s part of the reason I have always loved 1973. There were still elements of 1972’s psychedelic cowboy vibe blending confidently with the jazzy explorations and spacey improvisations that would soon dominate ’74. There’s a lot of music on these 17 CDs, though at first glance through the track listings, one may notice a lot of song repetition. As usual, though you can count on the Dead to shake things up enough to make each song’s performance a unique listening experience. Simply put, setlists in 1973 were downright massive. Each of these shows is a staggering three set performance, with the exception of 6/09/73 which is a meager two, and each clocks in somewhere near the 3.5-4 hour mark. Much like Lemeiux mentions in his notes, the 5/26 Kezar and 6/10 RFK shows were among the very first 1973 performances I acquired via tape trading back in the day. I got to know those tapes very well, and hearing them again now in this nearly pristine condition and packaged together so beautifully is very special. I’d like to note that I received a physical copy of Here Comes Sunshine for this review rather than just digital files, which left me somewhat at a loss for words, though the little detail of having “Miracle” where the numbered edition should be tickled me to no end. Special indeed.
The Grateful Dead, Lemeiux and his team have knocked it out of the park once again. Here Comes Sunshine is everything I expected and more. While the box set releases may appeal a bit more to those of us obsessive types, if you’re a fan of the band, I can’t recommend the annual Dave’s Picks subscription enough. I truly wish I’d started my subscription at the very beginning. While Here Comes Sunshine may already be sold out, there’s also a stand alone release of 6/10/73 available to order as well as plenty of merch related to the release. While you’re there, be sure to sign up for the email newsletter to stay in the know of all upcoming releases, announcements, pre-orders and more.
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