Steal Your Face

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Steal Your Face
A drawing of deformed human skull with a lightning bolt across it, alternating red and blue on either side
Live album by Grateful Dead
Released June 26, 1976 (1976-06-26)
Recorded October 17–20, 1974
Genre Rock
Length 84:13
Label Grateful Dead Records
Producer Grateful Dead
Grateful Dead chronology
Blues for Allah
(1975)
Steal Your Face
(1976)
Terrapin Station
(1977)
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3/5 stars [1]
Rolling Stone 2/5 stars [2][3]

Steal Your Face is a live double album by the Grateful Dead, released in June 1976. The album was recorded October 17–20, 1974, at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom, during a "farewell run" that preceded a then-indefinite hiatus. It was the fourth and final album released by the band on their original Grateful Dead Records label. The Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack, a second album from the same run of shows, was released in 2005.

The concerts & recording[edit]

After a grueling schedule, caused in part by the cost of the band's unwieldy "Wall of Sound" public address system, the decision was made to stop touring and performing as the Grateful Dead, short of actually disbanding. Averaging over 600 speakers powered by a minimum of 48 600-watt amplifiers, the massive and experimental sound reinforcement system had advanced the technology but also presented an array of physical, audio and technical difficulties. It had required four semi-trailer trucks to transport and, due to the rigging time, necessitated two, leapfrogging road crews with separate scaffolding sets. Adding the employees required to operate the band's Grateful Dead Records label (and sub-label Round Records), publishing entity, direct-to-fan mailers, and other business operations, personnel had swollen to several hundred.[4]

Bassist Phil Lesh recalled that the "stresses and strains associated with large-scale touring – together with the devastating loss of [lead singer/organist] Pigpen – were starting to create cracks and crevices in our unanimity of purpose. ... Too many gigs, too much money spent, and too many people trying to get backstage all added up to a potentially explosive broth. Something had to give – so before it did, we made a decision to take some time off."[5] Drummer Bill Kreutzmann stated "I didn’t think the Wall of Sound sounded great, but our interplay at some of those shows was phenomenal. At some point, though, that’s not enough. ... By the end of 1974, Jerry was done being that kind of hero. He was ready for a change of scene. He needed a break from it. I honored his decision and the rest of us did, too."[6] Though the hiatus was initially short-lived (the band began recording a new album just months later), a five-date "farewell" run was scheduled for October 16–20, 1974 in San Francisco. In addition to recording the concerts on two 16-track machines, the shows were filmed for a movie release.

Production & mixing[edit]

The completion of The Grateful Dead Movie would take nearly three years. In the meantime, band manager Ron Rakow had agreed to the delivery of a soundtrack album to United Artists Records in return for additional organizational and film production costs. With lead guitarist Jerry Garcia focused on the film's sound synchronization and editing, Lesh and sound man Owsley Stanley were tasked with finishing the album tie-in first. Rather than a true soundtrack for the yet-uncompleted film, the pair separately reviewed the audio from copies of Garcia's work tapes and selected concert performances for a double-live album.

Because the sound system was stacked behind the band, restricted-frequency, differential microphones were used in pairs, to prevent bleed and feedback loops. One was wired out-of-phase in a phase-cancellation scheme that required the singers to position very close to the microphones. This, along with the lack of a true sound/mixing board created sonic anomalies when it came time to mix the tapes. Additionally, the drum tracks suffered from distortion and some vocals had been lost – particularly those by backing vocalist Donna Godchaux – which had to be overdubbed in the studio.[7]

At the time of production, quadraphonic technology appeared ascendant. In anticipation, the album was mixed for the QS standard – one of several competing vinyl matrix formats. Rather than a dedicated stereo mix, during mastering the quadraphonic mix was folded down to two channels. Lesh explained that he and Bear decided to mix "the whole thing in 'quad' ... the result was a glutinous mud bath of sound, through which any music was scarcely discernible. Bear and I went to Rakow, telling him that the recordings were unusable. He brushed our objections aside, saying, 'They’ll buy it anyway; we need this record.' It’s a wonder the record was ever finished; the fact that it was released – against my better judgment – shows how desperate we were for product to take up the slack from lack of touring income".[8] Ultimately, by the time the album was released the Grateful Dead had resumed live touring. With the movie unfinished, the album was instead promoted in conjunction with the tour.[9]

Release & response[edit]

Though the song does not appear on the album, the title derives from the lyrics of "He's Gone":

Like I told you, what I said
Steal your face right off your head

The cover art prominently features the "Lightning Skull" logo. One of the band's iconic images, it was designed by Owsley Stanley (originally to mark equipment cases) and rendered by Bob Thomas. The graphic previously appeared on the cover of History of the Grateful Dead, Volume One (Bear's Choice).[10] The inside of the gatefold features concert photos from the run at Winterland.

Rather than include any of the Dead's trademark extended jams, shorter songs dominate the track list. Coupled with the unflattering sound and performances, the end result was not well received by critics or fans.[11] However, opinion has raised over time, particularly following sonically-improved reissues, with the album considered unique in the band's catalog, if not underrated.[12] Along with choosing performances that would fit more than one-to-a-side on a vinyl record, Lesh focused on songs not previously released or whose arrangements had evolved. As it would turn out, only two selections on the album were also used wholly or in part in the film ("Casey Jones" & U.S. Blues". An additional track – "Sugaree" – also appears on the movie's bonus DVD). The songs were left intact, without editing (save "Black-Throated Wind" which has an early fade-out). Of the fourteen songs, seven had previously appeared on Grateful Dead albums in studio form. One had been released on Weir's solo album, and two on Garcia solo albums. Four others are covers, including two by Chuck Berry.

