January 11, 2017

Dark Star: A Tale of Four Mixes

On February 27, 1969, the Grateful Dead played a pretty good version of Dark Star. They liked it enough to release it on a live album later that year, and it immediately became a fan favorite. (1) To this day many consider it the quintessential Dark Star, the defining version most heard by newcomers to the Dead, and much loved by longtime collectors. What’s not often mentioned, though, is that this Dark Star is available in several different mixes, each with its own sound and character:

1) The original Live/Dead album was mixed by Bob Matthews and Betty Cantor in 1969, and released on a Warner Bros CD in 1988.

2) In 2001, the Dead’s Warner Brothers albums were remastered for release in the Golden Road box set and individual Rhino CD reissues. Secretly, without any publicity or mention in the album credits, Live/Dead was completely remixed and the new alternate version released.

3) In the early ‘90s, Dan Healy made rough mixes from the Fillmore West 16-tracks to be considered for the From the Vault series. The shows weren’t released then, but (thanks to Dick Latvala) copies of these mixes did slip out into circulation. All the copies on the Archive from this run come from Healy’s mixes.

4) Then in 2005, Jeffrey Norman mixed the Fillmore West run afresh from the 16-tracks for release in the Fillmore West 1969 box set.

These mixes are quite different from each other, each emphasizing different aspects of the performance. Surprisingly, there isn’t a single mix where you can hear all the players all the way through! What follows is a summary of the various mixes and the changes between them, what you can hear (and can’t hear) in each one.

Bob Matthews original mix, 1969 (23:07)

This mix starts with Phil drifting in during the interlude after Mountains of the Moon. Garcia enters about 15 seconds later: Lesh is in the center, Garcia the center/right, and Weir on the right, quieter than the others. Kreutzmann’s drums are on the left; Constanten’s organ is almost inaudible at first, and wanders around the stereo picture after it emerges. After the Dark Star riff, Mickey’s guiro can be heard very faintly, almost unnoticeably, on the right. It’s usually easy to hear Kreutzmann in this mix; on the other hand, here Constanten has been mixed out to near invisibility much of the time. For instance, after the initial Dark Star riff appeared, Constanten played Pigpen’s old six-note organ riff; but that disappears here. The effect is to simplify the music with fewer instruments heard.
Instead, this mix was bathed in echo. This wasn’t on the original tape, but definitely added in the studio on a separate track – Garcia’s guitar echoes off to the right.
During the verse, Garcia sings on the far left, his voice echoing over on the right. Mickey’s gong can also be heard loudly on the far right. In performance, Garcia doubled his vocal lines by playing them on guitar, but his guitar was mixed out of the verses here (effectively replaced by the echo). The organ is also reduced to inaudibility, heard only during the two volume swells at the end of the verse.
The gong keeps ringing in the space after the verse. During the jams that follow, the organ continues to be mixed low, darting underneath the guitars so Constanten’s decorative playing is de-emphasized. The album isn’t quite as dynamic in volume as later mixes, but it’s a very active mix – along with the organ, Garcia’s guitar is sometimes panned around, and various instruments are raised or lowered in the mix. Constanten might disappear for a while and then quietly reenter in a different channel; or Weir will become quieter until coming back up in volume. The guitars aren’t always widely spaced in the mix, and sometimes they seem to get bunched up on the right of the stereo picture.
Mickey’s guiro comes back on the right in a quiet part of the jam, but he’s barely audible til he contributes a bit of percussion to the “sputnik” jam. Kreutzmann seems to sit out after the verse for a while except for a few taps, but becomes more involved after the “sputnik” jam, his drums placed on the left. Once he comes in, it’s easy to hear him playing through the jam, particularly the bass drum which is quite prominent here. (It’s loud enough to remind me of the 5/19/66 bass-drum mix.) For instance, when Garcia dramatically plays the Dark Star melody, you hear a drum-roll and bass-drum kicks, and the drumming is more active during the “bright star” climax than in the later mixes. (Hart, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be playing anything in this part.)
The second verse is mixed much like the first: vocal echo; no Garcia guitar lines; the organ inaudible until one volume swell at the end; Mickey’s gong on the right. The final backing vocals by Lesh & Weir appear on the far right (Weir very distant).
In the outro, you can faintly hear Kreutzmann’s drumroll, but the gong is more prominent.
Overall, this is a swampy, spacy mix, with instruments swirling around in a sea of echoes. It’s the most drum-heavy mix; but it also has the least keyboard presence, with Constanten frequently diminished or mixed out. Weir, though present throughout, is also quieter than in the later mixes; in fact all the guitars sound more murky and distant. This version is very much a studio creation, altering the sound of what was played on stage.
(I didn’t check for any difference between the original vinyl and the CD.)

