Thursday, October 25, 2018

Grateful Dead: “Pacific Northwest ’73 – ’74: The Complete Recordings” (2018) CD Review Part 2

Pacific Northwest ’73 – ’74: The Complete Recordings, the latest Grateful Dead box set, contains six complete concerts from two of the band’s best years, 1973 and 1974. I broke my review into two parts, with Part 1 covering the three 1973 concerts from Vancouver, Portland and Seattle. The next year, the Grateful Dead hit the same cities in the same order, trying to tap into the magic once again. The band had some new material, songs that would be included on From The Mars Hotel, including “Money Money,” which was played only three times. And guess what? The three 1974 shows included in this box set are those three shows.


The band begins the Vancouver show with Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land,” and there are sound problems galore, with the sound completely cutting out at times. Basically, the sound is terrible. They follow that with “Deal” and then “The Race Is On,” the latter having a kind of sweet sound, in part because of Donna’s harmonies. It’s a good, cheerful rendition, and Jerry then leads the band in a version of “Ramble On Rose” that has a good vibe about it, if perhaps just a bit messy. The positive, easygoing feel continues with “Jack Straw.” More tuning then leads into a gentle, slightly slow version of “Dire Wolf.” “Relax, folks, everything is going to be all right,” we’re told before the band launches into a fun “Beat It On Down The Line” (six beats to start it), with some cool work by Keith on keys. Things get even more fun with “Loose Lucy.” Jerry forgets the lyrics for a moment, but it’s a damn good version with a groove to get you to boogie around your home, for me one of the first set highlights. A breezy “Big River” follows, turning into a high-energy rockin’ number. Jerry then delivers a pretty rendition of “It Must Have Been The Roses,” his voice sounding so good. Bob then gets things moving again with “Mexicali Blues,” and the disc concludes with “Row Jimmy.”

The twelfth disc of the box set opens with the last song of the first set, “Playing In The Band.” And it’s a good one. The energy is high right from the start, and listen to Donna’s scream early on. But of course it’s the jam that makes this rendition one of the show’s highlights. The band seems completely on, and things flow really well. I love the jazzy feel, the great groove. Then it takes a turn toward the strange, and that’s, of course, when it gets interesting, and darker. At one point, there is a rumble that I can feel throughout my body. This “Playing” goes into some new territory. The second set then gets off to a fun start with “U.S. Blues,” which was sort of new at the time, having recently been reworked from an earlier version titled “Wave That Flag.” They follow that with “Me And My Uncle” and then “Ship Of Fools,” which has some moments of real beauty toward the end. We then get the first “Money Money,” a song the band played only three times. Sure, it’s far from the best Dead song, but it’s cool to have these recordings. The Dead follow that with a crowd favorite, “China Cat Sunflower.” And this is a seriously good version, with a perfect transition into “I Know You Rider.”

The next disc picks up with “Greatest Story Ever Told” and then “Sugaree,” with Jerry’s voice sounding so smooth at times. It’s a decent version, nothing outstanding. But then “Truckin’” really gets things going. There is an issue with Bob’s microphone early on. Or did he really forget that many lines? No matter, really, as this version is still a lot of fun, and it features a good jam at the end, which leads seamlessly into “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” From there, “Eyes Of The World” emerges, approaching like a good friend from the distance. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but this song never fails to make me happy and it never fails to get me dancing. I love the way Jerry’s guitar dances at times in this version. And after the last verse, Phil’s groovy bass line is prominent. The jam here makes this a fantastic rendition, and it does include that cool section near the end. I’m wondering now just when the band dropped it. It was sometime in 1974, right? Anyway, “Eyes” is for me the highlight of the disc, and as it ends, “China Doll” quietly begins. This is an interesting and pretty version of “China Doll,” and the harmony vocals are quite moving. The second set then ends with “Sugar Magnolia,” and actually that’s the end of the show. No encore? Apparently not.


