Sloppy Chops That Somehow Slid Into Sweet Spots

I decided against seeing Amir Bar Lev‘s Long Strange Trip (theatrical 5.26, Amazon Prime 6.2), his four-hour Grateful Dead doc, at Sundance, but I’ll be catching it on 4.12 at a Los Angeles press screening — 5 pm to 9:30 pm with a half-hour refreshment break.

A Variety review by Owen Gleiberman plus the film’s Wikipedia page state that the running time is 235 minutes, but p.r. releases have reported slightly longer lengths — 238 and 242 minutes. Update: Obscured Pictures’ R.J. Millard, a recent addition to the team, clarifies that “the final running time will be 241 minutes (4 hours, 1 minute).”

The only Grateful Dead album I’ve ever really liked is Live Dead. Recorded at San Fransico’s Avalon Ballroom and Fillmore West in early ’69 and released later that year, it was the first live album to use 16-track recording. Village Voice critic Robert Christgau wrote that side two of the double album “contains the finest rock improvisation ever recorded” — agreed.

I presumed from the get-go that Long Strange Trip would be an above-average thing because of Bar-Lev‘s esteemed track record — My Kid Could Paint That (’07), The Tillman Story (’10) and Happy Valley (’14).

From Gleiberman’s review: “[Pic] has the sprawl and generosity of a good Dead show, yet there’s nothing indulgent about it — it’s an ardent piece of documentary classicism. I’m one of those people who can’t stand the Grateful Dead…yet I found Long Strange Trip enthralling. For the first time, it made me see, and feel, and understand the slovenly glory of what they were up to, even if my ears still process their music as monotonous roots-rock wallpaper.”

  • Pete Miesel

    I’m with you on the Dead. For all their reputation as a hard working touring act, their studio albums (save for Workingman and American Beauty) are lazy at best, outtake/bootleg quality at worst. But by the time their 80’s/90’s peak rolled around, their fan base was the least discriminating one in all of music fandom and the Dead could literally vomit out ANYTHING during their shows and the fans would consider it a religious experience.

    It’s not Garcia couldn’t play, his bluegrass experiments with David Grisman were great.

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  • Alfie Putzberger

    Seen the doc. Don’t have to be a fan to enjoy, just curious. If you are able to check yourself at the door, the doc simply exposes to the viewer a group of people, living in a world during a limited period of time. These people, this world and this time might not make sense, but LST isn’t trying to explain, merely expose. In the doc, the Dead are not glorified nor demonized. We are shown beauty and ugliness, order and confusion. I though it was fantastic. Word to the not-so-wise, however, if you take your shit in with you, don’t be surprised when you don’t like the smell.

  • Grampappy Amos

    Never did “get” them back then, though so many friends were singing their praises in 72-73,that I just shut my mouth. But damn, if I hear the occasional “Truckin'” or “Touch of Grey” on the radio, I like that a whole lot more than some of the Zeppelin I ate up during those same years

  • Bob Strauss

    Kinda can’t wait. You bringing “refreshments” to the screening, Jeff, or should I?

    • Red Bull, you mean? The invite said they’d be serving something or other. Coffee and whatever.

      • Bob Strauss

        Never went to a Dead show, I take it.

        • Dr. New Jersey

          I think he may he joking. Maybe.

  • Dr. New Jersey

    Back in the day I was standing in line at a Wherehouse Records in the Bay Area. Unbidden the woman behind me said, “Did you see Jerry on TV last night?” I realized the Dead had a PBS special the night before and told her I missed it. “You have GOT to find a tape!”

  • lazarus

    I always had a distaste for the Dead, having been in high school in the late 80s when the whole hippie resurgence began. I was a metalhead, then got into industrial dance music before finally understanding college rock and then being open to whatever. But I always made fun of the Dead subculture.

    Years later, I was staying out of town at my stepmother’s and looking through her CDs to find something to listen to, and came across the Dead’s Europe ’72 live album. I figured what the hell, and wound up really enjoying most of it. He’s Gone and Ramblin’ Rose being my favorites.

    Agreed that the studio albums I’ve heard only have a few standouts here and there, but American Beauty is pretty much all great, and it’s more accessible than a skeptic would suspect. It confuses me that so many people who enjoy Wilco wouldn’t bother with the Dead when there’s not much of a gulf between.

    Anyway, I still can’t stand Truckin’ or Touch of Grey, ironically mentioned above.

  • Steven Gaydos

    “No rock band ever played together longer than the Grateful Dead without ever getting better.” – My pro musician pal who I won’t name so i can spare him the grief that would ensue