Truth is, I know that the ‘Dead were big. I know that they had a massive following, that back in the day they were a proverbial Hajj for every stoner out there. But yeah, never really paid them any attention.
Luckily, for poor old uninitiated me, this album is often recommended as a good starting point. Not because it’s packed with ‘hits’ but, so the theory goes, if the essence of The Grateful Dead is as a jam band, then there’s no better introduction than this 23-minute-long rendition of “Dark Star”, the tune of choice for Dead-Heads.
It’s filled with moments of swirling guitar and distortion, it disappears into strange directions randomly and dizzily, before coming back with pounding chords and jazz harmonics, and while it’s easy to imagine it as an experience that would benefit from some home-grown produce on hand, there’s still much to sink into here.
The tracks that follow, “Saint Stephen” and “The Eleven”, don’t pack quite the same wallop, and in fact the latter is kind of forgettable, but the album comes back with more passion for the fifteen-minute-long “Turn on your Lovelight”. This SuperSized jam doughnut features some awesome drum solo action as well as a mid-section that somehow merges old dirty delta blues riffs into an avant-garde jazz mood that’s paradoxically adrenalising.
Still, despite a good few plays to try and let it hook me, this album’s just not doing it. There’s a sense of pomposity about the whole thing, and it’s often frustratingly overblown. There’s skill on show here, sure, and maybe I’m just a generation too late for these shenanigans, but my skirt remains unblown-up.