Dick’s Picks #32 is good, but it is a significantly less essential show for fans and certainly not the place to start for neophytes. Though among the very best performances from 1982, the early 1980s were not a great period for the group as members battled a variety of addictions, sets often listed between uninspired covers and some weak newer material, and much of the improvisational spark seemed to have faded. But none of the typical early-’80s Dead problems are apparent in this show. In fact, Jerry Garcia’s guitar is in excellent form on this night at Alpine Valley Amphitheatre (though his voice is truly ragged and choked, another common problem for the band in the 1980s and beyond), and there are some truly surprising moments from time to time (such as the odd suite of “Music Never Stopped / Sugaree / Music Never Stopped” which, though it doesn’t quite work, at least shows some daring). But overall, the concert has to be considered for fans or completists only when put into the broader context of the band’s monstrously capacious available oeuvre.Both #s 32 and 33 went out of print very quickly despite the fact that they contain between them some pretty extraordinary stuff from two very popular and famous shows in the Dead’s touring history. As with any Dead concert, there are moments of utter calamity – flubbed lyrics, weak vocals, Donna Jean Godchaux, and weird experiments gone awry – but also as with any Dead concert, there are moments of pretty thrilling musical synchronicity. The mark of a great, rather than a simply good, Dead show is in the ratio of these mishaps to these thrillers; it is my contention (and was certainly theirs as well) that the band needed to risk the fall in order to climb to the highest heights. Working “without a net” is how they often put it. It isn’t for everyone (obviously), but listening to these three performances spread across six discs, it is clear that their most exciting stuff is born of some pretty daring work on the high wire. They certainly fall from time to time, but not nearly as often as they might.
Dick’s Picks #33 captures two of the most famous shows in the Dead’s career, and it’s basically a must-own for any serious fan of the band. Sharing a weekend double bill with The Who (of all bands!) in early October 1976, energized following a lengthy one-and-a-half-year retirement from the stage and buoyed by the return of second drummer Mickey Hart after his five-year absence, the band put together four lengthy and vibrant sets featuring a trove of their best and most enduring songs. While both shows feature strong, hard-rocking first sets with little overlap (There are two tries at “Promised Land” and “Cassidy”), in both cases, it is the bravura second sets which will attract the most attention. The Saturday show – They opened for The Who and, by all accounts, blew Pete Townsend away, since he demanded that his band open for the Dead the following day so they wouldn’t have to follow them again – features a lengthy suite (“St-Stephen / Not Fade Away / St-Stephen / Help on the Way / Slipknot! / Drums / Samson & Delilah / Slipknot! / Franklin’s Tower / One More Saturday Night”) that ranks among their greatest ever uninterrupted runs of music. The Sunday show’s suite is based on “Playing in the Band” and “The Other One”; it’s shorter but more experimental, culminating in a show-stoppingly beautiful take on “Stella Blue”, perhaps the band’s most gorgeous ballad, before finding its way back to “Playing in the Band” and a “Sugar Magnolia” rave-up to close the set. Pretty magical stuff. As an avid and decades-long and clearly incorrigible Grateful Dead fan, I have spent a great deal of money (but significantly more time, if we’re thinking in terms of overall expenditures) on this band’s music. Does that make me more or less qualified to come up with an objective opinion on these two releases (re-releases, actually, put out by the commendable troupe at Real Gone Music)? I dunno. Sorry. Anyway. As the Grateful Dead’s merchandising arm embarks on its new series of concert releases from its voluminous vaults – now named Dave’s Picks after Dave Lemieux, chief musical archivist for the band since the 1999 death of Dick Latvala, namesake of the first series of such releases – Real Gone Music has dug up and repackaged two excellent volumes from that first run.
But since I sort of have to assume that anyone who has clicked on the link to this review is either A) like me, already afflicted or B) looking for a place to start listening to this band’s fairly daunting catalogue of hundreds of commercial releases, this review will try to place these two concert albums into some kind of framework that’ll help you decide whether to buy them or not. Because as the folks in the A) camp already understand, and the folks in the B) camp are soon to discover, there is so much amazing stuff already available, one needs a bit of a roadmap to make decisions about what to pick up and what to leave out. But, let’s face it, most of the ensnared folks in that A) camp are going to buy these anyway, no matter what I say, because this is their lot in life it would seem. So, B) people, take some heed, I guess?
