The year was 1983, the date was October 14, the place was the Hartford Civic Center, and the band was the Grateful Dead. As I settled into my seat in back of the stage, I was surrounded by about 16.000 hard core Dead fans. I was young, had a full head of hair, and was about to experience my second, and as it turned out, last Grateful Dead concert. As the band reached the stage and began with “Alabama Getaway,” a number of strange aromas wafted through the air. Who knew that nearly 32 years later I would be reviewing that concert?
As with all the volumes in the Dick’s Picks series, the sound is average by today’s standards and there are places in this set where it is less than that. All the volumes come with a disclaimer that the concerts are a snapshot in history and not a modern professional recording. The main problem is the concert was originally recorded on a two track cassette. In one way, the rawness of the sound enhances the Grateful Dead concert experience but be prepared for an uneven quality.
The Grateful Dead of 1983 were guitarist/vocalist Jerry Garcia, drummer Mickey Hart, drummer Bill Kreutzmann, bassist Phil Lesh, guitarist Bob Weir, and keyboardist Brent Mydland. This particular incarnation of the Dead lasted 11 years (1979-1990). By 1983, Mydland had been incorporated into the core band and they had settled into a groove that would last a decade.
The second of the three discs present the band at its improvisational best. The four songs, “Scarlet Begonias,” “Fire On The Mountain,” “Estimated Prophet,” and “Eyes Of The World” stretch out to over an hour and create the mesmerizing mood that the band produced when they were in a live performing zone. Songs they performed hundreds of times took on new textures and moved in unexpected directions. This disc is one of the better ones in the entire series and offsets the uneven quality of the first.
The main issue with the concert’s beginning is the voice quality of Garcia and Weir. Garcia completely loses his voice a couple of times but the band carries on as they increase the energy as they progress through “C.C. Rider,” “Tennessee Jed,” “Hell In A Bucket,” and “Keep Your Day Job.” Through it all the musicianship remains excellent.
The final disc contains an energetic “Drums” and comes to a satisfying conclusion with “Sugar Magnolia” and “U.S. Blues.”
Being at the concert and listening to a recording over three decades later is a totally different experience. Dick’s Picks Volume Six is a typical concert from the era that soars on the middle disc. That disc alone makes it a must for any fan of the Grateful Dead.