Live/Dead remaster, 2001 (23:18)

The track starts some 15 seconds earlier than the original album, fading in with the last few notes of Garcia’s acoustic solo out of Mountains of the Moon. 
Initially, Lesh and Weir share the center, and Hart’s drums are briefly heard on the right. Suddenly Lesh’s level jumps up so that he’s way up-front, and Garcia re-enters 30 seconds in. The guitars find their balance in the center: Garcia a little to the left, Weir to the right, and Lesh loud in the middle. Some faint cymbal and percussion can be heard quietly on the far left. Once the Dark Star theme starts, Mickey’s guiro moves to the center, at higher volume.
Constanten can be heard very faintly in the back, playing Pigpen’s old riff; a minute later the organ moves over to the far left, and stays there, increasing in volume. The organ is louder here than in the other mixes – it can actually be heard throughout. The drums and guiro, on the other hand, are at first rather faint and mixed down more – they come out more in the quiet parts, and become louder and clearer in the lead-up to the verse. Lesh remains up-front (he and Weir are significantly louder than on the original album). The guitars are about level with each other in volume – there seems to be no added echo on Garcia’s guitar.
During the verse, Garcia’s vocal is in the center, a little distant in the first line (unique to this mix) but then brought up. His voice isn’t as echoed here, but there’s a bit of his guitar doubling the vocal line. Mickey’s gong is loud and clear on the far right, and the organ can be heard on the left playing through the verse, not just in the volume swells at the end.
The gong and organ stay up in the mix through the space that follows, before Garcia storms back in. Mickey’s guiro returns in the center during a quiet part of the jam – he switches to the drum set later on with some tapping on the right before the “sputnik” jam, then disappears. The organ playing is clear throughout, particularly in the “sputnik” – Constanten is brought out more here, and there’s a brief section where Garcia retreats and Constanten takes a little solo, a moment that’s most apparent in this mix. Lesh doesn’t stay in the center through the jams – sometimes he drifts right, sometimes left – but Weir is stable in the mix. Once Kreutzmann joins in after the “sputnik,” his drums can be heard quietly on the left and center, but pushed more to the background – for instance, you can’t hear the drum-roll when Garcia plays the Dark Star melody, and the bass-drum isn’t nearly as prominent. Kreutzmann kicks in more during the “bright star” section leading up to the verse; Hart doesn’t seem to be present until his guiro quietly re-enters on the right.
In the second verse, Garcia’s quiet guitar lines double a few lines of the vocal (his voice recedes sometimes). There’s very quiet organ through the verse, not just at the end; and the gong is clear. Lesh’s backing vocal is in the center (close to Garcia’s), and Weir’s on the far right.
In the outro, Kreutzmann’s quiet drumroll can be heard on the left, but Mickey’s gong is strangely absent!
Overall, this is a more balanced mix than the original album: the guitar levels are more even, with fewer shifts in volume. There’s a lot less echo; Lesh and Weir are more up-front; the organ is louder; Kreutzmann’s drums are pushed back more, but Hart has more of a presence here. I call it the “organ mix” since Constanten can be heard better here than in the other mixes. This is less of an “artistic” mix than the original, and more faithful to the stage performance.
(Though it would seem likely that Jeff Norman did this remix, he isn’t credited for it, nor could I find any interview where he mentions it, so this remains a mystery.)