The first set of the Portland show begins with a nice rendition of “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo.” The Grateful Dead usually played good shows in Oregon, for whatever reason (I saw my final Grateful Dead show in Portland), and this one is off to an excellent start. The only thing marring this version is that Bill’s kick drum seems a bit too prominent in the mix on the “Across the lazy river” part near the end. That’s followed by “Mexicali Blues.” Then you can hear folks shouting out requests, which of course are ignored. Jerry chooses “Big Railroad Blues,” and this version moves along, with a classic rock and roll element at times. And Jerry delivers an excited and exciting vocal performance. Bob then relaxes things a bit with a strong rendition of “Black-Throated Wind.” “I’m going back home, that’s what I’m going to do.” That’s followed by the always-enjoyable “Scarlet Begonias.” The song was still new at this point, but the band feels totally in command of the magic of the song. And holy moly, Donna really goes all out as the band gets into the jam. The jam, however, is the briefest I think I’ve ever heard for this song. “Beat It On Down The Line” (five beats to start it) is a lot of fun, with some nice work on keys. It feels like the band is pumping a whole lot of energy and joy into this version. That’s followed by an excellent “Tennessee Jed.” “Drink all day and rock all night.” And there is something about the way Jerry delivers the lines about the dog, right? There is also some wonderful stuff on guitar. This is a fantastic version from beginning to end, one of the first set highlights for me. Then we get a sweet, mellow “Me And Bobby McGee” and a nice “Sugaree.” Jerry’s vocals seem to disappear from the mix toward the end. The vocals are low in the mix for “Jack Straw” too, and for “It Must Have Been The Roses” and “El Paso.” What gives? It’s seriously annoying. Well, if you’re looking basically for an instrumental rendition of “El Paso,” here it is. The vocals must have been in the house, because the crowd is enthusiastic. The book that is included with this box set makes no mention of this problem. If this were a volume of Dick’s Picks or Dave’s Picks, there would be a caveat. Well, the vocals are back for “Loose Lucy.” The disc then concludes with “Money Money,” the second and penultimate time it was played.

The fifteenth disc begins with the last couple of songs from the first set – “China Cat Sunflower” into “I Know You Rider.” This is an interesting, if somewhat relaxed “China Cat.” The jam certainly picks up some energy, and there is some wonderful play between Jerry and Bob. Then the song flows easily into “I Know You Rider,” which develops an energy of its own. A nice ending to the first set. The second set then gets underway with Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land,” Bob delivering a good version of this classic rock and roll tune. It leads directly into “Bertha,” to keep folks grooving. That has a strong finish, then the band blasts into “Greatest Story Ever Told.” Yeah, the beginning of the second set is all about rocking tunes, and Bob is nearly shouting some of the lines of this song. Donna’s shout a little later catches me by surprise, but this version is fiery and wonderful. There is a pause then before the band begins “Ship Of Fools,” slowing things down a bit. This is an effective, compelling rendition. Bob follows that with the complete “Weather Report Suite,” which begins gently, prettily, lovingly, as if to take us in its arms and assure us things will be okay. Then the “Let It Grow” section builds into something powerful, and the jam that follows has a good jazzy groove. It then ends gently, easing into “Wharf Rat,” a song that always works for me. This version is particularly excellent, with perfect peaks. Wonderful stuff here. And the band gives us a little pause then before starting a bouncy “Big River,” which really rocks during the jam. The disc then concludes with a sweet version of “Peggy-O.” I absolutely love this rendition. It is so gentle, almost delicate at times, the way Jerry sings it. After some playful tuning, Bob tells the crowd they’re having some technical difficulties, and that’s how the disc ends.

The sixteenth disc kicks off with a rousing rendition of “Truckin’,” with the jam continuing to rock. Interestingly, as the jam takes a turn, it becomes a separate track, simply labeled “Jam.” And what a jam! The band is on, completely on the same page, working by intuition or magic or whatever it is these guys were able to tap into. Certainly this section is one of the highlights of the show, and the jam contains some cool, unexpected changes and turns. And eventually “Not Fade Away” emerges. The transition from “Not Fade Away” to “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad” is really smooth, and this song has such a happy vibe about it. It’s a good, fun version. The second set then concludes with “One More Saturday Night.” The encore is “U.S. Blues.” Oh yes, we all have the United States blues these days, but this rockin’ version must have left the crowd that night happy.


