Dick’s Picks Volume Six By The Grateful Dead

September 27, 2015


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.


Dicks Picks 13: Nassau Coliseum 5/6/81 By The Grateful Dead

May 20, 2015


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.

Touch Of Grey 45 by The Grateful Dead

November 10, 2012

The Grateful Dead were one of the best live bands in rock history. Their concerts were legendary and their ability to improvise first-rate. Sometimes their concerts would extend past the four hour mark.

They were also an album band as their releases sold in the tens-of-millions.

What they were not was a singles band. They only had six singles reach the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart and only one that cracked the top 60.

Late in their career, they released “Touch Of Grey” as a single. It first reached the BILLBOARD Pop Chart on July 25, 1987, and amazingly climbed all the way to number nine. It also topped the Album Rock Chart.

It was The Dead’s attempt to create a hit single and it worked. They then went back to what they did best.

Dick’s Picks 27 by The Grateful Dead

October 21, 2012

The Grateful Dead’s Dick’s Picks reissues just keep on coming from Real Gone Music. The latest in the 36 volume series to see the light of day again is number 27, which presents the entire Oakland Coliseum Arena, Oakland, California concert from December 16, 1992. Also included are four songs from the following evening at the same venue, which are welcome since they were not repeats.

The Dick’s Picks series followed the band through 24 years of their existence beginning in 1968. That made this release unique in that it was the latest of the 36, having been recorded in late 1992. As such it captures the last incarnation of the band, which included lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, rhythm guitarist Bob Weir, keyboardist Vince Welnick, bassist Phil Lesh, and drummers Bill Kreutzmann & Mickey Hart.

The sound is surprisingly good for a recording that was never meant for release. It was recorded from a tape machine connected to the sound board and while it has been scrubbed as clean as possible, there are still defects here and there.

The Grateful Dead were at their best live and this is one of the better perfomances I have heard. I always appreciate entire, unedited concerts as the present an artist as they really were on a specific date and time. The Dead are at their improvisational best and many of the songs are extended with solos, which take some surprising twists and turns. There are no short, tight tracks as 12 of the 18 clock in at over eight minutes and none are shorter than five minutes.

Sometimes The Grateful Dead would ease into a concert, but here they cook from the very beginning. The nine minute-plus “Feel like a Stranger” finds the band moving out into unexplored territory several minutes into the song and never looking back.

The legendary “Dark Star” received a short (nine minutes) 1990s update that included a little jazz. My only complaint is that I wish they had stuck with the song a little longer. They performed the Young Rascals hit, “Good Lovin,’” live for decades. Pigpen provided the vocals early on and this performance made me recall his time with the band. Two Bob Dylan compositions are highlights. “Stuck Inside Of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” and particularly “All Along the Watchtower” take Dylan’s material on a journey that it has rarely traveled. The triumvirate of “Playing in the Band,” “Drums,” and “Space” helped the band explore the outer edges of their sound and musical vision.

The four songs included from the following evening began with “Throwing Stones” and an extended version of “Not Fade Away.” The surprises were covers of the Lennon/McCartney tune “Tomorrow Never Knows” and The Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” which I don’t think I have ever seen on an official Grateful Dead release. Again, the only problem is their shortness.

Dick’s Picks 27 is one of the better and more interesting releases in the series. The concert catches the band near the end of their long strange trip and is a fine listen for Deadheads and music fans alike

Article first published as Music Review: Grateful Dead – Dick’s Picks 27 on Blogcritics.

Dick’s Picks 31 by The Grateful Dead

July 24, 2012

The Grateful Dead’s Dick’s Picks series, named after Dead archivist Dick Latvala (1943-1999), ran from 1993-2005, and consisted of 36 multi-disc CD sets. They were taken from a two-track recording device that had been plugged into the main sound board and left running during concerts. The sound, despite the equipment limitations, has been surprisingly good and clear. Real Gone Music has been re-issuing the sets since last year, and doing so in reverse order, starting with the 36th volume.

Dicks Picks 31 is one of the more unusual sets in the series as it presents the band in the middle of their Wall of Sound tour. The sound system was designed and built by the legendary Owsley “Bear” Stanley and consisted of 480 speakers stacked 30 feet high and 40 feet wide. It was so sophisticated that each group member had his own independent mix. For example, each string of Phil Lesh’s bass had its own speaker.

Another difference with this release is, for better or worse, the track list is made up of highlights from three consecutive shows, rather than a complete concert. Disc Two was taken from the Dead’s 8/4/74 Philadelphia Civic Center concert. Disc Three has material taken from their show at the same venue the following evening, and Disc Four selects five songs from their Roosevelt Stadium show in Jersey City, New Jersey from 8/6/74. Disc One combines performances from the first two shows. Whether you are partial to complete concerts or not, it all adds up to about five hours of music from one of the more creative and powerful periods of the band’s career.

The Grateful Dead at the time consisted of Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, keyboardist Keith Godchaux, and vocalist Donna Jean Godchaux. It was during the Godchaux era that the band began to expand musically. They began to fuse some jazz elements into their rock sound, which opened up all sorts of improvisational possibilities for Garcia and crew.

The band was spot-on during all three concerts and you can feel the energy. My only complaint is the compilers may have put a little too much thought into their selection of material. The last three discs contain no repetition of songs. It is always interesting to compare different versions of live songs by The Dead as they could be dramatically different from one show to the next.

Two songs from their Philly shows were also played at their Roosevelt Stadium concert and are the only repeats in the entire set. That Roosevelt Stadium show included a tight five-minute performance of “Playing in the Band,” while the first Philly show stretched it out to over 25 minutes with a number of intricate twists and turns. Likewise, two extended performances of “Scarlet Begonias” on consecutive nights show how the same song could be treated so differently within a mere 24-hour period.

