The Grateful Dead may have disbanded back in 1995, but that doesn’t mean the remaining members are ignoring their milestones. To celebrate the band’s 50th anniversary, two special compilations are being released: 30 Trips Around the Sun, an exhaustive 80 CD retrospective featuring a different live performance from each year the band was active, and 30 Trips Around the Sun: The Definitive Live Story 1965–1995, a four hour, four disc collection featuring one song from each of the performances on the complete set, chronicling the best of their live performances. For obvious reasons, we’re focusing on The Definitive Live Story, rather than the complete confection. The release fulfils its criteria well enough, but buyer beware: this is for no one but the most dedicated of Grateful Dead fans.
As a complete package, it encapsulates the spirit of their live performances perfectly. It’s rare that you’d find a song under seven minutes long across the four discs, and many of them extend long past their album lengths thanks to the tendency to morph each song into a jam session partway through. Nothing here sounds messy or unprofessional, though, and it shows their consistency with each performance sounding like it came from the same show rather than thirty different ones.
Particularly noteworthy inclusions mostly appear on the second disc. The 1977 Capitol Theatre performance of Estimated Prophet stands out among the collection, with the psychedelic tinge setting it apart from the general rock songs that surround it. The 1978 Providence Civic Center performance of Samson and Delilah is the highlight though, with the most engaging extended introduction—alongside the best riffs and groove—of the songs. Shakedown Street, the longest song across all discs at 17 minutes, also contains one of the better jam sessions on the album thanks to the atmosphere of funk that it exudes.
There’s almost no way they could be more extensive than this without packaging all of their studio work in as well; surely hardcore Deadheads will love it, if they can afford the gigantic price tag. Normal fans should steer clear, though; if you’re really set on purchasing it, pick up The Definitive Live Story for a less exhaustive, yet still entertaining look at a cultural icon.