The Grateful Dead At the Family Dog
From left: Ron 'Pigpen' McKernan, Jerry Garcia, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead perform onstage at The Family Dog in 1970 in San Francisco, Calif. Robert Altman—Getty Images

Here Are 4 of the Grateful Dead's Best Shows Ever

May 05, 2015

Correction appended, May 6, 1025

You're gonna have to trust me on this, kids.

Once upon a time, Rock 'n' Roll was exciting. Not Mumford and Sons-tries-to-sound-like-Coldplay exciting. Not new-U2-tries-to-sound-like-the-old-U2 exciting. Not some-Swedish-producer-found-a-way-to-get-better-sonics-from-an-acoustic-strum exciting. But really, shockingly, I have-no-idea-what-happens-next, can-you-really-do-that-with-an-electric-guitar exciting. Buddy Holly exciting. Velvet Underground exciting. Grateful Dead exciting. Exciting like a new Kanye track is today.

Those days are gone. Holly is history. Lou Reed passed to the wild side. And the Dead have been dead for years, though the surviving members, some now in their 70s, plan a resurrection this summer in Soldier Field, a final set of shows for an act that ended, depending on your point of view, when Jerry Garcia died in 1995 or at some point before, when he fell into his heroin addiction, or relapsed back into it, over a blur of tours, triumphs and burnouts during the preceding two decades.

But as the Dead hit their 50th anniversary, it is worth remembering them nonetheless. The band—which first played together on May 5, 1965, under the name The Warlocks—developed a strand of rock that will never be matched, because the ground cannot be broken again. By grafting the discipline of backwoods American roots music to the improvisation of Charlie Parker, Art Tatum and Django Reinhardt, they tied together two great eras of 20th-century American white-kid rebellion—the Beats and the Hippies—and then took it as far as their minds could stretch, with the early help of wide-eyed, West Coast LSD.

This was a band that suffered writing songs, struggled in the studio, but shot the moon on the stage. On any given night, they could be terrible or terrific, or both, and no single member of the band controlled the outcome. For at its core, it was an improv band, with each member of the group playing around his part in each song, stretching for something he had not achieved before. For years, they went on stage without set lists. For decades, they surprised even themselves.

So as a service to those who will never see a show, and who may now mistake the Grateful Dead for a parking lot scene of dread-locked dullards huffing nitrous balloons and seeking other chemical escapes from suburban malaise, here are a few of their better shows over the years, which are now archived online and available to stream for free.

Aug. 27, 1972 at the Olde Renaissance Faire Grounds in Veneta, Ore.

Listen:

[archiveorg gd72-08-27.sbd.orf.3328.sbeok.shnf width=640 height=140 frameborder=0 webkitallowfullscreen=true mozallowfullscreen=true]

June 9, 1973 at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington, D.C. (Also the following night June 10, 1973.)

Listen:

Aug. 13, 1975 at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, Calif.

Listen:

[archiveorg gd75-08-13.fm.vernon.23661.sbeok.shnf width=640 height=140 frameborder=0 webkitallowfullscreen=true mozallowfullscreen=true]

The Enduring Legacy of Jerry Garcia

Photo of GRATEFUL DEAD and Jerry GARCIA
The Long, Strange Trip Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead forged a completely unique musical identity, playing thousands of concerts over a 30-year period. Though Garcia's death in August 1995 effectively ended the band's touring days, the Dead's music and cultural influence have continued to grow. Digital copies of the band's concerts continue to sell briskly via iTunes and fan sites, while a Hollywood biopic about Garcia is in the works, and a pair of Deadhead marketing experts have just released a book that posits the band as an ideal model for marketing in the Internet age. Oh, if that's not enough, Cherry Garcia remains Ben and Jerry's No. 1–selling flavor.RB/Redferns/Getty Images
Photo of GRATEFUL DEAD and Jerry GARCIA
Photo of Jerry Garcia
Scully, Garcia, and Wolfe Talking on the Sidewalk
The Grateful Dead At the Family Dog
Jerry Garcia Getting into Car with Suitcase
Grateful Dead live
Photo of Jerry Garcia
The Grateful Dead
Jerry and the Mountain Boys Concert 1988 - Palo Alto CA
Jerry Garcia, David Letterman
Jerry Garcia
The Long, Strange Trip Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead forged a completely unique musical identity, playing thousands
... VIEW MORE

RB/Redferns/Getty Images
1 of 11

Correction: The original version of this piece misstated the date of the concert at the Old Renaissance Faire Grounds. It took place on Aug. 27, 1972.

All products and services featured are based solely on editorial selection. TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.