I was thinking, the other day, about The Grateful Dead, specifically the band’s live album from 1990, Without A Net. It might not be a classic, it might in fact be awful – but it’s one of my favourites…it’s one of my favourite live albums, one of my favourite Grateful Dead collections – and for a while it was one of my most listened-to albums.
I bought it, a double cassette-tape in the very-early 1990s. I was a member of the World Music Club – you sent away via a printed catalogue and received a tape in the mail. I’d raise money by mowing lawns and then my parents would write a cheque. I’m sure that sounds ridiculous now – but it’s how it was. And the waiting, as the man said, was “the hardest part”. It was exciting.
There was no Wikipedia giving me the full discography of the band. There was no YouTube to show a range of clips. I bought records – or tapes (the format of the time) and then CDs – based on hearing about things, reading reviews, reading liner notes, talking to other music fans. It was a good way to learn. And there was a lot of impulse-buying.
The Grateful Dead sounded so heavy. That is to say the name sounded like the band would be very heavy. And I mean heavy metal-heavy not ‘heavy’ in the parlance of the 1960s
And I wanted to check out The Grateful Dead.
The World Record Club was offering Without A Net – a double live album – for the then bargain price of about $19.99 for the double-cassette. I had to have it.
The other reason I had to have this album – had to hear it (and this, in the days when access was by buying or borrowing only) because I had read a fairly scathing review. The review was from Guitar World magazine. And the reviewer had, I still remember this, 25 years on, said “the vocals on Walkin’ Blues are a joke”. As a newly converted Robert Johnson fan I wanted to hear any/all versions of Walkin’ Blues and any other Johnson songs.
It’s funny – I think that reviewer was right. And I am not just saying this now. Now that I can dial up a clip from YouTube 20 years on…I remember thinking that the reviewer was spot-on at the time, or soon-enough…
You see when The World Record Club sent me my double-tape of Without A Net, within 21 days of me sending a cheque that my mum had signed; The World Record Club did in fact send me a copy of the album that featured two versions of tape two. So I had to send back one version and wait another 21 days (or just under) to receive tape one. In that time I thrashed tape two. The best tape of the two.
Tape two kicked off with China Cat Sunflower – to this day one of my favourite Grateful Dead songs and there was a version of I Know You Rider and Looks Like Rain. Then there was an epic version of Eyes Of The World (featuring Branford Marsalis). Every song was at least eight minutes long. I loved that!
The songs were from different shows – as part of the band’s touring schedule from 1989/90. And I loved it.
Then I heard the first tape. Some great stuff (Feel Like A Stranger, Althea, Cassidy) but also this version of Walkin’ Blues. And a song called Let It Grow that was not (disappointing at the time) a cover of the Eric Clapton song Let It Grow.
I still check in with this album now and then. Still think fondly of it – still flick to tracks from it on YouTube now…whenever I think of The Grateful Dead it is Without A Net that I think of. It might be among the band’s worst live albums – and I’ve certainly gone on to dig through plenty of others, to hear the “accepted classics” like Live/Dead and Europe ’72; to get hold of some of the well-known bootlegs and the reissued live album box-sets. But it is still the album I think of – Without A Net. Even with the embarrassing vocals on a naff cover of Walkin’ Blues. In spite of that – or just as likely, because of it…
All of this serves to ask one question – can you think of a live album that you own (or owned) that you love (or loved) even if it’s not considered, in any way, to be a classic. Maybe it’s not even the band in question’s best live album (that’s certainly the case with my example here).
Recently I crowed about Pink Floyd’s Pulse – and the truth is I prefer Delicate Sound Of Thunder as a listening experience. Time will, for whatever reason/s, remember Pulse over Delicate Sound; flashing light or not.
Sometimes we love albums – especially live albums – because they are the gateway drug, they lead us on, they open up the world of an artist, they open up our world. They make our world a little bit better for the 70 or 90 or 140 minutes that the album is playing…even when, and often because, they contain mistakes, bum-notes, embarrassing vocal performances…
Do you have an example that works (still) for you?
And – alright, a second question – is there anyone else out there partial to a bit of The Grateful Dead’s Without A Net?