With this release, we at Real Gone Music conclude our reissue campaign of all 36 volumes of the Dick’s Picks series; we went in reverse order, so we’re ending with the first volume in the series, which you know had to have a special place in compiler Dick Latvala’s heart! And right off the bat you’ll hear why; the version of “Here Comes Sunshine” that leads off disc one is pretty much universally considered the best ever. Throw in a great rendition of the rarely-performed “Nobody’s Fault but Mine” that leads into a stellar 16-minute jam that flirts with a full-fledged “The Other One” but dances spacily away, and a moving “Stella Blue” before the “Around and Around” finale and you have another great night—in fact, the LAST night—from a great year (1973) of touring….and, as such, the perfect way to begin and end the long strange trip that is the Dick’s Picks series. Out of print for years!
Dick knew how to pick ‘em. The thirty-six volumes of the Dick’s Picks Series blesses us with a wide array of Grateful Dead magnificence from every era. Much of the mind-blowing music that I return to time and time again comes from this series. Dick’s Picks reaffirmed great performances I already knew, and I discovered many masterpieces for the first time thanks to Latvala’s ear for extraordinary jams. In my latest book, Deadology Volume II: The Evolution of 33 Grateful Dead Jam Anthems, I write about 279 sublime jams. Forty-one of these performances come from this series. Here are my ten favorite Dick’s Pick’s, listed in the order they were released:Volume 8: Binghamton was a Grateful Dead stronghold, and it began on May2, 1970 at Harpur College. Disc one is a stunning acoustic set, and then the Dead plug-in and kick ass as they take names. How’s this for five cover tunes in a row: Good Lovin’, It’s a Man’s World, Dancin’ in the Streets, Morning Dew, Viola Lee Blues. I delve into Dancin’, Dew, and Viola in Deadology II. Volume 15: This was my first Grateful Dead tape. The Englishtown (9-3-77) Mississippi Half-Step and Eyes of the World changed my perception of music. I instantly understood why Garcia was worshipped, and why people would give up just about anything to follow this band around. On a big stage in front of 150,000, the Dead conquered. This Dick’ Pick contains outstanding versions of Peggy O, Not Fade Away, and
Truckin’ served with a Terrapin Station encore. Half-Step and Truckin’ appear in Deadology II. Volume 4: Jaw-dropping Primal Dead. The third set of 2-13-70, Dark Star, That’s It for the Other One, Turn on Your Lovelight looms enormous, the Mt. Rushmore of Dead folklore. All three made the cut for Deadology Volume II. Around this trifecta we get ripping raw performances of Not Fade Away and Dancin’ in the Streets. New numbers like Casey Jones, High Time, and the rarely played Mason’s Children, shake hands with the past, Alligator and Caution. There were many sensational shows at the Fillmore East, but 2-13 + 14 reign supreme.Then, the performance: I’m not much of a fan of Vince on keyboards, but I assume he used the synthesizers the band asked him to use. As it is, he’s often way too high in the mix, which seems uncalled for as he’s playing rather generic lines (funnily, I like his contributions to Space and Dark Star, so he CAN play).
Although the DP sets had similar packaging designs in batches of six, this one is different, to reflect the fact that it’s number 25 in the series. They should have taken a better concert to celebrate this, I think. This concert shows what’s good and bad about 1978: lots of energy, lots of screaming, lots of rocking, but also an enormous lack of focus and quality, due to coke or mescaline (so it’s claimed).
As I said, there is a wealth of 1972 released, some of it still available. Determining which one is your favorite, or which one is essential, depends on your mood, and on the songs you like most, but imo you cannot go wrong with any concerts in September.
Secondly, although improvising is the Dead’s middle name, in later years this tended to be somewhat more scripted. To me when improvising in a rock context, listening to others in the band is key, and that is what they do here. Although they take risks (and things do go wrong from time to time), the excitement is palpable. In later years it sometimes felt as if they sort of decided that everybody could make some silly sounds for a few bars (or a few minutes). “And ‘Space’ it shall be called”. Even if their instrumental prowess definitely improved over the years, most surprises are found in the early years.
And I do not necessarily want to defend my love for the Grateful Dead to others, or convince others to start appreciating their music. After all, my enjoyment of their music is not diminished if others disagree with me. But still there is this human need to justify your life choices, or at least, to try to rationalize it in some way.
