Saturday, March 19, 2011

Grateful Dead: "Dick's Picks Volume One" (1993) CD Review

This two-disc CD contains some of the first set and most of the second set the Grateful Dead performed on 12-19-73, the final show of that magical year.

For the first volume of this series of live concert recordings, Grateful Dead tape archivist Dick Latvala chose a show from 1973, the year many Deadheads agree was the best for the band. This show, performed in Florida on December 19th, 1973, was actually the final show of that amazing year.

As one might guess, several songs from their 1973 release "Wake Of The Flood" were featured at this show, including "Here Comes Sunshine," "Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleoo," "Weather Report Suite" and "Stella Blue."

"Here Comes Sunshine"

The first disc starts with "Here Comes Sunshine." It's specifically this song that caused Dick Latvala to choose this concert for the first release in the series. And it's easy to see why. It's a great version of the song. The vocals blend well, and Keith Godchaux's piano sounds wonderful. Phil Lesh finds all sorts of interesting grooves on the bass. And of course Jerry Garcia's guitar is brilliant. And to top it off, this is a nice long version - more than 14 minutes. And it's the jam that's really the highlight of this version, with Bill Kreutzmann's great jazzy drumming.

The band then does a fun version of "Big River" with a fast pace provided by Bill's drumming. From there the band goes into a nice version of "Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleoo." This version is pretty at times, especially near the end. (For some reason this song is listed simply as "Mississippi Half Step" on the CD.)

"Weather Report Suite"
"Weather Report Suite" is a song that the Grateful Dead played in full only in 1973 and 1974 (and once in 1972). In later years, they did only the last part of the song, called "Let It Grow." The first part of the song is simply beautiful. This is such a great version of the song. Bob Weir pours his whole heart into his vocal performance.

"Playing In The Band"

The jam on "Playing In The Band" is great. Jerry's guitar is incredible. Every member of the band is exploring new territory, seeing where this song can go, searching for its edges. This version is more than 21 minutes long, so there is plenty of room to stretch out, yet the pace never really lags. Bill Kreutzmann provides plenty of groovy fills on the drums.

Missing from this version is Donna Jean Godchaux's great backing vocals. She did not perform with the band on this night. The CD liner notes list her in the credits as "giving birth."

Second Disc Features "Truckin'"
The second disc starts with a nice mellow version of "He's Gone." That goes into a rocking version of "Truckin'," with Bob Weir screaming. And holy moly, listen to those guitars and keys during the jam.

"Truckin'" leads into a really cool cover of Joseph "Blind Willie" Johnson's "Nobody's Fault But Mine." Everything sounds great on this one. That leads into a jam with some nice jazzy drumming by Bill Kreutzmann. The jam has several hints of "The Other One." It also has a great pace to it - it never strays too far off course.

The jam does go into "The Other One," but it's really an extension of the jam, and not one of those amazing, monstrous versions the Dead sometimes did. It's also very brief. The next jam is much spacier and out there. It's pretty wild, and gets loud.

"Stella Blue"

But then the jam settles into the beautiful "Stella Blue." There is something magical about Jerry Garcia's voice in 1973. And there is always something magical about this song, one of the band's best. Especially when Jerry sings, "I've stayed in every blue light cheap hotel/Can't win for trying/Dust off those rusty strings just one more time/Gonna make them shine."

The CD ends with a great version of Chuck Berry's "Around And Around."

CD Track List

CD One:

  1. Here Comes Sunshine
  2. Big River
  3. Mississippi Half Step
  4. Weather Report Suite
  5. Big Railroad Blues
  6. Playing In The Band

CD Two:

  1. He's Gone >
  2. Truckin' >
  3. Nobody's Fault But Mine >
  4. Jam >
  5. Other One >
  6. Jam >
  7. Stella Blue
  8. Around And Around

The Grateful Dead at the time of this recording were Jerry Garcia on vocals and guitar, Bob Weir on vocals and guitar, Phil Lesh on bass and vocals, Bill Kreutzmann on drums, and Keith Godchaux on keyboards.

This first volume in the Dick's Picks series was released in 1993, while the band was still active. Dick's Picks Volume Two contains the entire second set from the Halloween show of 1971. In all, thirty-six volumes were released. In recent years, a new series of live recordings titled "Road Trips" has taken the place of the Dick's Picks series.