This is a very well produced documentary about the evolution of the Grateful Dead from its early days of mind-ripping psychedelic explorations like "Alligator" to the bittersweet Americana lullabies of "Brokedown Palace." The band has never been famous for its studio work and the albums "Anthem of the Sun" and "American Beauty" could not be more different from one another - from the music to the cover art - but they are unquestionably products of the same musicians whose hallmark was always exploration. That said, I would still argue that "American Beauty" is a wonderful studio album that I think everyone should have in their record collection regardless of whether or not you are a Deadhead.
People who were key but little-known figures for the band like Neal Cassidy are further revealed in rare footage while band narrations tell the stories you always want to hear when seeing a band documentary. Hearing individual tracks isolated in playback with Phil Lesh and Bob Weir at the console are a special treat for audiophiles familiar with the intricacies of these two particular albums. Hearing things explained from the Warner Brothers executive point of view adds an unexpected chuckle too.
This has some incredible old footage I've never seen before. That alone makes the film worth it, but there's so much more than that. Getting the back stories from Hunter, Lesh, Weir, Garcia, Hart and others is a must for anyone who loves the Grateful Dead, and I also highly recommend this film for those who never "got it" about the band. Hearing these guys talk about the how and why of making the music they did, interspersed with some fantastic recordings displaying their musical prowess should make a believer out of anyone. You still might not like the music, but at least you'll understand why people who do like the music are ravenous about it.
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