Dan Healy rough mix, c.1991 (22:56)

The guitars are spread a bit wider than in the other mixes – Garcia’s on the center/left, Lesh in the center, Weir on the center/right. (Lesh and Weir are a bit more up-front relative to Garcia in this mix.) Kreutzmann’s drums are back in the center/left, somewhat recessed; Mickey’s guiro emerges clearly but briefly in the center after the Dark Star riff. The organ is very quiet behind Garcia, and can barely be heard (the Pigpen riff is almost subliminal here). As in the other mixes, the drums and organ seem to get louder (or more active) as the intro jam progresses.
During the verse, Garcia’s vocal is up front in the center – his vocal-doubling guitar lines are here (except for the last lines), and there’s no extra echo on the vocal or guitar. The organ remains very quiet in the verse, only getting louder in the two volume swells. Mickey’s gong is almost totally absent, only faintly heard in the distance after the verse – it sounds like Healy simply didn’t include the gong track, for whatever reason.
The space after the verse where Garcia forebodingly chimes while the other instruments hover sounds a bit flatter here, since the mix is so guitar-centered and lacking the gong. The organ’s present after the verse, but isn’t very loud; it’s thinner and quieter than the other mixes – sometimes Constanten becomes faint and just about vanishes, at other times he comes back up in a surge. The drums are generally quieter here too: a bit of guiro and cymbal-tapping can be heard in the quiet moments, but no percussion is apparent in the “sputnik” jam. Kreutzmann starts tapping again after the “sputnik,” and gradually the full drums can be heard coming in later, although the bass drum is still quieter than on the original album. (You can hear the drumroll when Garcia plays the Dark Star melody.) The drums and guiro are more prominent during the “bright star” re-entry into the verse.
In the second verse, there’s no echo on Garcia’s vocal, and his guitar lines are present. The organ can barely be heard til the end of the verse, with one swell; and the gong is all but absent. At the end, Lesh’s backing vocal is on the far left, and Weir’s on the far right, very quiet.
In the outro, Kreutzmann’s familiar drumroll is on the left, and Mickey’s gong is still missing.
Overall, this mix emphasizes the guitars, with the other instruments more in the background. Garcia seems less high in this mix, relative to the other guitars. The organ is pretty quiet throughout; there’s no gong, and less percussion in general. With no extra echo, it sounds flatter and less atmospheric than the other mixes. (It’s easy to hear Garcia’s natural stage echo in places, though.) Healy didn’t just set instrument levels at one spot, though, there are some volume variations throughout – for instance, Garcia or Constanten are sometimes bumped up for one phrase.
If the Dead had put out Fillmore West ’69 material in the vault releases of the ‘90s, perhaps the mix would have sounded like this. But it was held back; the tapes were leaked by Latvala and others instead; and an “official” Fillmore West set was released years later.

Jeffrey Norman mix, 2005 (21:44)

The timing is shorter here by some 80 seconds since Mountains of the Moon had its own track, and the new track starts with the Dark Star riff.
Garcia and Lesh are in the center, Weir in the right/center – grouped closer together than in previous mixes, all at about the same level; and Lesh is very up-front as usual. As in all the remixes, Weir is louder than on the original album, but Garcia’s guitar seems to have more echo in this one. Constanten’s on the left – quietly at first, you can faintly hear the Pigpen riff, but the organ gets louder at times. Kreutzmann’s drumtaps and cymbal can be heard clearly on the left/center throughout the intro jam, more than in the other mixes. Mickey’s guiro is in the center, but farther back, not nearly as loud as on the remastered Live/Dead. The drums and organ remain clear on the lead-up to the verse.
Garcia’s vocal is upfront in the verse, with a little echo. You can hear his doubling guitar lines, and the organ playing through the verse. Mickey’s gong is loud on the right, and pans around during the verse. At the end of the verse, the organ swells loudly, and there’s a big dramatic gong pan.
Afterwards, organ and gong and Weir chords dominate as Garcia suspensefully hangs back for a bit, his chimes growing in volume before he pours back in. Kreutzmann can’t be heard for several minutes; Mickey’s guiro faintly re-enters in a quiet part, then he returns to drum-taps before the “sputnik;” Constanten comes in and out of the mix. (Garcia & Lesh take on a brief, strangely phased sound entering the “sputnik” jam.) Kreutzmann’s cymbal comes back after the “sputnik,” and he gradually brings in the rest of the drum set after a few minutes, though he’s in the background and not very loud. (You can hear his drumroll when Garcia plays the Dark Star melody; but in this mix his cymbals are much clearer than the more faint bass drum.) Meanwhile the organ volume grows in some parts, and recedes again. There’s some extra echo applied to Garcia at moments throughout the jam, to emphasize his peak notes. (For instance, note the stereo reverb on his high notes before and after the “bright star.”) You can hear Kreutzmann’s drumbeats in the “bright star” section, and (very faintly) Mickey’s guiro comes back on the right afterwards. (In all these mixes, this is the first we’ve heard from Hart since the “sputnik” started.)
Garcia’s voice is brought up again in the second verse; you can only hear a few of his guitar notes. The organ is very low through most of the verse, finally coming up in one line, and the final volume swell. Mickey’s gong rings loudly through the verse, panning back and forth. Lesh’s backing vocal at the end is in the center with Garcia’s, and Weir’s on the center/right (Weir’s voice is louder than in the other mixes, and not as separated).
In the outro, the gong is front and center, but Kreutzmann’s drumroll is missing.
Overall, this was a creative mix – Norman fell in love with the gong here! (The guiro, though, remains in the background.) There is some extra echo used for emphasis; and the organ and percussion often change volume throughout – sometimes loud and clear, sometimes faded out. (The organ’s about as loud as on the remastered Live/Dead, but not as consistently.) Kreutzmann’s cymbals are emphasized in this mix, while his bass-drum is barely there. The touches of echo and volume changes bring out the drama in this version, though there’s a rather unpleasant processed (almost double-tracked) effect on Garcia & Lesh’s guitars at times.
I haven’t said much about Lesh’s place in these mixes, since Lesh is always the center and the lead in each mix; and the music rotates around him. Garcia comes in and out of the jams, laying back at times then diving back in with a new idea, while Lesh sets the foundation and anticipates Garcia’s every move. It’s also notable that all of the remixes give Weir a more equal role than the original album did.