The Seattle show is known for its epic version of “Playing In The Band,” and in fact that one song will get its own vinyl release in November as part of Record Store Day. But this show contains a lot of great music. The first set opens with “Me And My Uncle,” which has some sound troubles, certain instruments dropping out of the mix at moment. But things seem to be mostly straightened out in time for “Brown-Eyed Women,” and everything is starting to click. “Beat It On Down The Line” follows (seven beats to start it), and the energy is high, the tune pumping along. “Deal” then seems to get off to a slow start, but then develops some of the energy the song is known for. Bob keeps things moving with “Mexicali Blues,” a version that seems to rock more than usual. It has a more intense feeling of urgency. Jerry then delivers a pretty version of “It Must Have Been The Roses,” and Bob follows it with a fun rendition of “The Race Is On,” featuring some nice work by Keith on keys. “Scarlet Begonias” might have just a bit of a sloppy start, but it isn’t long before this version begins to seriously cook and become a highlight of the first set. That’s followed by a good “El Paso.” Then Jerry mellows things out with a sweet “Row Jimmy,” his guitar sounding at moments like a gorgeous whale song. We then get the band’s third and final performance of “Money Money.” The disc concludes with a beautiful “Ship Of Fools.”

The next disc opens with an excellent and moving version of “Weather Report Suite,” with the hopeful promise “We’ll see summer come again.” The “Let It Grow” section is powerful, with some excellent work on guitar. Certainly this is another highlight of the first set. It builds and pulses and moves, and feels like it should be the end of the set. But the band eases into another seriously good “China Doll,” with moments of beauty, and that is the end of the first set. There is a slight pause before Bob announces the break, so maybe there was some consideration of playing another, perhaps more upbeat number to end the set. Well, no matter, as the second set kicks off with that epic “Playing In The Band.” At nearly forty-seven minutes, this is the longest version of the song the band ever played, and it is absolutely fantastic. It comes on strong out of the gate, and the jam at first carries on that kind of vibe, with the whole band moving forward, racing out toward the outer edges, where the real exploration can begin. Jerry offers some surprising and wonderful stuff on guitar, and it’s soon after that that the band enters that glorious space where they seem to thrive, gaining ideas from the cosmos and transmitting them to us. Frightening at times, coming at us with a supernatural force that the band can hardly contain. Perhaps it is with some relief that they latch onto a groove to pull us through, which continues below those heavy blasts. No, we’re not out of the unfamiliar territory yet, not by a long shot. It seems that Phil is determined to bust through, to create a hole and drive us all through, to open up into a completely different realm, from which we may never return. But if we’re to go there, perhaps it will be on the wild wave of an intense groove, to help minimize the damage. You just have to hear this track, you have to take the journey. And don’t worry – there are quiet places within, like resting spots, places you can use to catch your breath before plunging back into the whirling forces. And then Donna’s scream leads us back to Earth. The band follows that with a rockin’ “U.S. Blues,” which concludes the disc.

The final disc of the box set opens with an energetic “Big River,” moving like a train. Jerry then delivers a beautiful, touching rendition of “Stella Blue,” one of my favorite Grateful Dead songs, and another of the show’s highlights. “Around And Around” follows and it begins quietly, like it’s crouching, reading to jump out to surprise you. And indeed, the song doesn’t stay quiet for long, though it does retain something of a relaxed feel, at least for a bit. Then Bob starts ripping into it vocally, and the song is taken to a different level. That’s followed by “Eyes Of The World,” yet another highlight, with that delicious groove and a nice long jam at the end (not as long as “Playing In The Band,” of course). “Eyes” leads directly to a really good version of “Wharf Rat.” I love how quiet it gets, giving it a lot of room to then explode. Wonderful! And the transition into “Sugar Magnolia” is done well. “Sugar Magnolia” is fun, with a lot of energy, and it closes the second set. They wish the crowd a good night, but then play the encore of “Johnny B. Goode” to send the audience out happy. This time when they say “Good night,” they mean it.

Pacific Northwest ’73 – ’74: The Complete Recordings was released on September 7, 2018. It is an individually numbered, limited edition of 15,000. The Portland 1974 show was also released separately as a 6-LP set.


  1. Hey man, nice review, there are hardly any others out there on the net. I totally agree with you about Eyes of the world, I think my favourite version is from Road Trips 4 5 Boston, I know that may be heresay amongst Dead heads but it's got everything and vocally they were a lot tighter in 76. Here's hoping for a Port Chester 71 box! Peace love and Polish crisps, Mitch

    1. Thank you so much. I appreciate that. And, yes, a Port Chester '71 box would be fantastic! By the way, I do love that Boston "Eyes Of The World," and mentioned it in my review of that Road Trips release: