Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks Volume 13” (2015) CD Review

For the last couple of years my friend Jon has been telling me how great the Dave’s Picks series is. You can pay for a year’s subscription in December, and then the discs arrive periodically throughout the following year. But I always find myself broke in December, so I kept putting it off. But this past December I received a subscription as a gift. And the first set has arrived. Dave’s Picks Volume 13 is a three-disc set of the show the Grateful Dead performed at Winterland on February 24, 1974. That was a great period for the band, with lots of jamming and some wonderful new material.

Disc One: First Set

The band kicks off the show with the always-fun “U.S. Blues” to get you dancing and on your blissful way. This was a new song at the time, and is just a great dose of rock and roll. And then Bob Weir keeps things moving with “Mexicali Blues.” The guitars seem a bit soft in the mix for a while, but it’s a decent rendition. The first set also includes a pretty sweet “Brown-Eyed Women” and a groovin’ high-energy “Beat It On Down The Line.” The band does a nice rendition of “Candyman,” particularly that guitar part four minutes in, which then leads to some sweet vocals. It’s that section that makes this a really good version. And it leads to fan-favorite “Jack Straw.”

One of the highlights of the first set is “China Cat Sunflower.” Listen to the crowd when they recognize those first notes. This is a really good version, with some interesting, unusual stuff during the jam, keeping the song rocking and surging forward. (And is that a bit of “Uncle John’s Band” I’m hearing?) The jam just gets better and better, and then we’re into “I Know You Rider.” Listen to Jerry belt out “I wish I was a headlight on a north-bound train.”

A wonderful “Loser” and then an eighteen-minute “Playing In The Band” round out the first set. “Playing” comes on strong, but it’s not long before they begin exploring, and we’re treated to a great jazzy jam (listen to Bill’s excellent jazz drumming), with lots of fantastic avenues and passages. And it turns pretty when they start to ease back to the main theme, but you know it’s about to burst open in a big way. And it does, with Donna’s scream.

Disc Two: Second Set (part one)

The second set starts off with a really good, fun version of “Cumberland Blues.” “It Must Have Been The Roses,” which follows, isn’t all that special. “Big River” features some nice work by Keith on piano, but it’s during “Bertha” that things really get cooking. This version had me dancing around my apartment, bumping into things and not caring. I love when they extend that ending part: “Anymore!” The band then plays some of its mellower, prettier material, including the full “Weather Report Suite” (the jam during that one gets a little wild), “Row Jimmy” and a really good, beautiful, moving “Ship Of Fools.” The second disc ends with Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land.”

Disc Three: Second Set (part two)

The third disc opens with a half-hour “Dark Star.” Yes, this is where things get really interesting. It has a fairly mellow beginning, as the band is getting a feel for the lay of the land, and not straying too far. But soon members begin pushing out farther, seeing what’s out there, then creating the landscape as they go. Sure, there are a few bumps and minor detours, but this is mainly a very solid jam. It’s nearly nineteen minutes in before Jerry begins singing the first verse. It’s interesting how pretty the song gets a moment after that first verse. It’s an unexpected direction, and it leads to a spacier realm before returning to a more solid jam. The band then slides into a beautiful and heartfelt rendition of “Morning Dew” (forgetting about the second verse of “Dark Star”). I especially love when the song becomes quiet and intimate and sad (around nine minutes in). This track is definitely one of the highlights of this show.

The band then returns to rock and roll with “Sugar Magnolia,” and it certainly feels like the end of the show, but the band then continues with “Not Fade Away” into an insanely energetic “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad” back into “Not Fade Away.” The encore is a good version of Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue."

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. U.S. Blues
  2. Mexicali Blues
  3. Brown-Eyed Women
  4. Beat It On Down The Line
  5. Candyman
  6. Jack Straw
  7. China Cat Sunflower >
  8. I Know You Rider
  9. El Paso
  10. Loser
  11. Playing In The Band 
Disc 2
  1. Cumberland Blues
  2. It Must Have Been The Roses
  3. Big River
  4. Bertha
  5. Weather Report Suite >
  6. Row Jimmy
  7. Ship Of Fools
  8. Promised Land
Disc 3
  1. Dark Star >
  2. Morning Dew
  3. Sugar Magnolia >
  4. Not Fade Away >
  5. Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad >
  6. Not Fade Away
  7. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue 
Dave’s Picks Volume 13 was released in early February, 2015 (my copy shipped on February 4th).

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