The other tracks on Live Dead are also available in multiple mixes. Without going into too much detail, here’s a brief comparison of their differences. (2) 

St Stephen 2/27/69
Original CD:
Guitars – Garcia left, Weir right, Lesh right – Constanten on left
Vocals – Garcia left, Weir right, Lesh right
Garcia’s guitar has a very processed sound in the intro, and added echo on the right. Loud vocal echo added on the right. The organ is quieter than in the remixes. Faint glockenspiel in the bridge, on the right. Garcia’s guitar seems to be mixed lower in the jam.
Remastered CD:
Guitars – Garcia left, Weir right, Lesh right – Constanten on left  (same as before)
Vocals – Garcia center, Weir right, Lesh center
Garcia’s guitar sounds more natural, with no added echo. No extra echo on the vocals either. Louder organ. In the bridge: Garcia’s vocal is more up-front; very faint glockenspiel; Lesh & Garcia’s guitars move to the center.
Healy Mix:
Guitars – Garcia center, Weir left/center, Lesh center – Constanten left/center
Vocals – all in center
No vocal separation. Glockenspiel in the bridge is barely audible.
Fillmore West Box:
Guitars – Garcia center, Weir right, Lesh center – Constanten on left
Vocals – Garcia center/left, Weir center/right, Lesh center/left 
The feedback burst in the intro is reduced a bit. Weir’s cry after the second verse is mixed down. (There might be some echo on the vocals?) Kreutzmann’s drums are moved to the center (the other mixes had drums on left & right, as usual on each song). Glockenspiel in the bridge is almost inaudible.

The “William” Tell bridge is from 2/27; St. Stephen cuts to the Eleven from 1/26 after the vocals (at the track break on the CDs). They wouldn’t have wanted to use the St. Stephen from 1/26 since the playing’s less strong, it has some vocal goofs, and the jam is messed up when Garcia breaks a string:
I think they picked the Stephen from 2/27, despite a few flaws (the feedback at the start, Garcia stumbling at the end of the jam), since it had the fewest mistakes among the Fillmore West versions. (The others all have some sloppy moments; there wasn’t a “perfect” Stephen in the bunch.)

The Eleven 1/26/69
Original CD:
Guitars – Garcia left, Lesh center, Weir right (some reverb effect might be on Garcia’s guitar in places).
Organ in center/right, very quiet (almost inaudible sometimes), and stays quiet until the last 30 seconds.
Vocals – Garcia left, Lesh & Weir right (some reverb on Garcia’s vocal, and Lesh’s vocal mixed low).
Remastered CD:
Guitars – Garcia center, Lesh & Weir on right.
Organ on left, quiet at first but gets louder midway.
Vocals – Garcia & Lesh center, Weir on right.
Bear’s Mix:
Guitars – Weir left, Lesh & Garcia in the center.
Organ in the center (very quiet at first).
All vocals in the center. Drums on the sides, as in the other mixes.
The remastered Live/Dead sounds very similar to Bear’s mix. A couple volume changes are notable: when Garcia enters around 90 seconds in, his volume is down at first (especially on the original album mix), but he turns it up at 1:55. Constanten also gets louder when he starts playing chords at 3:30; then at the end (in all the mixes), at 8:40 the organ volume abruptly comes up.

