An album to space your face: Grateful Dead’s “Wake of the Flood” 50th anniversary 

The Grateful Dead in the Warfield Theater in San Francisco, California for a live album recording in 1980. This year is the 50th anniversary of “Wake of the Flood” with the releasing of a new version of the album with alternative takes of the original songs. Photo by Chris Stone via Flickr.

Though the band split following the passing of frontman Jerry Garcia nearly three decades ago, the Grateful Dead has never really left cultural relevance as a symbol of easygoing counterculture. Deadheads — as their fans affectionately call each other — still exist in all walks of life. Time and time again, the Grateful Dead is listed as one of the most influential bands of all time, and Jerry Garcia one of the most influential guitarists of all time.  

With their incredibly large body of work and massive cult following, it comes as no surprise to see new Dead content cropping up a few times a year. They have played thousands of shows across 30 years and thousands more post-breakup through spinoff musical acts like Dead & Company (which just finished its final tour as a band this past July). On top of that, there are thousands of hours of unreleased studio recordings showcasing how these Californian jam masters crafted their songs. 

That’s where this new record, “Wake of the Flood: The Angel’s Share,” comes in, as 2023 marked its 50th anniversary. “Wake of the Flood” continues to be one of the Dead’s most celebrated albums, with cuts such as “Eyes of the World” and “Stella Blue” being staples of the band’s performances.  

The record is much more jazz-focused, taking inspiration from modal jazz and bebop as opposed to the straightforward blues-inspired psychedelic rock the band had been making beforehand. The record has an emphasis on keyboards, played by Keith Godchaux, and has an eclectic mix of influences that range from reggae to folk rock. 

The 50th anniversary release includes alternate takes of each track, giving the listener a chance to peek behind the curtain into the songwriting process exhibited by the band. Also included are demos for two songs, “Eyes of the World” and “Here Comes Sunshine.”  For hardcore deadheads and aspiring songwriters, this is a masterclass on what goes into crafting a song. Though the band doesn’t explicitly explain their process, each take gives a clear picture of where the song is going and where it came from, and each take differs, albeit in slight ways. The opener, “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo,” is an extended jam in earlier takes before being shortened to a more traditional song structure in the final master. 

This record is surely one for the dedicated fans: those who are curious and eager to listen to the band record their music and refine it down to a commercial release. However, casual fans may not see much enjoyment in listening to the group play the same song four times in a row. The band also includes live performances of several “Wake of the Flood” cuts. A staple part of the Grateful Dead’s music is their emphasis on live performances, with thousands of their shows being recorded and released by the band and fans alike. The live performances on this record were taken from a 1973 concert at Northwestern University.  

“Wake of the Flood: The Angel’s Share” offers a unique insight into one of rock’s most celebrated albums while also including unheard live performances and demos — everything one would want to be compiled in a deluxe reissue. For both casual and hardcore deadheads, there is something to offer with this reissue. 

Rating: 4/5 

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