Friday, November 17, 2017

Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks Volume 23” (2017) CD Review

The show the Grateful Dead did at the University of Oregon in January of 1978 is known mainly for Jerry Garcia’s jam on the theme to Close Encounters Of The Third Kind in the second set. The spaceship is even incorporated into the artwork for the cover of Dave’s Picks Volume 23, which contains the complete show the Dead did on January 22, 1978 at McArthur Court. But that little jam is far from being the only highlight of the show. This was certainly one of those special nights for the band and for the audience. I attended the University Of Oregon, but fifteen years after this performance, and so saw the Dead play at Autzen Stadium rather than Mac Court. Still, those were some good shows (two in 1993, three in 1994). The band tended to feel at home in Eugene, and delivered excellent shows there.

The January 22, 1978 show begins with a bang – a rockin’ version of “New Minglewood Blues,” with Bob Weir going at it full-force, so that I actually believe him when he sings, “I was born in a desert, raised in a lion’s den.” Bob then tells the crowd that it doesn’t sound at all like it did during the soundcheck, but assures everyone, “We’re going to get our act together real quick here.” They do a pretty good “Dire Wolf,” and then a smooth, pretty, yet energetic rendition of “Cassidy.” The band then eases into a gentle and wonderful rendition of “Peggy-O.” Listen to the way Jerry’s voice breaks on the word “love” in the line “Our captain fell in love with a lady like a dove.” It’s kind of delightful and wonderful. “El Paso” is good, but things really get going with “Tennessee Jed.” Sure, Jerry’s voice is struggling a bit at moments, but that somehow only works to make the song more interesting, more passionate, more powerful. And, hey, there are unusual touches on guitar here too, and the jam toward the end of the song has its own particular flavor. It’s followed by a version of “Jack Straw” that likewise has its own alleys and avenues, the band trying different things, and everything they try seems to work beautifully. The song attains some wild, high level, a peak they maintain longer than you might think possible, but for exactly the right amount of time, before easing out again. That’s followed by a seriously nice “Row Jimmy.” The first set then concludes with that fun dance number, “The Music Never Stopped.” “They’re a band beyond description,” indeed (though we keep trying, don’t we?).

The second disc contains the first portion of the second set, the band kicking it off with “Bertha.” It’s weird, but it sounds like Jerry’s microphone is off for the first couple of lines; yet, I’ve heard an audience recording of this show where those lines were clearly audible. What’s up with that? “Bertha” leads straight into a rousing and totally fun rendition of “Good Lovin’.” They slow things down a bit then with “Ship Of Fools.” But this version has its own power, and is one of the best renditions I’ve heard. The second disc concludes with a high-energy version of “Samson And Delilah.”

The third disc contains the rest of the second set and the encore. And this, as you might guess, is where things get really interesting. The version of “Terrapin Station” that opens this disc is quite good, with glorious peaks and valleys. Listen to Bill and Mickey during the jam. It’s no surprise then that they launch into a drum solo following that song. It’s an unusual solo too, keeping a steady beat at the start, though with a trippy effect. And they just roll on from there. It’s a very cool “Drums,” giving the crowd lots of good grooves to move to. Toward the end, there are hints of where they’re going, and the crowd reacts. And then – bam – the band thrusts us all into “The Other One.” I’m always excited to hear how the band will tackle this particular song, because they’ve done it so many different ways. This time they begin with an energetic jam, more forceful than trippy. The band knows where it’s going and doesn’t want to let up or relax until it gets there, and maybe not even then. They do still venture into strange territory, of course, after the first verse, when things become a little weird, unsettled. And after the second verse, the song takes on a different tone, an urgent feel, and that leads into “Space,” the part of this show that every Dead fan is aware of, when Jerry Garcia takes an actual solo, and dips into that familiar Close Encounters theme. (And hey, to me, U of O always sounded like UFO anyway.) It’s certainly worth listening to, something that was never repeated. And it leads straight into the always-appreciated “St. Stephen.” This is a damn good version. From there, the band goes right into “Not Fade Away,” returning us to Earth with that and another early rock and roll number, Chuck Berry’s “Around And Around.” But listen to that fun stuff on guitar and bass at the beginning of “Not Fade Away.”  The band just continues to surprise us at this show. This version of “Not Fade Away” features a nice long jam. And even “Around And Around” is interesting, especially as they get really quiet with it at one point. The encore is “U.S. Blues,” something we all have these days. It’s a good, solid, rocking rendition.

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. New Minglewood Blues
  2. Dire Wolf
  3. Cassidy
  4. Peggy-O
  5. El Paso
  6. Tennessee Jed
  7. Jack Straw
  8. Row Jimmy
  9. The Music Never Stopped 
Disc 2
  1. Bertha >
  2. Good Lovin’
  3. Ship Of Fools
  4. Samson And Delilah
Disc 3
  1. Terrapin Station >
  2. Drums >
  3. The Other One >
  4. Space >
  5. St. Stephen >
  6. Not Fade Away >
  7. Around And Around
  8. U.S. Blues
Dave’s Picks Volume 23 was limited to 16,500 copies.

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