Friday, November 20, 2020

Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks Volume 36” (2020) CD Review

In 1987, the Grateful Dead had their big hit, “Touch Of Grey,” and suddenly pop music fans were aware of the band. This didn’t seem to have much of an effect on the way the Dead conducted things. They continued on just as they had. But it was weird to see music videos by the band playing on MTV. The album came out in the summer that year, but the songs on it had been in rotation at their concerts for several years. In March that year, during the spring tour, the Grateful Dead made a stop in Hartford, Connecticut. Dave’s Picks Volume 36 contains the two complete shows the Dead performed in that city, on March 26th and March 27th. Yes, it is something a bit different for Dave’s Picks. Usually, there is one complete show and possibly some filler on three disc. This one contains two complete shows on four discs.

Disc 1

The first disc contains the complete first set from March 26, 1987. And the show kicks off with a bang, a rocking rendition of “In The Midnight Hour.” You can hear how much the crowd is into it. The party is certainly underway. It’s not a long version, that’s for sure, but it’s a fun way to open the show. And I love the vocal play between Bob Weir and Brent Mydland. That’s followed by another crowd-pleaser, “Cold Rain And Snow.” The audience is present in the mix, by the way. Jerry Garcia really belts out the “chilly winds” line, getting a reaction, and from that moment until the end, the energy is seriously high. Two songs in, and the band is already cooking. Bob then leads the band in a groovy version of “C.C. Rider.” That reminds me of a tape I had, one of the first of my collection, that listed “CC Rider,” though what that person had meant was “China Cat Sunflower” into “I Know You Rider.” People had their own ways of labeling tapes. I personally didn’t abbreviate anything. Anyway, Brent delivers some nice work on keys on this version of “C.C. Rider,” and then the band jams on it. They follow that with a sweet rendition of “Row Jimmy,” featuring some wonderful work by Jerry on guitar. And that ending, oh yes!

We then get a couple of songs that would end up on In The Dark, though the first, “My Brother Esau,” was only included on the cassette version, not the CD. I always liked the line “Shadow boxing the apocalypse.” That’s a great image. The second is “When Push Comes To Shove,” and this is a fun, bouncy version. I’m digging this song more now than I never did back in the day. Bob follows that with Dylan’s “Desolation Row.” The line “The circus is in town” gets an appreciative, playful reaction from the crowd. Yeah, that’s how it was. We all knew how things seemed, and it was like a circus. This is a really good “Desolation Row,” mostly because of the way Bob tackles it vocally, and it leads straight into “Bird Song.” This is a strong version right from the start, with the passion in Jerry’s voice setting the tone. But it is the jam that is really special here, taking the song and us to some completely wonderful and surprising places. This is a fantastic version, one of the best I’ve heard. The band then wraps up the first set with “Promised Land,” rocking everybody once more before the set break.

Disc 2

The second disc contains the complete second set and encore from March 26th. The band starts the second set off with “China Cat Sunflower” into “I Know You Rider” (hey, another “CC Rider”). Yes, the band comes out of the set break ready to fly, for this is a damn good rendition of “China Cat,” moving with both power and joy, and the audience is totally on board. It slides right into “I Know You Rider,” with the crowd clapping along. I love how Bob belts out the line about the sun shining in his back door. And then, holy moly, Jerry tops him on the “headlight” line. What a great moment. Bob then eases into a pretty rendition of “Looks Like Rain” that has its own power, particularly as it reaches its climax. That’s followed by a cheerful version of “He’s Gone.” Jerry sings, “Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile,” and I am doing nothing else throughout the entire song. So good! I love the vocal section toward the end, and when Jerry starts belting out the lines, could life be any better?

“He’s Gone” leads into “Drums,” which begins with a good steady pounding beat, something to keep your feet moving. And Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart keep that energy rolling along for several minutes. Then that thumping begins rattling your rib cage as well as your legs, and you know you’re into it now. There is not a clear line between “Drums” and “Space” at the show, with the drums continuing to pound partway into “Space.” “Space” gets interesting at times, particularly in those surprisingly mournful moments. And what is Phil Lesh doing? Holy moly! “Space” leads into “I Need A Miracle,” taking that thumping energy into it. The band then eases into “Black Peter.” This song sometimes hits me harder than other times, and now those lines where Peter says he wants “a friend or two I love at hand” for his death are more heartbreaking than usual, what with the pandemic causing people to die without their families being allowed near them. And this is a pretty good rendition. Listen to the way Jerry delivers the line “That a man can be as poor as me.” “Black Peter” leads straight into “Around And Around,” and the band is not done rocking, for they then go right into “Good Lovin’” to keep everyone up and shaking. The encore is “The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo).” “Everybody’s in despair/Every girl and boy/But when Quinn the eskimo gets here/Everybody’s gonna jump for joy.”

