Admitting you’re a Grateful Dead fan once seemed potentially embarrassing depending on the company, but now it’s easier than ever to confess admiration and devotion for the group. Given such high-profile Dead fans as Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo and a host of other aficionados from the indie-alternative world, as the 2016 compilation Day of the Dead organized by The National’s Dessner twins attests, being a Dead fan no longer means being shunned by the cognoscenti. The band invites a certain \inside-baseball level of engagement since fans would be the first to say that its studio albums are not where the fun is—hence the popularity not only of unofficial bootlegs but “official” ones such as the Dick’s Picks series. The freshly released Believe it if You Need It, then, represents a solid addition to the ample selection of live Dead offerings. The album provides selections from the complete Pacific Northwest ’73-’74 boxed set, which features six entire concerts distributed over a whopping nineteen CDs. This three-disc selection is, by comparison, mercifully short.

The shows documented, from June 1973 and May 1974, align with a sweet spot in the band’s career between the October 1973 release of Wake of the Flood, which featured the live staple “Eyes of the World,” and the June 1974 release of From the Mars Hotel, which featured something of a Dead hit in “Scarlet Begonias.” The Dead still only had one drummer, which gave the sound a leaner, tighter quality, and although the Godchauxs were in the band—with Donna providing support on vocals and Keith on keyboards playing—they had not yet entered the wonkier phase that 1978’s Shakedown Street would inaugurate. This moment finds the band in its post-psychedelic, pre-fusion phase, which seems in retrospect like probably the most fun period in which to have seen the band apart from its very early years.

It is no surprise that on this condensed version of the box set the choice would be to include as many “classic” live cuts as possible—“China Cut Sunflower” > “I Know You Rider” (with a section ending the first track that sounds a lot like an interpolation of “Uncle John’s Band”), “Eyes of the World” > “China Doll” and “Not Fade Away” > “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad,” preceded by a lengthy and entertaining post-”Truckin’” jam, just to mention a few. And of course the closer is “Sugar Magnolia” (replete with “Sunshine Daydream” outro), without which no Dead show would be complete.

Among other standouts are a version of “Brown-Eyed Women” that recalls earlier Dead, an inspired take on “Here Comes Sunshine” from Wake of the Flood and an impassioned version of “Sugaree” as well as perennial favorite “Wharf Rat,” one of the most memorable entries in the Dead’s vast catalog. Longer jams include a 45 minute crescendo to “Playing in the Band,” which deserves most if not all of that time. The band is in fine form throughout, musically but also vocally, except for a miserable “Box of Rain,” a rarity in the Dead catalog in that the studio version is definitive.

Though this condensed release will probably not make major waves, it is a recommended listen for Dead initiates who want to get a sense of the excitement and exploration that could accompany their best performances. It is also a much more accessible listen, even in the jammy portions, than a lot of other live Dead recordings, both earlier and later, so is likely to lead a few more to the flock, especially now that you can admit your fealty among friends.

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