It’s odd that they chose an Eleven with Garcia sitting out the first 90 seconds to change a string! (You can hear Garcia lose the string back in the St. Stephen jam.) But clearly the Dead were fond of the Eleven>Lovelight from 1/26, preferring it to any of the Fillmore West versions. (The Eleven on 2/27, at any rate, had a reel flip in it; and each of the Lovelights on the other Fillmore nights also had tape cuts.)

Turn On Your Lovelight 1/26/69
Original CD:
Guitars - Garcia center, Lesh center, Weir right (After a few minutes, Garcia moves to the left.)
Organ in the center, very quiet; stays low in the mix throughout.
Backing vocals on the right (a bit of Garcia on the left). Echo is added to all vocals.
At the start, you can hear the mix switch from the Eleven, as Garcia moves to the center; but oddly later on, he drifts back to the left again. There’s extra reverb on his guitar. Along with the organ, Weir’s guitar is also very low in the mix, so it’s hard to hear.
Remastered CD:
Guitars – Garcia center/left, Lesh center, Weir right
Organ on the left, louder in this mix.
Backing vocals – Garcia on left, Lesh center/left, Weir on right
Again, the mix changes from the Eleven at the start, as Lesh moves to the center. Weir’s guitar is much louder than on the original album. No extra echo on the vocals here – but strangely, when Lesh says “and leave it on” at the end, it has the same echo added as in the original mix. (You can hear the original sound on Bear’s tape.)
Bear’s Mix:
Guitars - Weir center/left, Garcia & Lesh center
Organ in the center, very loud in the mix.
All vocals in the center. Weir’s vocal is mixed up too high at the end (it’s comparatively low on both the Live/Dead mixes).
Drums on the sides, as in the other mixes. There’s a lot of audience shouting in this Lovelight, well-captured on Live/Dead but very audible even on Bear’s soundboard tape. 

Death Don’t Have No Mercy 3/2/69
Original CD:
Guitars – Garcia center, Weir & Lesh on right. Organ on right.
Remastered CD:
Guitars – Garcia center, Weir & Lesh on right. Organ on left
Healy Mix:
Guitars – Weir left, Garcia center, Phil right. Organ in center/right. (Vocal also moved over to center/right.)
Couldn’t check the Fillmore West box mix. But other than instruments shifting places, there aren’t significant differences between the various mixes. On the original Live/Dead, Garcia’s guitar isn’t as up-front (and the mix seems to change a bit midway through the solo); but Pigpen’s organ is well up in the mix as a lead instrument on all versions.

Feedback 3/2/69
Original CD:
Guitars – Lesh left, Garcia center, Weir right – Constanten center/right
Fades in. There’s a bit of drumming at the start for about 15 seconds, on the right. Gong on the right in the first few minutes, but seems to disappear in the last couple minutes. The organ is quieter than in the later mixes, but Garcia is louder and more up-front in this mix. (In all the remixes, he’s more recessed and farther back in the center.)
Remastered CD:
Guitars – Garcia center, Weir center/right, Lesh right - Constanten on left
(Later Lesh moves to left, Weir to right; then Lesh back to right.)
Comes out of applause. No drumming at the start. Gong on the right throughout, quieter in this mix, but can be heard in the last couple minutes. The organ is louder. It’s harder to distinguish who’s making what sounds, since Lesh & Weir often move around in the mix.
Healy Mix:
Guitars – Weir left, Garcia center, Lesh right – Constanten center/right
(Later Garcia moves to right, Lesh moves to left.)  
No drumming at the start. Gong on the left, very faint in this mix, and can’t be heard in the last couple minutes. The guitars are more widely separated (as on the original album), but Garcia & Lesh change places midway..
Fillmore West Box:
Guitars – Garcia center, Lesh center/right, Weir right – Constanten on left
The drumming at the start can be heard on the right. Gong on the right throughout, louder than the other mixes, including the last couple minutes. Very clear organ; the feedback might be the loudest in this mix.