But all in all, this is not a release that’s likely to convince many people of 1978’s merits, such as they are. For further listening (or earlier listening, actually), I refer you to DP 18 which beats this release. Also the concert at Red Rocks (July 8) and the Closing of Winterland (December 31) are better sets.The Morning Dew is nicely majestic and Viola Lee Blues, simple as it is, at over 15 minutes, does not overstay its welcome. To some deadheads, this period, with Pigpen in great shape, and the improved song writing is one of the best eras in Dead history and it is easy to understand why: a lot of energy, a lot of focus, but with a trippy edge (so why not call it ‘soft focus’?).
This is apparent in songs like Bertha or Dancing In The Street: well played, but missing the professionalism of 1977. Then again, many deadheads have a sweet spot for 1976, and it’s easy to hear why: they’re so clearly happy to be on stage again and play their hearts out that you gladly forget little irregularities. And there is actually quite a lot to enjoy: some people think that The Wheel was really a 1976 song. Cosmic Charlie and ballads like Candyman and Comes A Time were played beautifully. Finally, this concert is notable for the (accidentally?) frenetic speed with which Eyes Of The World is performed: it loses some of its hypnotic delicacy in the process but I see it as an illustration of their enthusiasm.
Set list is typical for the times. But beware, a typical set list does not mean that they play the same set list for the complete tour, with only very minor variations (like the Stones, for instance). They always have an extremely large repertoire to draw on, and also the order in which songs are played can and will vary each night. Still you can hear they have been touring a lot, it’s a well-oiled machine, even if it’s a little low on jams.As mentioned before, most releases of 1974 used to be chopped up concerts: DP 7 from London in September is a close relative, and so are DP 12 (June) and the Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack box from that last week in October before ‘the hiatus’. If you are not a complete set fetishist, these four releases are a good summary of their 1974 sound. However, a few years ago, in the 30 Trips box, a concert from France (September 18) was released. Other complete concerts can be found in the Dave’s Picks series.When this was released in 2003, it was singlehandedly responsible for me not investigating the later part of the Dead’s career. First, the sound: it sounds to me like an audience tape, in the sense that crowd noises interfere too much. The festive atmosphere may have been fun if you were there, but the band sounds like it’s performing in another room, and everybody’s drunk. It seriously detracts from my listening pleasure, to the point where I can hardly judge the set list or the playing.
But, as is so often the case, the second set is where things take off: St. Stephen goes nicely into Not Fade Away and the big medley is based around Help On The Way, Slipknot! and Franklin’s Tower. Franklin’s Tower is compositionally a speeded up version of Walk On The Wild Side (similarly being based on two chords mostly), but is always comes as a nice release after Slipknot!Another 1977 release, another great set. This was an open-air concert, with 150.000 people in attendance. What the show might miss in intimacy, it more than makes up for in sheer power.So I won’t try to sell this to you, but I still want to point out a few highlights: Space is the best tune (and there are two of them, one is a bonus track from September 1980). High Time, He’s Gone, Comes A Time, Brown-Eyed Woman and a few others are well played. But then you have a Spoonful… I love the guts to tackle new songs but once you’ve heard the Cream version, this is laughable. They just cannot get that slow, menacing vibe across. Likewise, Gimme Some Lovin’ (Spencer Davis Group) is not a fun rarity, it’s ridiculous. Gloria (Van Morrison tune) is just plain silly. Also, the overall sound of the thing is annoying, cluttered, muffled and tiring to listen to.
But there have been a few more releases from the shows at the Academy of Music: a Dave’s Pick with the full concert from March 26 (plus a bonus disc with additional music from that week). There is also a bonus disc with additional music from March 22 & 23 that was sent with early orders of Rockin’ the Rhine (Düsseldorf concert, later rereleased as part of the Europe 1972 box set).Since it came out in 2000, this has been my favorite release in the Dick’s Picks series, and it has remained my favorite (or at least a top 3) during the next 6 years of the series (that saw the release of numbers 20 to 36) and forever after. And it even starts with Promised Land and ends with Johnny B. Goode, so go figure!
DP 28 almost contains 2 complete concerts: the first one misses 9 songs (5 of which were played the day after as well, so we still have them) and the second concert only misses Promised Land (but that was played as an opener on the 26th).
This is probably the best 1976 Dick’s Pick, although DP 20 is great as well. Other full concerts are Live at the Cow Palace (December 31, 1976), Dave’s Pick 4 and 18. I do recommend the latter one, especially if you can locate the bonus disc. Just keep in mind that 1976 has its attractions regarding set lists and delicate playing, but is widely considered some sort of prelude to 1977.
