The 8 Best Grateful Dead Live Albums

Best Grateful Dead Live Albums

The Grateful Dead are the most legendary jam band of all time. Their live performances were so loved that many fans traveled from show to show, following the band across the country and enjoying their music. Luckily for us today, many of these shows were recorded and can be listened to from the comfort of home.

If you give the 8 Grateful Dead Live Albums below a listen, I think you’ll understand why they had so many raving fans. The band’s overall sound is incredibly unique, and is best captured in their live performances. While their studio recordings are excellent in their own rite, any true Deadhead will tell you that the live recordings are where it’s at. And today, I’m bringing you all the very best ones. Let’s jump right in.

Last thing: Make sure to check out my article on The 12 Best Grateful Dead Songs for Acoustic Guitar (with chords & tabs) or my reveal of The 3 Best Grateful Dead Books.

How to Listen To These Live Albums for Free

To get a feel for each album’s style, I’ve included a sample of the music from YouTube. But if you really want to enjoy the full catalogue of the Dead and their music, I recommend listening to their body of work with Amazon Music Unlimited. With Amazon Music’s free trial, you get access to over 60 million songs completely free – and you can listen anytime, anywhere. You can check it out here (link to Amazon).

1. Europe 72

Listen to the full album (on Amazon)

For many Deadheads, the band’s 70’s shows in general, and Europe 72 specifically, are the pinnacle of the Grateful Dead’s touring career.

This album / set list features many of their most popular songs ever, including:

  • China Cat Sunflower
  • I Know You Rider
  • Tennessee Jed
  • Jack Straw

Also, for guitarists, some of Jerry’s most famous solos are on this live album.

2. War Memorial Auditorium – Buffalo NY 5/9/77

Another classic show where Jerry opted for a twangier tone in his lead playing, as you can hear in the song above.

This Buffalo NY show also had a powerhouse set list, with Dead staples like:

  • Brown Eyed Women
  • Help On The Way
  • Slip Knot
  • Franklin’s Tower

3. Harry Adams Field House, University of Montana – Missoula, MT 5/14/1974

As a Montana resident and University of Montana graduate, I simply had to include this album. And the show starts off with one of my favorite songs to hear the Dead do live: Bertha.

Also included in this Missoula MT show are:

  • Scarlet Begonias
  • Dark Star
  • Deal

4. Live/Dead – 1969

Listen to the full album (on Amazon)

Live/Dead was the Grateful Dead’s first official live album release. For many diehard fans, it still takes the cake as the best live album.

The performance of Dark Star, embedded above, is still my favorite version by far. It was recorded live at the Filmore West. As Robert Christgau, the Dean of American Rock Critics, says: “Side two of this four-sided set contains the finest rock improvisation ever recorded, and the rest is gently transcendent as usual”

5. Dick’s Picks vol 8: Harpur College, Binghamton, NY, May 2, 1970

Listen to the full album (on Amazon)

The Dick’s Picks volumes are the band’s best shows, so deemed by the band’s primary archivist and custodian of the Grateful Dead tape vault: Dick Latvala.

This is one of my favorite live shows because it starts off with a unique, all acoustic set. I also argue that Jerry’s singing is at its best here. You can really hear it in the version of Dire Wolf above.

The second set of the show is electric, and includes classics like Cryptical Envelopment, Morning Dew, and The Other One.

6. Sunshine Daydream | Veneta, Oregon 8/27/72

Listen to the full album (on Amazon)

The “Sunshine Daydream” Show, Live in Veneta, Oregon 8/27/72 is a legendary performance. So much so that an entire documentary was made about the show: also called Sunshine Daydream. The Dead played all afternoon and into the dark after an opening set by the New Riders of the Purple Sage.

7. Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA, December 29, 1977

Listen to the full album (on Amazon)

This is my other favorite Dick’s Picks show. Specifically, the version of Bertha is my favorite version ever, period. It has some of Jerry’s absolute best guitar playing, with soaring melodic lines and runs. Check it out above and I think you’ll agree.

8. Grateful Dead (album) / “Skull and Roses”

Listen to the full album (on Amazon)

Grateful Dead, released in October 1971 on Warner Bros Records, is the band’s second live double album. The album is lovingly referred to as “Skull and Roses” by many Deadheads. But the little-known story behind this name is quite funny:

When the band submitted “Skull Fuck” (a contemporary euphemism for “blow your mind”) as the album title, it was rejected by the record label. Ultimately the agreement was made that the album would be published without the title appearing anywhere on the record labels or cover artwork. Though the band refers to the album by this title, and it has long been known to fans (through interviews with band members, the Deadhead network and other outlets), the alternate, descriptive title “Skull & Roses” developed among distributors, music buyers and reviewers as a graphic incipit from the cover artwork.


Corbin Buff

Corbin has played guitar for over a decade, and started writing about it on Acoustic World in an effort to help others. He lives and writes in western Montana.

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