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Albums Of The Week: The Grateful Dead | Listen To The River: St. Louis ’71 ’72 ’73

The band's latest box captures one city, seven gigs, 60 songs & a band in transition.

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “Steamboats and BBQ, ice cream cones and Mardi Gras — are you ready to laissez les bons temps rouler to the “gateway” with The Grateful Dead? Meet us, won’t you, in St. Louis for seven complete and previously unreleased concerts that capture the heart of the band’s affinity for the River City.

Listen To The River: St. Louis ’71 ’72 ’73 is a 20-CD set featuring five shows from the Fox Theatre (Dec. 9 and 10, 1971; Oct. 17-19, 1972) and two from the Kiel Auditorium (Oct. 29 and 30, 1973). The seven shows in the collection span slightly less than two years, but they represent some of the best shows The Grateful Dead played during some of their peak tours. The music tells the story of a band evolving, changing from one sound to another seamlessly, precipitated — in large part — by significant personnel changes in the Dead’s lineup.

The two 1971 shows feature the original Grateful Dead lineup plus newcomer Keith Godchaux on piano. This version of the band would hold together for the next six months as the Dead embarked upon its Europe ’72 tour. By the time the Dead returned to the Fox Theatre less than a year later, they were without Pigpen, who’d played his final show with them at the Hollywood Bowl on June 17, 1972, and they had added Donna Jean Godchaux, who was now singing in the band. A year after the exceptional Fox 1972 shows, the Dead came back to St. Louis, but played the much larger Kiel Auditorium, touring behind the release of Wake Of The Flood, which came out just two weeks before.

All told, the band played 60 different songs during these shows highlighted by blazing romps through Beat It On Down The Line and One More Saturday Night and wistful takes on Row Jimmy and Brokedown Palace (whose lyrics give the collection its name). Meanwhile, the copious jamming ebbed and flowed like the mighty Mississippi River on multiple voyages through The Other One and Dark Star. Naturally, the band paid tribute to one of its favorite rock and rollers and one of St. Louis’ biggest stars by playing Chuck Berry songs at every show in the collection, including Pigpen galloping through Run Rudolph Run.

Each show has been restored and speed corrected using Plangent Processes with mastering by Jeffrey Norman. The collection comes in a slipcase with artwork by Liane Plant and features an 84-page hardbound book as well as other surprises. To set the stage for the music, the liner notes provide several essays about the shows, including one by Sam Cutler, the band’s tour manager during that era, and another by Grateful Dead scholar Nicholas G. Meriwether, among others.

“There are a only few truly great eras in The Grateful Dead’s performing history that span more than a year and one of the very best is the transitional period that covers December 1971 through Fall of 1973. This was a period during which the Dead solidified their touring format (several distinct, somewhat short, geographically defined tours every year), where every night the Dead would wow their fans with a mix of over six years of music that clearly demonstrated their many transitions and transmutations,” says David Lemieux, Grateful Dead archivist and the set’s producer. “The seven shows in this boxed set perfectly summarize 22 months of Grateful Dead music, performances, and growth. From the original five piece (plus Keith) showing off their Skull & Roses musical flexibility and discipline in December 1971, through the Europe ’72 iteration of the Dead in October 1972, to the independent Wake Of The Flood Dead of October 1973, this boxed set features the band at three distinct peaks, that show an inspired band that was always looking to grow and take their fans along for the ride. For loyal Dead Heads, sticking around through the Dead’s many growth spurts was always worth it as the payoff was always greater than its already lofty promise. And what better city to focus these show selections.”