Steal Your Face

Grateful Dead

Grateful Dead, 1976

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


There is a reason why Steal Your Face—a 1976 double live album from San Francisco stalwarts The Grateful Dead—is often referred to as “Steal Your Money” by even the most dedicated Deadheads.

Following their 1974 hiatus, the band (specifically, Jerry Garcia) was intermittently working on a documentary film capturing the five-day “farewell” concerts from Winterland in October 1974, and there was an increasing need for capital to keep what was left of the Grateful Dead machine running. The idea came: why not bring out an album featuring music from that time, but not a formal soundtrack?

It was an idea, all right… not a good one, but an idea nonetheless. It also stands as one of the worst Grateful Dead albums released—to the point that when their post-Warner Brothers releases were re-released as the box set Beyond Description, this album was noticeably absent. And there were a number of reasons why this disc is a poor representation of who the Dead were circa 1974.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Problem the first: the overall sound of the recordings was, at best, muddy—thanks in no small part to the “Wall Of Sound” the band used at that stage in their career, and thanks in no small part to the tapes being mixed in quadraphonic, then dumbed down to stereo. There was no amount of studio polish that could have been applied to fix the source material.

Problem the second: By the time this album was released, the band’s hiatus was over, and Blues For Allah was on the horizon. For a band that was looking at moving forward with the next stage of their career, Steal Your Face felt like a major step backwards.

Problem the third: The song selections were hardly what one would have expected of a typical Grateful Dead show. Oh, they might have represented what you would have heard in an opening set, made up mostly of shorter, more focused numbers. But the similarities stop there; notably missing are the long, drawn-out jams that made up a Dead show up until the end of their career (and, by that, I am referring to the 1995 death of Garcia).

Even with these flaws—none of which were necessarily minor—Steal Your Face could have been forgiven as a relic of the time, except for one thing: the performances featured here are so rote, they could have been dialed in long-distance. The music is there, but the emotion simply is not. For a band that was allegedly saying goodbye to their legion of fans, it sounded like a typical Dead gig where the band was not firing on all cylinders. Perhaps the inclusion of a longer song like “Eyes Of The World” might have helped things.

A posthumous release, The Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack, tried to correct this error by featuring mostly different performances from all five nights, spread across five CDs. (One has to wonder if, down the road, we’re not going to see a box set featuring the complete performances from all five nights—including the accident with the lid of Keith Godchaux’s grand piano the night of the 17th.) Whether or not that release absolves Steal Your Face of its numerous sins is up to the individual listener; all I know is that I’m planning to re-listen to the five-CD set later this year for my own amusement.

Steal Your Face is one of the more difficult Grateful Dead albums to find… and if you do locate a copy, approach it with extreme caution.

Rating: D

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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