Byline: Nick Marino, Times-Union staff writer
Just in time for the holidays, the Grateful Dead and Phish have presented their insatiable fans with a cornucopia of music more filling than a mountain of veggie burritos and more intoxicating than a hotboxed van.
The Dead's gift comes in the form of The Golden Road, a chronological 12-disc box set featuring remastered and expanded editions of the band's studio and live albums from 1965 to 1973. Phish delivers soundboard quality CD sets of six unabridged concerts from 1994 to 2000, most of which run three discs long.
Though the bands' fans overlap, Phish is more eclectic and more nervous, always in a hurry to get to that crescendo, and the Dead are (as many a bumper sticker will tell you) all about the journey. Their tendency to amble is both their biggest blessing and their biggest curse.
That said, the bands' respective holiday treasure troves are in character: Live Phish is a laser light show. The Golden Road is a night stargazing.
The Golden Road's $150 price tag and more than15-hour running time makes it a much bigger commitment than the comparatively tidy Phish sets. In order to get even seasoned Deadheads to buy in, the set includes seven hours of material from the vaults, insightful liner notes for every album and an 80-page book of Dead-related essays and photographs.
The Golden Road starts off with an incredible, previously unreleased double-album called Birth of the Dead, which features the fresh-faced San Francisco band calling itself the Warlocks and playing traditional Americana. Oftentimes, the Warlocks more closely resemble the Beatles than what we've come to know as the Dead -- we even find Garcia and company posing for a zany, Hard Days Night-style photo.
More unreleased material comes at the end of such familiar albums as Aoxomoxoa, Workingman's Dead and Europe '72. …