This is by far the largest installment in de Dick’s Picks series (6 cd’s), the only one consisting of more than 4 cd’s and the only one including 2 complete concerts, plus about an hour of bonus tracks.
But as a side note, picture this: I recently bought two From the Vault releases by the Rolling Stones, Hampton Coliseum (1981) and Live in Leeds (1982). Two concerts, a year apart, deemed worthy of release by mr Jagger and mr Richards. Hampton has Waiting On A Friend and Let It Bleed, whereas Leeds has Angie. ALL other songs (23) are IDENTICAL and played in EXACTLY THE SAME ORDER! Europe 1972 would be Pigpens last tour; he would die in March 1973 and join the ‘27’- club. This meant they had to adapt the repertoire a little, losing his rapping vehicles and his soul and blues songs. They also lost his presence and his influence in the band (somewhat comparable to that of Brian Jones in the Stones, if more in the general ‘vibe’ rather than his musical prowess) but that role had already diminished a little by 1972. If you like this, you’ll surely like DP 16 (from November 1969, with an embryonic, instrumental Uncle John’s Band), DP8 and Road Trips 3.3 (both from May 1970, with an acoustic set, and more songs from Workingman’s Dead). But as mentioned before, these shows are from an early peak in the Dead’s career, and there are other releases from the era: 3 Dave’s Picks, two from a Download (only) Series, a single acoustic disc (featuring Pigpen) and one from the 30 Trips box.
The main attraction here is obviously the big sequence: 30 minute versions of Dark Star, The Other One and Lovelight. There are only so many 30 minute versions of Lovelight that you need, but this might as well be one of them. Other songs are standouts as well: Mason’s Children never got an official release and this is a good version. Both Alligator and Caution (Do Not Step On Tracks) are Pigpen vehicles and are energetic versions. Caution is an extremely simple song and only succeeds if Pigpen is in great shape, as he obviously is tonight.
DP 35, AKA the Houseboat Tapes, contains music from shows in 1971 that were considered lost for decades. They were found by Donna while cleaning outa boat she and Keith owned. Presumably they were given to Keith to familiarize himself with the Dead’s music before he joined in October 1971. So we have less keyboard work but more Pigpen songs, including a major (25 minute) Lovelight.It seems weird, at this stage of the DP series, to release parts of 2 concerts from a great year (and just two months after the concerts that gave us Live/Dead) on just 2 cd’s. It IS weird, and frustrating. However, to put things into perspective, what we have here is actually the first half of the first set of April 26, and the COMPLETE (but rather short) concert of April 27.
Although you may have to lower your standards somewhat, this is an absolute gem in a sea of duds: the slowed down version of They Love Each Other is great, as is the still relatively new Althea. Althea is a song close to my heart: lyrically and melody wise it’s just a great composition.
The wilderness years… For a long time, until the release of the 30 Trips box, this was the only concert released from the period between August 1982 and November 1985, and with good reason: Jerry’s health was deteriorating, Phil was doing coke and many concerts were improperly recorded (on music cassette, and with weird treatment of (especially) Bobby’s voice).I could probably refer to my review of DP 11 from 10 days later (and my review of DP 36 to come): the Fall of 1972 was of consistent high quality. The rest of the US that had not heard the Academy of Music concerts in March, the warm-up set before their departure to Europe, now had a chance to see this amazing machine. 1972 is the favorite year of many deadheads, and is is indeed the year that saw most concerts released: over thirty and counting. The Fall tour had the added advantage of some non-Europe 1972 songs creeping in the set list, but then again Pigpen was gone, which was a big loss.
A full-blown compilation (nearly 5 hours) from 3 Wall of Sound shows in the Summer of 1974. Sounds great! The first cd has songs from August 4 and 5, the next three cd’s each present highlights from August 4, 5 and 6 respectively. Nowadays, you’d think they would construct a minibox with all three shows, because what we have here is very good. But then again, perhaps these are the best bits.
This week of shows at the Academy Music, organized to raise money for the trip to Europe the week after, was basically a farewell party. As such, it is quite comparable with the shows in Europe, with three pretty major exceptions. First, no matter how integrated she sounds in Europe, March 25 marks the debut of Donna Jean as an official member. Second, for the first set (of March 25) they are joined by Bo Diddley (well, actually they are more or less his backing band) and they play some songs they would never play again. They play Hey, Bo Diddley, I’m A Man, I’ve Seen Them All (Bo comes over as an arrogant prick on this one) a Jam and Mona. Fun, and the first major collaboration that is released (usually there are legal issues prohibiting this sort of thing).
