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Choosing and justifying a list of essential shows – 20, 200 or even 2,000 – is treacherous work. Grundig Manual. Passionate challenge from fans, especially hardcore Deadheads and veteran tape traders, is guaranteed. Endless debate over set-list minutiae is inevitable.
In fact, there is only one definitive list of the Dead's greatest concerts – and it includes every show they played, in every lineup, from their pizza-parlor-gig days as the Warlocks in 1965 until guitarist 's death in 1995. That long, strange trip was a continually unfolding tale of highs and trials, dedicated evolution and surrender to the moment, often caught vividly in the recording studio but told most immediately each night (or day) onstage. This list jumps and dances through the story, but it's not a bad place to start, if you're not in deep already: more than 40 hours of performance from key runs and one-nighters in every decade, drawn from archival releases, the vast amount of circulating recordings and my own good times with the music. These 20 shows are genuinely essential in at least one way: If I had no other live Dead in my collection, I would be happy and fulfilled with this. Luckily, there is more. I already have lots of it.
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