Sunday, April 29, 2018

Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks Volume 26” (2018) CD Review

Dave’s Picks Volume 26 contains the complete show the Grateful Dead performed at Albuquerque Civic Auditorium in Albuquerque, New Mexico on November 17, 1971, plus approximately half the show from December 14, 1971 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. These shows weren’t long after Keith Godchaux had joined the band, due to Pigpen’s health problems (Pigpen is not present for November 17, but is with the band for the December 14 show), and before his wife Donna Jean Godchaux joined. Also, Mickey Hart had left the band earlier in the year, after his father had embezzled a good deal of money from the band. And during this time, the Dead were adding several new songs to their repertoire. So it’s an interesting time. But what makes this release good is, of course, the music. There isn’t a whole lot of jamming on these discs (a quick look at the number of songs on each disc will tell you that), but there is certainly a lot of energy and a lot of joy. This is a three-disc set; but for those of us who placed an order for the entire year’s selections, this release came with a bonus disc. More on that later.

Disc 1

The band is going strong right out of the gate, opening with “Truckin’,” that good groove getting folks dancing, no doubt. It’s not a particularly long version, but there is still some good jamming at the end. That’s followed by “Sugaree,” which includes a false start. The band jokes “These things take time, you know,” adding “We’re new here.” A playful reference to the fact that this was the band’s first show in New Mexico? It’s a really good “Sugaree.” The band then does “Beat It On Down The Line.” They joke about how many beats they’ll use to open it (“A bunch”). They end up choosing thirteen, in case you’re wondering. This tune moves at a good pace, with plenty of energy. And the band wastes no time, getting right to a wonderful “Tennessee Jed,” keeping things moving. “Drink all day and rock all night.” Oh yes. (I’m enjoying a Guinness from one of the Grateful Dead Dave’s Picks glasses my mom sent to me a while back.) Bob follows that with “El Paso.” I love what Keith is doing on keys here. Bob forgets the lyrics for a moment toward the end, but it’s still a damn good version. This is a fairly hopping first set, and Jerry next chooses “Big Railroad Blues.” That’s followed by a sweet “Jack Straw.” I love how Jerry rips into those closing lines of “Deal,” raising the energy there.

This version of “Playing In The Band” is short, as it wasn’t yet that great beast it would soon become. Rather than a vehicle for exploration, what we get here is a fairly tight rockin’ number, but certainly with some hints of what could be done with the song. We then get a very fun rendition of “Cumberland Blues,” followed by a really nice “Me And Bobby McGee.” Jerry then delivers an absolutely wonderful take on the country number “You Win Again.” Listen to what he does vocally here. Man, he’s really into it, and the results are excellent, making this song a surprising highlight of the first set. Bob follows that with “Mexicali Blues,” and then the band concludes the first disc with a rousing version of “Casey Jones.”

Disc 2

The second disc opens with “One More Saturday Night.” Bob momentarily forgets the lyrics, but it’s still a fun version. This song finishes the first set, and the sound fades out after it. The second set opens with “Ramble On Rose,” with more nice work on piano by Keith. That’s followed by the crowd-pleasing “Sugar Magnolia,” which has a whole lot of energy. While they’re tuning, we hear hints of “Cryptical Envelopment,” and the band soon goes into it. This is really the first trippy song of the show. That leads to a drum solo by Bill, with a steady thumping at a certain point. And then “The Other One” comes roaring in. This is when things start to get interesting. This is one of my favorite songs, because it was always exciting, the band approaching it differently every time, forever trying to get it under control. Here they distract it, attacking it from two angles, one hand gentle, the other suddenly forceful. At one point, they soothe it, with gentle, quiet strokes, mesmerizing the beast, hypnotizing it. Then when they’ve got it, they ride that monster, seeing what they can make it do. (Are there hints of “Uncle John’s Band” at one point, just very briefly, or am I mad?) And only then does the band return to the familiar main line of the song and go into the first verse. Then the band abandons it altogether, at least for a time, and slides into “Me And My Uncle.” But immediately upon ending that tune, the band returns to “The Other One,” strange territory, finding the right moment to pounce again. And when they do, bang, Bob delivers the second verse. And when you might expect them to return to “Cryptical,” instead Jerry leads the band into “Wharf Rat.” It’s a powerful version, the lyrics delivered with passion. The band then concludes the second set with “Not Fade Away” into “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad” back into “Not Fade Away.” There is some excellent stuff here, particularly in those moments before “Not Fade Away” segues into “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad.” And then check out the energy in “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad.” Fantastic! And that’s how the show ends. No encore? None needed. (Though I should point out that some sites online list “Ramble On Rose” as the encore, rather than as the second set opener.)

