Dick’s Picks is a Grateful Dead series of live concert releases originally orchestrated by Dead archivist Dick Latvala in 1993 until his death in 1999, and continued until 2005. All in all there are 36 volumes in the series. Real Gone Music has been reissuing the series in reverse order and has just issued volume 13.
Dick’s Picks Volume Thirteen: Nassau Coliseum 5/6/81 catches the band at a good time in their career. The group consists of lead guitarist/vocalist Jerry Garcia, guitarist Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh, drummers Mickey Hart & Bill Kreutzmann, and keyboardist Brent Mydland.
A new era for the Dead began in 1979 when Mydland became the keyboardist. By 1981 he had become fully integrated into the band. Past keyboardists had been pianists but Mydland also was an excellent organist and synthesizer player. He also gave the band another competent vocalist and he contributed a number of compositions to the band’s studio albums. In concert his musicianship filled in the sound and gave the band more flexibility than in the past.
The new release contains the complete concert and like most of their live performances presents over three hours of music, which are spread out over three discs.
Many Grateful Dead concerts contained the same material with a few additions and deletions to keep everything fresh and interesting. The same songs did not mean repetition, however, as the band was improvisational by nature. The same song could be vastly different from concert to concert.
The Nassau concert was representative of their set list during the early 1980’s. “Little Red Rooster,” “Let It Grow,” and “High Time” all have a nice blues feel. “Looks Like Rain” has a number of tempo shifts that the Dead were so good at producing. Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann’s “Drums” is always interesting. “Wharf Rat” and Good Lovin’” are two of the last three tracks and benefit from a two and a half hour build-up as the energy crackles for over 16 minutes.
As with all the releases in the series, volume 13 comes with the warning about sound quality. Originally recorded on a two track player, there are limitations to the transfer to modern equipment. The sound quality can be described as average but in an odd way fits the nature of a Grateful Dead concert.
The Nassau Coliseum concert encompasses all that is good about the Grateful Dead live in concert. The three hours of music allows the listener to become immersed in the aura and ambiance of the band. It is a trip worth taking.