Dick’s Picks Volume 25 contains most of two concerts the Grateful Dead performed on May 10th and May 11th, 1978. This four-disc set is missing only two songs from the first show (“It Must Have Been The Roses” and the encore, “U.S. Blues”) and three songs from the second show (“Mexicali Blues,” “Mama Tried” and “Peggy-O,” all of which were in the first set).
The two concerts contained in this set find the band in top form. The song selections are excellent, and there are some incredible jams, as well as some seriously good vocal performances.
This was an interesting year for the Grateful Dead. A few months after these shows the band would play in Egypt, near the pyramids. That year saw the release of Shakedown Street, which some folks dismissed as disco, while others loved it. This is also the year that saw the closing of Winterland, one of the Dead’s favorite venues. And this would be Keith and Donna Godchaux’s final year with the band.
“Jack Straw” was always a nice opener, and this is a really sweet version, particularly in the vocals. Then the song gains a tremendous energy, and they really belt out the lines, “Jack Straw from Witchita cut his buddy down/And dug for him a shallow grave and laid his body down.” Bob even shouts “Yeah.” The crowd understandably goes nuts. What a fantastic way to kick off the concert. The band was really on, straight out of the gate.
There’s some good stage banter on this CD, which is always appreciated. Bob tells the crowd, “We’re all patiently waiting for Jerry to get his act together, decide what he’s going to do next and all that.” Jerry decides on “They Love Each Other,” and this rendition has a nice easy, sweet jam. Bob then says, “We’re carefully weeding out all those tiny little bothersome technical imperfections that we just can’t stand. Real soon everything will be just exactly perfect.” Oh yes.
Bob then goes into one of my favorites, “Cassidy.” This song always lifts my spirits, and this is an excellent rendition. A few years ago I met John Barlow, the song’s lyricist, and this is the one song I had to mention to him. He said it’s one of his favorites too. “Let your life proceed by its own design.”
The first set also includes a fun “Ramble On Rose” (though Donna’s yell sort of comes out of nowhere) and a version of “Big River” that’s seriously fun, as well as a sweet “Peggy O.” A pretty intense “Let It Grow” leading into a cool, high-energy “Deal” round out the first set.
The first disc also contains the first two songs from the second set – the always-fun “Bertha” straight into “Good Lovin’.”
The second disc opens with one of my favorite pairings – “Estimated Prophet” into “Eyes Of The World.” And I love the versions of “Estimated Prophet” from this time, with Donna’s vocals on “Fire wheel burning in the air” sounding so sweet. Bob’s vocals have a great energy on lines like, “Might and glory gonna be my name.” Jerry’s playing is fantastic, reaching some great peaks, and then becoming deliciously sprightly once the song has settled into a good groove. This is one of the best versions of “Estimated Prophet” I’ve heard.
The transition into “Eyes Of The World” isn’t quite as smooth as at other shows, but it’s always wonderful to hear those first notes. “Eyes Of The World” always gets me dancing – this song has such a palpable joy. “Sometimes we live no particular way but our own.” Even through this version is more than twelve minutes, the jam after the final verse is quite short, and it soon leads into a drum solo. And what a drum solo! Eighteen minutes, giving Bill and Mickey plenty of time to explore several avenues. There are actually some pretty moments, as well as some tense moments.
And the way it slides into “The Other One” is great, with starts and hints from various band members – but no hurry, man. I love Phil’s bass playing, just bits of that intro, finding new things to do with it, a new groove. And even then, they’re skirting around the song, until finally with a great burst of energy the song begins. And then, holy moly! (Okay, seriously, is there a bit of The Monkees’ “Steppin’ Stone” just before the vocals come in? I think there is.)
And then a moving and powerful rendition of “Wharf Rat” and a good, energetic “Sugar Magnolia” finish up the second set.
The second show opens with “Cold Rain And Snow.” “Well I married me a wife, she’s been trouble all my life.” There is a nice slow, sweet “Friend Of The Devil” with a pretty jam (featuring some nice stuff on keys by Keith Godchaux). Bob then goes into “Looks Like Rain,” his vocals blending well with Donna’s on this beautiful rendition. “I only want to hold you/I don’t want to tie you down/Or fence you in the lines I might have drawn.”
The first set also includes a seriously good version of “Loser.” And the jam in “Tennessee Jed” is wonderful. The first set concludes with “Lazy Lightnin’” into “Supplication,” and that jam too has some great stuff.
The third disc includes the first two songs from the second set, and they are that great combination of “Scarlet Begonias” into “Fire On The Mountain.” I always enjoy these two songs, but this is particularly good “Fire On The Mountain.” And there is some playful stuff in the vocals toward the end that I don’t recall hearing in any other version of this song.
A vocal miscue on Bob Weir’s part at the beginning of “Dancing In The Streets” leads to lots of wonderful silliness. Donna even cracks up while singing. As a result, this is a ridiculously fun rendition of the song. You can hear the crowd having a great time. And the energy during the jam is fantastic. And there is some more playfulness toward the end of the song. I love it.
And it leads into “Drums.” How do you try to beat that great eighteen-minute “Drums” segment from the night before? With a twenty-minute drum solo, of course. Toward the end, they play around with the “Not Fade Away” beat.
And then the band goes into a pretty wild rendition of that song. You’d think a transition from “Not Fade Away” to the beautiful “Stella Blue” would be difficult, but the band is totally on, and do it with ease. This is a really good “Stella Blue,” by the way.
The first set ends with Chuck Berry’s “Around And Around,” in which at one point Bob Weir does some silly faux-stuttering. Folks that night got two encores: “Werewolves Of London” and “Johnny B. Goode.” This was an early “Werewolves” for the band, as they introduced it into the set lists just a month earlier. And there is more delightful silliness in the vocals toward the end of the song. Wonderful!
CD Track List
- Jack Straw
- They Love Each Other
- Ramble On Rose
- Me And My Uncle >
- Big River
- Let It Grow >
- Bertha >
- Good Lovin’
- Estimated Prophet >
- Eyes Of The World >
- Drums >
- The Other One >
- Wharf Rat >
- Sugar Magnolia
- Cold Rain And Snow
- Beat It On Down The Line
- Friend Of The Devil
- Looks Like Rain
- New Minglewood Blues
- Tennessee Jed
- Lazy Lightnin’ >
- Scarlet Begonias >
- Fire On The Mountain
- Dancing In The Streets >
- Drums >
- Not Fade Away >
- Stella Blue >
- Around And Around
- Werewolves Of London
- Johnny B. Goode
Dick’s Picks Volume 25 is scheduled to be released on 12 through Real Gone Music.