Disc 3

The third disc is what we used to call “filler.” It is a good chunk of the show from December 14, 1971 (approximately seventy-nine minutes, actually), this one with Pigpen back in the lineup. The songs are not completely in order. As Dave Lemieux explained in his recent video about this release, they had to change the order of songs because the bonus disc couldn’t contain any covers. The bonus disc also contains music from this show. Put together, these two discs contain almost the entire show (I think only one song is missing), but you have to go back and forth between discs. Anyway, this third disc opens with the beginning of the first set. This set begins the same way the show from November 17 did, with “Truckin’” and then “Sugaree.” But right away you can hear a big difference, and that’s the presence of Pigpen on organ. Bobby flubs the lyrics at one point, but no matter. The energy is high. A good “Sugaree” is followed by “Mister Charlie,” with Pigpen taking his first turn of the night at lead vocals. Just three beats begin this version of “Beat It On Down The Line,” and it’s another fun rendition. Jerry then mellows things out a bit with “Loser.” This is when Jerry still sang the “Sweet Susie” part of that line.

After “Loser,” you have to switch to the bonus disc for a song, then come back for “Next Time You See Me.” Pigpen delivers some good work on harmonica. Again, you have to go to the bonus disc for a song, and then come back to this one for “El Paso.” That’s followed by “Big Railroad Blues.” Yeah, this show has a lot of song choices in common with the main show of this release. But it’s all right, as the playing is so good. The band is clearly having a good time, as is the audience. “Me And My Uncle” follows, and then Pigpen delivers the rock ‘n’ roll holiday classic, “Run Rudolph Run.” This was a song the band played only that month. This disc then jumps to partway through the second set for “Big Boss Man.” The disc then goes to the end of the second set for “You Win Again” (after some playful tuning), and then “Not Fade Away” into “Goin’ Down The Road Feeing Bad” back into “Not Fade Away.” This is another delightful rendition of “You Win Again,” with some wonderful stuff on piano. The “Not Fade Away” jam gets interesting, and “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad” rocks. (By the way, I plan on reviewing the bonus disc separately, since not everyone who purchased this set received that disc.)

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Truckin’
  2. Sugaree
  3. Beat It On Down The Line
  4. Tennessee Jed
  5. El Paso
  6. Big Railroad Blues
  7. Jack Straw
  8. Deal
  9. Playing In The Band
  10. Cumberland Blues
  11. Me And Bobby McGee
  12. You Win Again
  13. Mexicali Blues
  14. Casey Jones
 Disc 2
  1. One More Saturday Night
  2. Ramble On Rose
  3. Sugar Magnolia
  4. Cryptical Envelopment >
  5. Drums >
  6. The Other One >
  7. Me And My Uncle >
  8. The Other One >
  9. Wharf Rat
  10. Not Fade Away >
  11. Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad >
  12. Not Fade Away
 Disc 3
  1. Truckin’
  2. Sugaree
  3. Mr. Charlie
  4. Beat It On Down The Line
  5. Loser
  6. Next Time You See Me
  7. El Paso
  8. Big Railroad Blues
  9. Me And My Uncle
  10. Run Rudolph Run
  11. Big Boss Man
  12. You Win Again
  13. Not Fade Away >
  14. Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad >
  15. Not Fade Away 
Dave’s Picks Volume 26 was released in late April, 2018. My copy arrived on April 27th. This release was limited to 18,000 copies.

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