We Bid You Goodnight 3/2/69
Original CD:
Vocals – Garcia center (more upfront), Lesh & Weir on right. Added vocal echo on left. The song cuts early since the reel ended right there.
Reissue CD:
Vocals – Garcia & Lesh center, Weir on right.
Healy Mix:
Vocals –Weir left, Lesh center, Garcia right for the first 20 seconds, then (on the Wise transfer) switches to centered vocals. The reel ran out shortly after the point where Live/Dead ends, so at 20 seconds a patch from Bear’s tape (with all-centered vocals) continues the song. To hear the original reel ending, check the Kaplan copy:
Fillmore West Box:
Vocals all in center; the whole song is taken from Bear’s tape. (There are some mic noises on the right.)

Despite having seven taped shows to cull from, the Dead’s selection process for Live/Dead seems to have been simple. They weren’t going to repeat songs from Anthem of the Sun, and they probably knew from the start which sequences they would use. In the end, a couple songs each from only three shows were picked – all included in full, and only a couple transition edits between songs were required:
1/26: Eleven>Lovelight
2/27: Dark Star>St. Stephen
3/2: Death Don’t Have No Mercy, Feedback>We Bid You Goodnight

A bit more background on the recording and mixing:

The band’s first attempt at recording live with the new Ampex MM-1000 16-track had been at the 12/31/68 Winterland show, which was not successful. Bob Matthews later said, “Unfortunately, we used some off-brand microphones that needed a bunch of batteries and constantly failed… We had so many problems that the tapes ended up not being usable.” (3)
David Lemieux says that only one reel with an all-star jam of Midnight Hour survives. Per one article: “"There was incredible amounts of distortion, missing tracks"… For the final set, the band called out the other musicians on the bill to jam, until there were three or four players per track. "It was one big blur of 16-track distortion by the end." Reels of the new 2-inch tape were so costly, the band erased the New Year's Eve recordings and recorded over them…at the Avalon Ballroom in January 1969…[and] when the band rolled into the Fillmore West six weeks later, eight rolls of tape from the Avalon had been erased, ready to use on the Fillmore recordings. Lemieux found Fillmore West reels with both "NYE" and "Avalon" scratched out on the label.” (4)
It’s unlikely that the January ’69 Avalon shows will ever be released – most of the multitrack reels were erased; and Bear’s two-track tapes have so many mixing problems they’ll probably never be considered for release. (The complete Dark Star from 1/26/69 may not exist in the Vault either, only Bear’s circulating two-track tape with the giant cut when he changed reels.)

Matthews and Bear have different memories of how many tracks were used., but according to Jeff Norman, the tracks were:
1. Pigpen vocal
2. Garcia vocal
3. Lesh vocal
4. Weir vocal
5. Kreutzmann kick & snare
6. Kreutzmann overhead
7. Hart kick & snare
8. Hart overhead
9. Hart gong
10. Constanten organ
11. Garcia guitar
12 + 13. Lesh bass
14. Weir guitar 
Two tracks were not used, and there was no audience track.

Matthews told David Gans, “The process by which we recorded was a simple one. Microphones that [were] used for the PA split were placed on the stage and [those] same microphones went directly to channels on the tape machine with no signal processing in between. No artistic decisions were made [with] the electronic signal.” When mixing, Matthews used “a fairly complex set of delays and reverbs to re-create that feeling of being in [the Fillmore].” The 16-track machine had 14-inch reels, “which at 15 ips allowed you to record continuously for an hour-and-a-half, and, of course, with the Grateful Dead, that was very important.” (5)

Matthews recalled that first the Dead tried to mix Live/Dead themselves “from their perspective onstage, which is their mindset. It didn’t work. It’s not that it was wrong, it was just different. It didn’t have any dimension to it. I always listened to the band from the hall, so when I got the chance to mix Live/Dead, that was the perspective I was looking to recreate, how it felt to be in the hall. We were the ‘audience’ in some respects.” His mixing technique: “You figure out the phase plans of all the input sensors – the microphones, where they were, and how they fit together. That’s the template. Then, adding to that, what is it that makes things sound locational when you’re in a room? … By utilizing time – such as delay and reverberation decay – in a very musically defined and tuned manner, you can add the dimensionality that makes it feel like it’s in a real space.” (6)

