Crowd Sculpture/ Parallelogram/
Little Nemo in Nightland/ Riverside Rhapsody/ Post-Modern Highrise Table Top Stomp /Infrared Roses / Silver Apples of the
Moon / Speaking in Swords/ Magnesium Night Light / Sparrow Hawk Row/ River of Nine Sorrows / Apollo at the Ritz
is a compilation live album that is supposed to represent the “magic” section of Dead shows where Hippies reach
Nirvana or something like that. Uh… Buyer beware, as even Deadheads have
been known to hate this album. Most probably because, “Infrared Roses”
is not really music, but a sound collage—a soundtrack for acid freaks. There
are no songs, just endless jams. And not Eric Clapton blues jamming—this
is SPACED OUT, aimless “music.” No chords or lyrics or singing or
structure. These jams are taken from the “space/drum” portion of
various Dead shows in 1989 and 1990 in which the Dead “enter a musical environment without walls” to quote the
linear notes. There is only one brief glimpse of a recognizable song (5 seconds
of the coda of “Uncle John’s Band” preceding “Riverside Rhapsody”) and there is
a total of 12 minutes of drum soloing on this record.
Despite all of
this, I am a huge fan of this album. It is daring, relaxing and endlessly atmospheric
with strangely telling titles complements of Robert Hunter. This is not something
you will listen to frequently, but it should be heard at least once if you want to truly see what the Dead were supposedly
about. “Crowd Sculpture” opens the record and is a 2-minute
sampling of the infamous parking lot scene before every Dead show begins. This
fades directly into “Parallelogram,” a 5-minute dueling drum extravaganza between Mickey Hart and Bill
Kreutzmann. Not Ginger Baker and John Bonham by any means, as this piece is long,
dull, and slow—it is just so-so, but things do get better. “Little
Nemo in Nightland” is next and begins with weird guitar whale sounds after which Garcia and Weir take you on a 6-minute
TRIP. There is no rhythm or beat to keep them together, but somehow they bounce
off each other and create an excellent spiraling guitar piece.
Rhapsody” takes off from the ending stages of “Uncle John’s Band” (assumingly to let the
listener see how these space jams are incorporated into Dead shows). More of
the same trippy music ensues, this time with Mydland’s keyboards and Lesh’s bass joining the hippie foray. Ultimate relaxation. Something to listen
to when you get home from a hectic night out and need to calm down. “Post-Modern
Highrise Table Top Stomp” begins as yet another Hart/Kreutzmann battle, but slowly includes each member of the band. The “Post-Modern” portion is that the band battles itself. Kreutzmann and Weir on the left stereo speaker and Garcia and Hart on the right (Mydland and Lesh are on
both). Cool track, slow to build but easy to enjoy. The title track would freak out any Deadhead on acid. It sounds
like background music in the part of a movie where the killer is stalking an unsuspecting victim. Moody and a little unsettling, but in a good way.
Apples of the Moon” gives Bruce Hornsby a chance to display his piano prowess (Bruce took over at a few shows for
the Dead after Mydland died of a drug overdose in 1990). He breaks the space
a little bit here by playing actual chords, but it doesn’t take away from the mood of the album, as Hornsby provides
another great relaxation piece. “Speaking in Swords” is one
more Kreutzmann/Hart duet, but this time on electronic percussion. If the title
track brings about images of a killer stalking his victim, then this “song” provides the background for when he
finally catches his prey. Spooky, demented and great. “Magnesium Night Light” flows from “Speaking in Swords” without a
break and is more manic music, but this time the entire band joins the “fun,” slowly transforming “Speaking
in Swords” into oddly happier sounds.
“Sparrow Hawk Row”
features more disorder with disturbing musical fragments fading in and out of focus.
“River of Nine Sorrows” is the last of the Hart/Kreutzmann duels and sounds like tribal music, complete
with bird whistles, congas, and woodblocks. “Apollo at the Ritz”
closes the album as an 8-minute free for all that begins with an actual church bell played by Jerry and features the somewhat
well-known Branford Marsalis on sax. The sax, although chaotic, does not fit
well on this particular album, but what the hell, this is the strangest Dead album made, so why not throw it in? It shouldn’t be the longest piece here though.
Hmmm…this is the portion where I explain
how I could give this album the same rating as “Blues For Allah.” Frankly, “Blues For Allah” is a FAR superior album in the normal sense of
music. I could listen to that album at any time and enjoy the hell out of it. “Infrared Roses,” by contrast, needs to be listened to in the right
state of mind, and is most certainly not normal music. Still, this album displays
the other side of the Dead that most of their studio albums doesn’t even approach: the spaced out hippie acid freakshow
experimental novelty Grateful Dead music evolved into. Both are essential if
you want to experience even a glimpse of what Dead music is, so go out and give this album a listen.