As it’s a top 5, it is necessarily an incomplete picture of their career. Some eras are missing but that’s partly because they are better served by other releases in other series. So, where next?
Now seems as good a time as any to elaborate a little on their instrumental skills. Whereas Bob Weir is an underrated rhythm player in my book, caused by playing with Jerry and by (quite often) being rather low in the mix, I think Jerry is actually a little overrated as a guitar player or band member. He had an enormous appetite for experimentation, knew an awful lot of songs, felt at home in jazz, folk/bluegrass, acid rock, boogie, blues, and other genres. He could vary his lines endlessly during improvisations and he has a nice guitar tone. Performances definitely suffered if Jerry was not in good shape. All this may be true, but whether he was really as innovative or important a guitar player as he’s often made out to be, is somewhat open to debate.
If you like this version of the band and this repertoire (and yes, you really should!), there is a wealth of complete shows to choose from. You cannot go wrong with any concert from the massive Europe 1972 tour (that I may get to review in the future…).
This, ladies and gentlemen, is Primal Dead, and it has been a long time coming. After the release, in 1992, of Two from the Vault, featuring two partial sets from August 1968, 7 months after DP 22, it took nine years for this one and it is (by far) the oldest concert in the DP series.In some respects, the 1990/91 Grateful Dead resembles 1973/74 Grateful Dead. First, they dropped all of Brent’s tunes, on the whole a good decision, because they were either not very good or only tolerable when sung by Brent. Secondly, Bruce brings a lot of acoustic piano (like Keith did). He also brings some fusion(-ish) or even jazz chops to the table, whereas Brent was more bluesy and, to be honest, more generic even if
very energetic on a good day.Other nice songs are Smokestack Lightning, that they did not play in Europe, so this is actually the last time it’s performed by the band (until it was revived in 1985) and a nice Other One.You would have thought that by now they realized that fans want complete shows, but no, it’s another composite show, containing the second set plus encore from June 26, and Seastones, the second set plus encore from June 28. This is like DP4’s non-identical twin brother, with the added benefit of an acoustic opening set. At the time they were trying to emulate CSN(&Y) vocal stylings, and although they failed at that, they wrote some nice songs (Friend Of The Devil) and played some nice cover songs (Deep Elem Blues) that fitted that style. Third, without Bo, they play Are You Lonely For Me Baby? and How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You). Both (especially How Sweet It Is) would be played regularly by Jerry bands in the future, but these are the only Grateful Dead versions ever. Not that that as such makes them essential in any way, but still, it’s fun.
Culled from two nights at the Fillmore East (where they shared he bill with the Allman Brothers Band), this one is required listening for anyone with a passing interest in acid rock. This set contains some wild music. Therefore, this is as good a place as any to explain my view on GD music and especially the improvising part, because the ‘wild’ aspect needs some explanation.
It’s probably in my top 5 of released Grateful Dead concerts, period. Which is saying a lot, considering I have over 300 concerts by them. At the same time, it does not have my favorite set list, it’s not the most rocking, or the most jazzy or the most jammy, it’s not from my favorite year or favorite version of the band and I couldn’t say that any version of any song in this set is my all-time favorite version of that song. And did I tell you it starts with Promised Land and ends with Johnny B. Goode? So, I’ll take the opportunity to (try to) explain why this for me is the quintessential GD concert and at the same time explain the essence of fandom.
As indicated, there are two highly similar concerts released in the DP series. One cannot discuss Summer/Fall 1972 without referring to Veneta, a concert from August 27, that is available as a standalone release including a dvd that partially captures the concert in Woodstock-like style (“poleman,” anyone?). However, the concerts in Europe may ultimately have the advantage of still having Pigpen.
The 1980’s are not well served in Grateful Dead history. There are several reasons for this. In some years Jerry was not feeling OK (he went into a diabetic coma in 1986 and more or less had to learn how to play the guitar all over again). On this release his voice can be pretty bad sometimes. Many shows were, for some reason, not properly recorded or mixed. Somehow the sense of adventure was lacking: Brent’s initial years (1979-1981) and his final years (1988 – 1990) were great, but in between is was hit and miss for the band.
