Listening to a live set by the Grateful Dead, there’s always that awkward moment where you start thinking: “This song again? Did I put it on repeat? — only to find out it’s in fact still the same song, which just happens to last more than 30 minutes. Like most previous live releases by the Dead, Sunshine Daydream includes a lengthy version of “Dark Star,” which develops (or disintegrates, depending on your point of view) into a jazzy improvisation led by the endlessly inventive Jerry Garcia on lead guitar.
Recorded at a 1972 concert in Oregon, this three-disc live recording presents the legendary band in their hey day, though without drummer Mickey Hart and Ron “Pig Pen” McKernan — the latter of whom would would die shortly afterwards. Apart from “Dark Star,” the set includes a few covers and a varied selection of originals, some of them taken from their most recent albums at the time: Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, two more folk-focused outings from 1970. Though regrettably there is no acoustic set here, many of the songs do include the excellent vocal harmonies the Dead had been developing based on the success of CSNY and the Byrds.
Sure, they take their sweet time, but there is something relaxing — peaceful, even — about the Dead’s unpretentious, mellow approach to their material, which may or may not be related to the inordinate quantities of drugs they were still consuming at the time (if half the tales be true). Add Garcia in top form, with ever-changing melodies pouring from his fingers like wine, and Sunshine Daydream is a worthy document of one of the great live bands of the time.
For those of us born after the psychedelic deluge of the late 1970s and early 1970s — or simply unable to participate at the time — it salvages one of the finest flowerings of a heady and creative era.