Jeff Norman had a few problems with the tapes when he mixed them in 2005:
“The ’69 tapes were pretty punchy. The way those were recorded by Matthews – taking the microphone straight into the tape machine and bypassing [console] electronics and control, the end result is there are some things that sound fine and others that are clipping, and there’s distortion on some tracks because they’re just too loud. The first day, the 27th, was fine; the 28th I struggled a lot with distorted vocals… It was a very bare-bones recording. There wasn’t too much you could do. There’s lots of bleed of instruments into the vocal mikes and there was limited tracks of drums to work with.” (7)
He showed Blair Jackson a couple examples of the instrument leakage: “[Pigpen’s] lead vocal on ‘Alligator,’ which revealed Garcia's guitar nearly as loud as the lead vocal. Both of bassist Phil Lesh's tracks have prominent drums, organ and rhythm guitar, in addition to Garcia's axe. ‘Jerry's guitar is in everything,’ Norman says.”
Norman was especially bothered by the limited drum tracks. “They put the kick and the snare on the same track…and there's distortion on a lot of it. Fortunately, each of them had another overhead track that was cleaner… Some of the vocals, particularly Jerry’s, are distorted, too. If you listen closely to Live/Dead, you hear it a little bit.” (8)

Norman said that “some delays and other little things I put in on the 2/28 “Dark Star”…were things that I thought would make it sound a little better, whether they were right or wrong. But for the actual Live/Dead material, I really tried not to do anything that was going to change it radically from what people already knew.” (9)
Norman is an active hands-on mixer, who can be creative with his improvements or sonic alterations. The original Live/Dead album was the radical departure, though; none of the subsequent mixes have tried to recapture that echo-bathed swirling sound. They’re usually closer to each other than to the original album, but each is a subjective interpretation that brings out (or leaves out) some different element on the tapes.

A fifth mix of 2/27/69 also exists – Bear’s two-track tapes of this run are in the Vault, and were used as patch sources in the circulating 16-track mixdowns, though otherwise they’re not available online. They probably wouldn’t offer a very different perspective of the music (and don’t have much of a stereo picture), but they’re likely to be a more accurate portrait of the stage sound than the more manipulated mixes we have.
Jeff Norman used pieces to patch little gaps on the 16-track tapes when mixing the Fillmore West box set: “Speaking of cassettes, there were five or six places where the multitrack ran out and the only tape to cover a gap was a Bear two-track. They were little pieces of Bear’s board mixes and some worked OK, but there’s one in a version of “Caution,” I believe, where there was only a cassette, and that’s pretty brutal... It’s not that great a cassette – there’s no high-end and there are drop-outs. But we had to use it.” (10)
(Lemieux said there might be “eight or nine points” on the box set where Bear’s tapes were patched in, which seems to be a more accurate count. "I think you could hear it if you were listening carefully with headphones.") (11)

It’s possible that a sixth mix of the Live/Dead material was also aired back in 1969. Garcia later told Sandy Troy, “We finished the mix of it before we finished Aoxomoxoa,” and the Dead previewed Live/Dead on KSAN as early as April ‘69:
I don’t know if this was an alternate mix, or the same mix later released on the album, since no tape circulates; but possibly it was the early Dead mix of the album that Matthews mentioned.
(Michael Parrish writes, “I taped a rough mix of it off the radio in roughly May, 1969, and it was broadcast again right after the Wanger GD special aired…in June, 1969. The album finally came out in November.” When Aoxomoxoa came out in June, Garcia said the live album would be released “in the next month or so,” but it was apparently pushed back by Warners.)

This Fillmore West run isn’t unique in having so many studio mixes available. Parts of many shows from the Europe ’72 tour also exist in at least three mixes, between Betty’s circulating tapes, the recent tour box set, and a few earlier official releases. The Dark Star from 4/8/72 boasts four different mixes, one done by the Dead themselves during the tour – but a mix analysis of that performance can be saved for another day!


(1) Witness the screams when the Dead start playing it at the Fillmore East in February ’70. An excerpt from this Dark Star was also used in the film Zabriskie Point, just a few months after Live/Dead was released.
(2) Instrument placement can vary, as guitars sometimes move around in the mix, and there was a lot of instrument bleed between tracks. The bass often seems to be in two places at once – not just because Phil played that way, but I think also because the bass was recorded on two tracks, so it has more freedom of movement.
(3) Blair Jackson, Grateful Dead Gear, p.79
(6) Grateful Dead Gear, p.83