Friday, March 25, 2011

Grateful Dead: "Dick's Picks Volume Twenty-Two" (2001) CD Review

This two-disc set features selections from concerts the Grateful Dead performed on February 23rd and 24th in Lake Tahoe in 1968.

The year 1968 was the year the Grateful Dead released their most psychedelic-sounding and experimental record, Anthem Of The Sun. They played all of the songs from that album during their three-night run at Kings Beach Bowl in Lake Tahoe, California, in February of that year. Selections from the second and third nights are included on this two-disc CD.

Anthem Of The Sun was the second studio release from the Grateful Dead, and the first to feature Mickey Hart on drums, and Tom Constanten on piano. Though it's a studio release, the band mixed in elements and snippets from live concert recordings to some of the songs, particularly "Alligator" and "Caution."

The audience at Kings Beach Bowl, however, had not yet heard that album, as it wouldn't be released until July of that year. And in fact, portions from these concerts would make their way onto Anthem Of The Sun.

"Viola Lee Blues"
The first disc begins with "Viola Lee Blues." This is the longest track on the entire CD, which is surprising considering this album includes "Dark Star," "Turn On Your Lovelight" and "That's It For The Other One." But this "Viola Lee Blues" clocks in at more than nineteen minutes.

Only two minutes in, the band is already getting a bit crazy. But this is basically a good steady rock jam - not stretching into any Weird territory yet. Nevertheless, it's one of those great 1960s intense rock jams. And Jerry Garcia does some impressive wailing on his guitar. There is a short drum solo in the middle.

"Viola Lee Blues" is a song included on the band's first studio album, and was written by Noah Lewis.

"Hurts Me Too"

"Hurts Me Too," better known as "It Hurts Me Too," is a blues tune written by Elmore James and sung by Ron "Pigpen" McKernan. It's a shame the vocals weren't raised a bit in the mix - for this song, as well as "Viola Lee Blues." Pigpen also plays harmonica on this one.

"Dark Star"

This "Dark Star" has the fast intro it had in those days. "Dark Star" was always an interesting song, but at this time it had all that extra percussion, which was wonderful. The tempo was quicker and the instrumentation was low-key. This version is pretty short, especially by "Dark Star" standards, at less than seven minutes.

"China Cat Sunflower"
"Dark Star" leads directly into "China Cat Sunflower," a song about an acid trip. This was in the days before "China Cat" led predictably into "I Know You Rider." This jam is when the band really starts to cook,and it leads right into a really good rendition of "The Eleven."

It's with "The Eleven" that the jam starts getting good and messy. "The Eleven" is a loud, raucous piece of music, driven by Phil Lesh's bass (he co-wrote the tune).

"Turn On Your Lovelight"

"The Eleven" leads into Pigpen's signature tune, "Turn On Your Lovelight." Though he didn't write it, Pigpen really made this song his own, breaking it down in the middle, riffing vocally, with the band answering him. This version has the band repeating, "Shine on me" and then "A little bit higher" while Pigpen improvises. Then the song begins to build again, and it's just fantastic. This is one of the highlights of this release.

"Born Cross-Eyed" Into "Spanish Jam"
"Born Cross-Eyed" is a short, yet intricate (and totally cool) song written by Bob Weir and included on Anthem Of The Sun. The version included here leads into "Spanish Jam," and it's then that the band heads into Weird territory. Combining rhythms and dissonance, exploring and improvising within a very loose structure - more of a feel or temperament than a formal construct. The Grateful Dead were skilled at making temporary homes within the Unknown, and that night they were on top of their game.

"Morning Dew"
The second disc begins with the always-moving "Morning Dew." Jerry Garcia always poured his heart into this one, and gave it his all, especially in the vocals. Listen to the emotion in his voice as he sings, "I thought I heard a baby cry this morning/I thought I heard a baby cry today/You didn't hear no baby cry this morning/You didn't hear no baby cry today." Is there a better song about the end of the world? In this version, there is anger as well as sadness in his voice as he repeats, "I guess it doesn't matter anyway."

"Morning Dew" was written by Bonnie Dobson, and was included on the Grateful Dead's first studio release.

"Good Morning Little School Girl"

Another song that Pigpen always shines on his "Good Morning Little School Girl," written by Sonny Boy Williamson. Pigpen was always more comfortable in the blues than in the rock, and this song really plays on his strengths. He also adds harmonica to this one.

He sings, "Good morning little schoolgirl, can I come home with you?/Tell your mama and your papa I'm a little schoolboy too." In the band's later years, Bob Weir sang this one. The older he got, the less likely it was that those lines would work on the girl's parents. But whatever, this is a great tune.

"That's It For The Other One"

"That's It For The Other One" is the full song, as it is featured on Anthem Of The Sun. Later on, it would be split into two songs - "Cryptical Envelopment" (Jerry's section) and "The Other One" (Bob's section), which was originally called "The Faster We Go The Rounder We Get." It's that section that contains the reference to Neal Cassady.

The rendition included here is excellent, and it leads into "New Potato Caboose" (which also follows it on the album). "New Potato Caboose" was written by Phil Lesh and Robert Petersen, and include some interesting lyrics: "When the windows all are broken/And your love's become a toothless crone/When the voices of the storm sound/Like a crowd/Winter morning breaks, you're all alone."

"Alligator" and "Caution"

Pigpen sang lead on two tracks from Anthem Of The Sun - "Alligator" and "Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks)." Both of those songs are on the second disc of this release.

The first, "Alligator," is split, with "China Cat Sunflower" and "The Eleven" in the middle. These versions of "China Cat" and "The Eleven" are even better than those on the first disc, with a fantastic jam. As they go back into "Alligator," there is a wonderful percussion section.

The jam in "Caution" is just incredible, coming right out of "Alligator." And there is some great work on percussion in this one too. This song also has fun some call and response, with the band echoing Pigpen as he sings, "All you need."

CD Track List

CD One:

  1. Viola Lee Blues
  2. Hurts Me too
  3. Dark Star >
  4. China Cat Sunflower >
  5. The Eleven >
  6. Turn On Your Lovelight
  7. Born Cross-Eyed >
  8. Spanish Jam

CD Two:

  1. Morning Dew
  2. Good Morning Little School Girl
  3. That's It For The Other One >
  4. New Potato Caboose
  5. Alligator >
  6. China Cat Sunflower >
  7. The Eleven >
  8. Alligator >
  9. Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks) >
  10. Feedback

The Grateful Dead at the time of this recording were Jerry Garcia on guitar and vocals; Bob Weir on rhythm guitar and vocals; Phil Lesh on bass and vocals; Ron "Pigpen" McKernan on organ, harmonica, percussion and vocals; Bill Kreutzmann on drums; and Mickey Hart on drums.

Dick's Picks is a series of live Grateful Dead concert recordings started by Dick Latvala, the band's official tape archivist, in 1993. Dick Latvala's name is in the artwork in the liner notes to this CD.

Dick's Picks Volume Twenty-One contains the entire concert the Grateful Dead performed in Richmond, VA on November 1, 1985.

Dick's Picks Volume Twenty-Three is from a show at Baltimore Civic Center in Baltimore, Maryland, September 17th, 1972.

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