4 Face-Melters: Vote for The Dead’s Best “Playing In The Band”

by Peter Wendel
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StealYourFaceMeltDebut: February 18, 1971
Last Time Played: July 5, 1995
Total Times Played: 569
Songwriter(s): Weir, Hart & Hunter

Trying to pick The Grateful Dead’s best all-time performance of “Playing In The Band” is like trying to pick the most sublime work of art at the Louvre (the world’s largest museum). In each case, there’s a deep pool of greatness to choose from.

Vote for the best version of “Playing In The Band” below.

The Dead performed “Playin” some 560 times in all, placing it among the most frequently played songs in the band’s live repertoire, like “Sugar Magnolia,” “I Know You Rider” and “Me And My Uncle.” The final performance of “Playin” was on July 5, 1995, at Riverport Amphitheatre in Maryland Heights, MO. The Grateful Dead would play just three more shows (with Jerry) – ever.

DonnaBobbyAs far as I can tell (and this is all a matter of opinion, of course), the most  explorative, riveting and face-melting performances of “Playin” came in a tight grouping, extending from late-August 1972 to early-December 1973.

Versions of the song could take more than 40 minutes to fully unwind with expansive, explorative jamming that floats in the same rarified cryptical space as “Dark Star.” When the band got deep in the groove, the musical mayhem and chaos could take you places you never knew existed.

The Louvre has the ancient Greek sculpture, the Venus de Milo, and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, but The Dead have August 27, 1972, at the Old Renaissance Faire Grounds in Veneta, OR, and December 2, 1973, at the Hofheinz Pavilion in Houston, TX (I could go on).

In my humble opinion, the four face-melters below are among the best-played performances of “Playin” from the 24-year span that The Dead played it live.

Vote for the best version at bottom.

August 27, 1972
Old Renaissance Faire Grounds, Veneta, OR

One for the ages! This version – as you probably already know – is widely regarded as the band’s best all-time PITB performance. You be the judge. (It’s featured in the opening of The Dead documentary film, Sunshine Daydream.)

November 15, 1972
OKC Music Hall, Oklahoma City, OK

WARNING: You can get lost in here. A jaw-dropping 30-minute MONSTER!

November 18, 1972
Hofheinz Pavilion, Houston, TX

Absolutely EPIC! If this performance isn’t in your top 3 (or higher), do yourself a favor and give it another listen. You’ll be glad you did.

December 2, 1973
Boston Music Hall, Boston, MA

MELTING MADNESS! Glorious deep-space improv into a sublime “Mind Left Body Jam.”

Vote for the best version of "Playing in the Band"

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Peter Wendel is a journalist and PR consultant. He's attended hundreds of concerts and festivals, including the Peach, Mountain Jam, the All Good and Lockn'. He's ridden legendary Grateful Dead runs from Ventura County Fairgrounds to Irvine Meadows (CA) from the Nassau Coliseum (NY) to the Boston Garden (MA). Peter is a former U.S. Marine who – after running into trouble with every last one of his commanding officers – received an honorable discharge and a direct order never to return. Born in California and raised in New Jersey, Peter lived in Boston and Joshua Tree (CA) before settling in the nation's capital. Find him on tour at PWendel@SongMango.com.