Releases from this band configuration are rare. Your best bet would be Road Trip 1.3 that contains more music from the Houseboat Tapes. On the accompanying bonus disc there’s a famous Hard To Handle, one of the best ever. Add to that great versions of Dark Star and The Other One, and you have a great 1973 set. Then we have the rarity Box Of Rain that they soon stopped playing when Phil couldn’t sing it anymore. Side note: nowadays, he thinks he can sing it again, he can’t, but still he’s the only one who should sing it. As a whole, it’s hard to fault the set, but for me it does not really stand out in the DP series or in 1977. It’s certainly powerful, well played and energetic (but here DP 15 (from September 1977) beats the hell out of it). It also sounds great, but is lacks a little subtlety. From (more or less) the same period I much prefer DP18 (early February, 1978). Also, the concerts that have been released from the beginning of November in New York (released as DP34 and Dave’s Pick 12) get more playing time in my house.
Less than two weeks before DP 1, this is again the band without Donna Jean on backing vocals. It contains two concerts from the same venue, three days apart.They also brought back some oldies in altered form, like St Stephen, High Time, Cosmic Charlie and Dancing In The Streets, and older songs that had not (or hardly ever) been played live, such as The Wheel and Comes A Time, plus a bunch of new covers.Historically this is an important concert as it is the first one with the full Wall of Sound system, the brilliant, but intimidating sound system that almost ruined the band, but set the standard for years to come. Even Pink Floyd didn’t sound this good in 1974.
Now I have some issues with a show that contains Promised Land PLUS Around & Around PLUS Johnny B. Goode, because the Dead never really did those rockers justice (imo). But other than that, this is a great show of the era. Friend Of The Devil sounds fresh in the new, slowed down, arrangement. Brown Eyed Women and Looks Like Rain sound great as well (if you can get past the lyrics of the latter, ‘the sound of street cats making love, etc.).
1976 was an interesting year: after an 18 month hiatus (with only 4 shows), the Grateful Dead returned to touring. They had to slightly rearrange the songs of Mars Hotel and Wake of the Flood (and older ones that debuted in Europe 1972 or later) for the return of Micky Hart as second drummer. Mickey had never played with Keith and Donna (except the second set on October 20, 1974, the last concert before retirement).
A totally different band, due to the fact that keyboardist Brent Mydland died of an overdose in July. The fall tour had been booked (this is the first night of a five night residency at MSG) so they found Vince (formerly of The Tubes) as new keyboard player. Also they asked Bruce Hornsby to sit in (and actually be a full band member) for as long as he could manage, considering his solo career that was taking off at the time.First, even in later years (from 1976 onward), when they would have two drummers again, just like 1968-1971, they would never rock as much as in these early years. While they would never rock as hard (or rock at all, some would say) as, say, Led Zeppelin, the Stones or even the Allmans, in 1969-1970 the Dead could and did rock. Both the two drummers and Jerry’s guitar (sound) add to this. In later years they would definitely mellow down, and prefer to play songs more slowed down, and in quite similar tempos.
This set is unique among Grateful Dead releases. There is not really more of the same. But if you need more of the somewhat similar, please visit the Seminole Reservation (Road Trips 4.1, May 23-24, 1969) and Dave’s Picks 6, 10 & 19, featuring concerts in December 1969 and January and February 1970 (the latter one after Tom Constanten left the band).
In many ways a typical high energy 1977 show, with a few twists: first this is a Phil show: not only does he gets a ‘solo’ recognized as a separate track, he really drives the proceedings, notably so on The Other One. Secondly, and unfortunately, at the end the sound quality is somewhat less: the master reels were lost apparently, so they use a cassette master for part of the show. Once you’re used to it, it’s OK really, and the material warrants release, but still, with all the good shows in 1977 you wonder about this choice.
A big jump in time, to Brent’s first year in the band. He started in April, following Keith’s and Donna’s departure in January. Apart from some pretty average songs and an OK voice (but then Keith did not sing at all), he brings new energy, new keyboard sounds and effective background vocals. This is a powerhouse of a show, and, you guessed right, it’s also the first complete show in the Dick’s Picks series.
