Without a Net was the first ever Dead album I bought new. I bought it in a gas station somewhere just north of San Francisco on I.5 in August 1991. Most albums I have bought I can’t place the time and place of buying that well. This one is different as I was on my honeymoon and we were about to enter San Francisco in a beat up Jeep and it seemed like we needed a soundtrack other than classic rock radio as we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge.
I was desperately trying to find a Moby Grape album with 8:05 on so I could time our arrival as a Skip Spence homage, such are the thoughts of the musically obsessed.
In the end the only appropriate album in the revolving rack was Without A Net, it then became the only album we had for the whole journey, it was played as we approached Universal Studios, whichever Disney franchise we went to and as we got caught on high ground during a flash flood in Joshua Tree, and yes we found Gram Parsons last resting place.
It was played as we drove through the redwoods, and then up Highway 101 on the pacific coast and as we arrived back in Portland Oregon before flying back to Liverpool at the end of August.
It’s a fine later Dead live album with the at times annoying squelchy synths of Midland and the treated Garcia guitar that has little of the feel or tone of the seventies. It has some lovely controlled jams, some essential songs, Cassidy is brilliant on it as is the ubiquitous China Cat Sunflower/I Know You Rider section it also has Branford Marsalis blowing for all his might on Eyes of the World.
It introduced me to the work of Traffic outside of Hole In My Shoe as it contains a great cover of Dear Mr Fantasy which led me to root around in the Traffic discography.
The joy of the album for me is obviously the memories that it brings. It was also fun this last two weeks to steep myself in an inordinate amount of nostalgia as I struggled my way from one crises to the next. Over the last few days I have listened to this album three or four times, it is far from my favorite Dead album but as with all nostalgic albums it takes you to a place that is special and comforting and sometimes that is all you need, the other album I have taken solace in is the Pink Fairies, What a Bunch of Sweeties but that is a whole other tale.