You could tell there was a problem if a song was removed from the Grateful Dead’s live setlist. The Dead, arguably the greatest live band of all time, took great satisfaction in offering distinctive experiences that weren’t possible to obtain just by listening to the group’s studio recordings. Every time they entered the stage, the Grateful Dead demonstrated why the adage “there is nothing like a Grateful Dead concert” is well-known.
Therefore, the band’s decision to remove a song from their live set was noteworthy. Songs like “Dark Star” and “St. Stephen” came and went from the band’s live repertoire, leaving lengthy pauses between some of the band’s famous pieces. In the 1960s, those specific works were played almost nightly until being withdrawn at various stages in the 1970s due to overuse and boredom. But what happens if songs never catch on, to begin with?
A few prominent songs from the Grateful Dead’s original catalog only had one recognized live performance. The band’s concert on March 18, 1977, is recognized as the sole time “Alhambra” (also known as “L’Alhambra”) appeared, however, it is commonly mistakenly ascribed as the “Terrapin Station part “At a Siding”
There is just one official recording of the early band song “Can’t Come Down” on the recordings that are still in existence. It was made on January 7, 1966, during a performance at The Matrix Club. Even though there are only records of one live performance, the song is likely to have received further playing. Similar to how there is only one recording of Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan’s ‘You See a Broken Heart’ from the Dead’s March 12, 1966 concert, the song was probably played more than once.
Bob Weir’s “This Time Forever” is another song that inhabits a peculiar gray region. Although ‘This Time Forever’ was composed by Weir and resident Dead songwriter John Perry Barlow, “The Grateful Dead” never officially performed it. Instead, Weir performed the song during November 17, 1978, gig billed as “Bob Weir and Friends” alongside Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, and Robert Hunter.
The Aoxomoxoa song “What’s Become of the Baby” is considered to be the most well-known original work that has only had a single live performance. ‘What’s Become of the Baby,’ one of the Dead’s most avant-garde songs, was a composition that could only have been created in a recording studio and was thus impossible to perform live. The Dead, however, were determined to push the envelope for their performance in Chicago on April 24, 1969.
The Velvet Underground, the band’s co-headliners the previous night, prohibited them from doing their normal set. The Dead were only allowed to perform a few songs before the venue’s curfew because the Velvets played for so long. When the Dead hit the stage the following day, they were out for vengeance and gave The Velvet Underground a taste of their own medicine.
The Dead performed a lengthy set that went well over the three-hour mark in order to stop the Velvets from entering the stage. With the exception of “Rosemary” and “Cosmic Charlie,” almost the entirety of Aoxomoxoa was performed before the album’s official release.
The Dead then gave a lengthy, extremely experimental encore that mainly relied on audience interaction to further emphasize their argument. The studio version of “What’s Become of the Baby” was playing over the PA system as the Dead improvised more feedback on top of it, in between screeching walls of feedback. Technically, the song’s lone “performance” was a version of “Feedback” that took place while “What’s Become of the Baby” was being played, but it’s safe to say that this was the only time live audiences heard the Dead perform the song.