This is an even better way to tarnish the Stones’ reputation (after Some Girls) than Dirty Work or A Bigger Bang could ever hope to achieve. But, no wonder they sound more professional and are considered better businessmen than the Grateful Dead…
The first set is very good on this one, with Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo being one of the all-time great versions. Peggy-O is very nice as well, with great interplay between Bobby, Keith and Jerry. In the second set, Eyes Of The World is played at a brisk speed, full of energy. While I like me some meandering Eyes, speeded up ones are nice for a change. He’s Gone seems to go into The Other One at first, but ultimately they go into a great Not Fade Away. It’s slow, but full of energy and they take 10 minutes before they start singing.DP 35 (4 CD’s) August 6, 7, 24, 1971. Hollywood Palladium, Hollywood, California, US (7 songs) / Convention Hall, San Diego, California, US (full show) / Auditorium Theater, Chicago, Illinois, US (16 songs). If you like this era, go look for the concert two weeks earlier (April 15, released as part of 30 Trips) or two weeks later (May 15, released as Road Trips 3.3). The latter one has a (big) acoustic set as well, with a few rarities. On the other hand the set lists, and indeed the jams had a somewhat more scripted nature: every first set would have a Dylan tune (here it’s Queen Jane Approximately) and an old blues tune (here it’s Walkin’ Blues). In the second set there would be a Drums/Space segment leading into some modestly jammy song. Sometime after that a Jerry ballad. Often a Dylan encore (this time it’s Quinn the Eskimo). Jerry’s voice was deteriorating, but then lyrical fuck ups were increasing as well, so… And all the experimentation with MIDI would be hit and miss. And yes, that is what we find here.Anyway, this concert took place a few months after the Dead went back on the road after their 18 month hiatus, and the energy is palpable. To stress that, they open the first concert with Promised Land and finish the second one with Johnny B. Goode. They have not yet arrived at their 1977 sound and energy level, but the enthusiasm is surely there. A song like Cassidy (not a favorite of mine by any means) really found its place this year and is sung nicely by Bobby and Donna. Looks Like Rain is almost a gospel tune. Scarlet Begonias is predictably funky. Sugaree is one of the songs that’s clearly hinting at things to come: nothing wrong with it as such (may be one of the highlights of the first set), but it doesn’t really show its full potential yet.As I mentioned before, it is difficult to find releases of this era with the same quality. It took them 19 years to come up with another 1983 release (actually from a week later), October 21, 1983 (30 Trips Box).
In my book, Phil Lesh was (and is) the driving force of the Grateful Dead at their best: steering improvisations, dropping ‘Phil bombs’ and never playing the same line twice (just do not let him sing after 1975…). I think this is especially audible in concerts following changes in the band: as if he feels released by the absence of old routines, Phil then takes the band by the hand. Well, my 0,02.
A few months before, Micky Hart had joined them as second drummer, and this expanded their possibilities as a performing band. At this time they are still playing a lot of covers (Viola Lee Blues, Hurts Me Too, Lovelight, Good Morning Little Schoolgirl), partly because they liked them and because they fit their style, but also because they just did not have a lot of material of their own. Besides, their own material was overly ambitious (or cumbersome as Jerry later put it) and difficult to perform live.
1974 will always be known for the massive Wall of Sound, at the time the best sound system used by any band during a rock concert. I think it has only been approached by ELP in 1976/7. And ELP also went broke… As the Dead were in their jazzy phase, it was nice to be able to hear all kind of subtleties and intricacies anywhere in the stadium.
1978 is a weird year. They had taken the 1977 material as far as they could, and, more importantly, Keith and Donna were nearing the end of their tenure. There were quite a lot of brilliant concerts during the year, including their first sets at Red rock and the Closing of Winterland on December 31. But there were quite a lot of concerts that were very loose even by their standards, both in the sense of being rough and raunchy and in the sense of being sloppy and rather uninspired.
Other notable (non-DP) releases are Dave’s Pick 9 (May 14, this one also has a Dark Star but this time it is not a mellow version but a total melt down). From the same little Europe tour we have September 18 in France (30 Trips Box), notable for the inclusion of Seastones, a 15 minute noisescape (or ‘musique concrète’) by Phil Lesh and Ned Lagin. Rather unlistenable in fact, to the extent that saying “you had to be there” does not suffice.1971 is an interesting transitional year for the band: Micky left in February (at least partly because he felt ashamed that his father had cheated the band out of a lot of money) and Keith joined in October. Also, after the show on August 26, Pigpen did not perform until December, so from October 19 on, Keith played some shows as only keyboard player. This set from the Summer (so with Pigpen and without Keith) shows that they did great: they had all this new material written, both as a group and individually, they were in great shape and I always feel that single drummer Grateful Dead is a little leaner.