The set is a ride through the well-known and the obscure. “Eyes of the World” (19:28), “China Cat Sunflower” (11:13), “Wharf Rat” (10:21), “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” (8:30), and a couple of jams share the limelight with the likes of “Sugar Magnolia” (10:42), “Truckin’” (9:46), “Casey Jones” (9:46), and “Uncle John’s Band” (10:46).

Dick’s Picks 31 finds a mature band at the height of its power. It should be a fine listen for Deadheads and casual fans alike.

Dick’s Picks 9/21/72 by The Grateful Dead

January 7, 2012

It has been quite a while since I immersed myself in the music of the Grateful Dead, but that ended when I acquired the Real Gone Music reissue of Dick’s Picks 36.

The Dick’s Picks Series, 1993-2005, named after Grateful Dead archivist Dick Latvala, resurrected hundreds of hours of live concert material from the legendary band. The series concluded with the four-CD release of their September 21, 1972 concert at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. Three songs from their September 3, 1972 show at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colorado, were an added bonus, combining for nearly four-and-a-half hours of music.

The recordings for the series survived because Owsley Stanley, better known as Bear, the Dead’s early road manager, sound engineer, and chemist deluxe, plugged in his two-track tape machine into the front-of-house mixing desk. The band and crew would listen to the tapes following the concerts to learn and improve where necessary.

The sound is surprisingly clean considering the two-track origins. The clarity of Jerry Garcia’s and Bob Weir’s guitar sound is outstanding and enables the listener to not only appreciate their style but also the sophistication of their interplay. It is a guitar lover’s delight and some of the best playing I have heard from the Grateful Dead duo. On the down side, many times the loudness or up-front nature of the guitars drown out the other instruments. The bass and keyboards tend to come and go with the drums being the overall weakest presence and sometimes falling off the listening grid. The final result is excellent music with an acceptable overall sound.

The Grateful Dead of late 1972 consisted of lead guitarist/vocalist Jerry Garcia, rhythm guitarist/vocalist Bob Weir, bassist/vocalist Phil Lesh, drummer Bill Kreutzmann, keyboardist Keith Godchaux, and backing vocalist Donna Jean Godchaux.

The first three tracks present the basic elements of a Grateful Dead concert. “Promised Land” is a tightly structured song that serves as a warm-up. “Bird Song,” which clocks in at over 13 minutes, marks the first long improvisational piece where Garcia traveled his own journey a number of times before returning to the melody. They then move out of their element to transform Marty Robbins’ classic “El Paso” into a a piece of psychedelic blues.

The highlight remains the band’s 37-minute rendition of “Dark Star.” This is probably the best version I have heard of this old warhorse as the musicians expand and contract the melodies to set out paths never traveled.

Other superior performances include “Sugar Magnolia,” ”Morning Dew,” “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad,” “Black Peter,” “One More Saturday Night,” and two visits to the early rock ‘n’ roll classic “Not Fade Away.”

Dick’s Picks 36 presents a concert experience that will leave listeners exhausted but satisfied. It’s good to have this release back in circulation.

Crimson, White and Indigo: Philadelphia, July 7, 1989 (3 CD + DVD) by The Grateful Dead

June 10, 2010

Calling all Dead Heads! Grab your tie died tee shirts, your favorite beverage, and anything else that comes to mind because there is another live release from The Grateful Dead.

I read somewhere there are now seventy live shows officially for sale comprising about 250 discs. That of course is not counting the hundreds of concerts recorded by fans and exchanged and unofficially sold for years. The Dead always encouraged their fans to record their shows and so there are still an almost unlimited number out there.

While their studio albums sold well if not spectacularly, it was as a live band that they became legends. Their newest release is Crimson, White & Indigo: Philadelphia, July 7, 1989. It is a massive three CD plus DVD box set and presents the show in its entirety.

The band arrived at JFK Stadium riding a wave of new popularity. Their 1987 release, In The Dark, was their highest charting album in The United States reaching number six. It even produced a hit single, “Touch Of Grey.” They had become big business and would tour constantly playing to millions of fans, many of whom would follow them from show to show in a huge caravan.

The DVD is the star of the release. It presents every note from their three hour show. Technology was improving during the late eighties and the multiple camera angles capture the performance well. It is the sound, however, which puts this release over the top as the 5:1 surround sound is crisp, clear, and loud.

I consider this concert as coming at the end of the second classic Grateful Dead configuration. The group consisted of lead guitarist and vocalist Jerry Garcia, drummer Mickey Hart, drummer Bill Kreutzmann, bassist Phil Lesh, rhythm guitarist Bob Weir, and keyboardist Brent Mydland. After eleven years with the group Mydland would die close to a year after this concert. His soulful voice and ability to merge his instrument with Garcia’s would be missed. Garcia’s health would begin to deteriorate and six years later he would be gone as well.

The nineteen tracks contain a lot of familiar and some not so well known songs. “Blow Away” and “Standing On The Moon” were from their upcoming album. Two old blues tunes, “Iko Iko” and “Little Red Rooster” are given extended work outs. Such staples as “Wharf Rat,” “Hell In A Bucket,” “Ramble On Rose,” and the eternal “Turn On Your Lovelight” all presents the Dead at their classic best. When the last notes of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” faded away it marked the last song ever performed at JFK as it was slated for demolition.

Crimson, White & Indigo is a fine addition to the live Grateful Dead legacy. It captures one shining evening in the life of one of America’s greatest rock bands.

Article first published as on Blogcritics.org