Improvisational jazz rock of varying length
The Grateful Dead are known for their live performances. Popularised by Ken Kesey’s San Francisco acid tests, the dead have toured extensively for decades, performing a wide array of music as years have progressed. Many of their live performances differ from studio albums; they’re known for being highly improvisational.
One such song that is known for being subject to improvisation is “Dark Star,” which was released in 1968 as a single. The studio version runs at a quick 2:44, but live versions were well over 20 minutes—some versions even lasted an hour. This was due to the band’s interest in improvisational jazz, and Jerry Garcia was known for taking extended parts of the song and well, jamming out until the fans brains were melted.
Due to how many live shows the Grateful Dead played, and how often “Dark Star” was performed, countless versions of the song exist. One of the most popular is off of their 1969 album, Live/Dead, which “Dark Star” stretches over 23 minutes in length. In a recent article on Rolling Stone, where Live/Dead ranks #7 on their top 50 live albums of all time, Jerry Garcia said, “We were after a serious, long composition, musically and then a recording of it.”
The lyrics only encompass a few minutes of the improvisation and almost serve as an indication where the song is at, as it’s easy to slip and forget how long you’ve been listening to the song (especially when time isn’t an object).
Formless, improvisational composition paves way for all kinds of interesting music, so any two recordings of “Dark Star” may not be the same. However, the experience still remains the same: amazing, flowy, creative guitar riffs and coordinative intersubjectivity among one of the greatest bands in rock history.