Band chronicler Blair Jackson explained why Lesh's method for song choice didn't mesh with Deadhead expectation: "[It] had none of the natural flow of a Grateful Dead concert. It was as if someone had thrown all the songs into a hat and then pulled them out randomly, which is not the way the Grateful Dead operated at all. Their sets, while definitely eclectic, were built piece by piece according to what songs felt right to play at the moment. Garcia's choices would affect Weir's choices and vice versa. Steal Your Face consisted mainly of short songs that were usually played in the lighter first set, and it was devoid of any extended improvisation. Considering the material that was available from that five-night run, the song selection was mystifying to say the least."[13] Garcia saw the album as a specific statement from the same era as the movie, noting "[Phil] picked out what he liked for his own reasons. If anyone wants to have some concept of what Phil likes, that's a good album. ... We don't interfere with each other on that level."[13]

Steal Your Face was the band's final album released on the original Grateful Dead Records, as well as their only double album and live album on the label. With GDR's collapse, just months after the album's release, Steal Your Face was mostly out of print for over a decade.[13] United Artists Records pressed an edition in 1979, and the album was first mastered for CD release in 1989, returning to publication. A remastered version was released by Rhino Records in 2004. It is unknown how many copies were issued in QS-quadraphonic.

The album was not included in the Beyond Description (1973–1989) box set, which otherwise collected all of the albums released in that time period. However, concurrent with the set, The Grateful Dead Movie was restored and released as a two disc DVD. An additional 5-CD box set, The Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack, was subsequently compiled featuring a much larger sample of the same concert run and sharing only one track with Steal Your Face ("Casey Jones", from October 17, in abbreviated form). Three songs appear on both albums, but are from different dates: "Stella Blue", "Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo", and "U.S. Blues".

Track listing[edit]

Side one
  1. "Promised Land" (Chuck Berry) – 3:15
  2. "Cold Rain and Snow" (trad., arr. Grateful Dead) – 5:35
  3. "Around and Around" (Berry) – 5:07
  4. "Stella Blue" (Robert Hunter, Jerry Garcia) – 8:48
Side two
  1. "Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo" (Hunter, Garcia) – 8:00
  2. "Ship of Fools" (Hunter, Garcia) – 6:59
  3. "Beat It On Down the Line" (Jesse Fuller) – 3:22
Side three
  1. "Big River" (Johnny Cash) – 4:53
  2. "Black-Throated Wind" (John Barlow, Bob Weir) – 6:05
  3. "U.S. Blues" (Hunter, Garcia) – 5:18
  4. "El Paso" (Marty Robbins) – 4:15
  • "Black-Throated Wind" is an excerpt of the performance
Side four
  1. "Sugaree" (Hunter, Garcia) – 7:33
  2. "It Must Have Been the Roses" (Hunter) – 5:58
  3. "Casey Jones" (Hunter, Garcia) – 7:02

Recording dates[edit]

All tracks recorded live at Winterland, San Francisco

  • "Casey Jones" and "It Must Have Been the Roses"  – October 17, 1974 (see Beyond Description & Movie Soundtrack for more from this date)
  • "Ship of Fools", "Beat It On Down the Line" and "Sugaree" – October 18, 1974 (see Movie Soundtrack for more from this date)
  • "Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo", "Black Throated Wind", "U.S. Blues", "Big River" and "El Paso" – October 19, 1974 (see So Many Roads & Movie Soundtrack for more from this date)
  • "Promised Land", "Cold Rain and Snow", "Around and Around", and "Stella Blue" – October 20, 1974 (see Movie Soundtrack for more from this date)

Personnel[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Planer, Lindsay. Steal Your Face at AllMusic
  2. ^ Walters, Charley (August 26, 1976). Steal Your Face, Rolling Stone
  3. ^ The Grateful Dead Album Guide, Rolling Stone
  4. ^ Beyond Description (1973–1989); Rhino Records, 2004. Liner Notes: David Fricke
  5. ^ Lesh, Phil (2005). Searching for the Sound. Little, Brown & Co.; NY, NY. Chapter 16. ISBN 978-0-316-00998-0. 
  6. ^ Kreutzmann, Bill (2015). Deal. St. Martin's Press, New York. Chapter 12. ISBN 978-1-250-03380-2. 
  7. ^ Lesh, Phil (2005). Searching for the Sound. Little, Brown & Co.; NY, NY. Chapter 17. ISBN 978-0-316-00998-0. The backup vocal tracks had been recorded on a second machine and had since disappeared into the fabric of the universe. 
  8. ^ Lesh, Phil (2005). Searching for the Sound. Little, Brown & Co.; NY, NY. Chapter 17. ISBN 978-0-316-00998-0. 
  9. ^ "Steal Your Face image". dead.net. Retrieved 30 Jan 2017. 
  10. ^ Dodd, David (2005). The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics. New York, NY 10020: Free Press: Simon & Schuster. p. 192. 
  11. ^ Dave's Picks Volume 4; Rhino Records, 2012. Liner Notes: Nicholas Meriwether
  12. ^ Shank, David; Silberman, Steve (1994). Skeleton Key: A Dictionary for Deadheads. Broadway Books, New York, NY. ISBN 978-0-385-47402-3. 
  13. ^ a b c Jackson, Blair (1999). Garcia: An American Life. Penguin Books; NY, NY. p. 278, addition. ISBN 0140291997.