Disc 3

The third disc contains the complete first set from March 27, 1987, and the first three songs of the second set. As with the previous night, this show gets off to a good start with a rock song, this time “Alabama Getaway.” I love it when the band is in gear right from the moment they hit the stage. Jerry has some fiery energy, and Brent is rocking the keys. And when you think the song might be ending, instead they take it up another notch. And it leads straight into “Greatest Story Ever Told,” keeping the energy high, a Friday night energy. They follow that with “West L.A. Fadeaway,” another of the songs that would be included on In The Dark. This version has a good groove, and Jerry tears into it vocally. The band then gets into the blues with “Little Red Rooster,” and from the moment it starts you just get the sense it’s going to be a good rendition. The groove is mean and delicious, and you can feel the heat behind it. And then, bam, approximately four minutes into it, Brent explodes on keys, which is probably what we were all expecting, and the rest of the band has to respond in kind. This is certainly a highlight of the first set.

Jerry then leads the band into a strong version of “Brown-Eyed Women.” This one has a little more power than usual, and the crowd reacts to it. It seems everything the band is doing in this first set has an extra kick to it, you know? That’s followed by “Beat It On Down The Line,” with a whopping twenty-seven-beat intro for those who care about such things. And with that kind of start, you know this version is going to have a little extra energy. Then, to keep everyone on the edge of total bliss, the band goes into “Tennessee Jed.” Oh yes, everything is as close to perfect as we can get on this silly little planet, a phenomenal rendition. If you don’t find yourself dancing to this one, well, hell, I don’t know what to say. See a doctor, I guess. Maybe a psychiatrist. So how do you wrap up a set that’s this good, that has this kind of energy, that has everyone dancing? With “The Music Never Stopped,” of course. The audience is clapping along at the start, long before Bob sings, “Come on children, come on children/Come on, clap your hands.” What a fantastic first set, and yet the real magic is still to come.

The second set opens with what is widely considered to be the best version of “Touch Of Grey” ever played. And, yeah, it lives up to the hype. There is a tremendous joy to it almost from the moment it starts, certainly from the moment Jerry starts singing. You can feel the entire venue start to lift off the ground. Wow. Then they go from lifting the building up to tearing it down, following “Touch Of Grey” with “Samson And Delilah,” which begins with a great extended drum section, just to get everyone on the same page, you understand. The energy remains strong as the band drives its way through this one. They follow that with a bouncy “Cumberland Blues” that moves at a great pace. Holy moly, the band is seriously cooking now. I love the way they deliver the line “You kept me up ‘til four.” It has a slightly different feel than usual. And this version features some really cool stuff on guitar.

Disc 4

The fourth disc contains the rest of the show from March 27th. It opens with “Estimated Prophet” into “Eyes Of The World,” probably my favorite pairing of songs in the band’s repertoire. In “Estimated,” the energy gets high around the time Bob sings “I’ll call down thunder and speak the same.” And from there, it just takes off, particularly during that jam. The transition here isn’t as smooth as some versions I’ve heard, but “Eyes” quickly gets going, moving at a fast pace. The band is clearly operating on some higher gear at this show. It’s not the best “Eyes” the band ever did, but the joy is there, particularly in the playing, and it should keep you on your feet, and the jam after the last verse features some truly wonderful stuff by Jerry on guitar. I wish that jam went on a little longer. It gives way to “Drums” prematurely, but this is a seriously fun “Drums.” At one point they do a little “Not Fade Away” beat, and the audience immediately reacts and starts clapping along. “Space” follows, and has some interesting moments. I like when “Space” finds an area or theme to explore, and that happens here. And to then lead into “Uncle John’s Band,” well, that seems the perfect choice. So much joy and excitement to this show. “I can hear your voice,” indeed! The jam has more power than usual. And when the band segues into “Morning Dew,” the crowd erupts. Yes, after all that joy, the band gets serious with “Morning Dew,” a song about two people after nuclear war. The power is there, of course, but now it has a harder, more mournful edge, and Jerry delivers, both vocally and on guitar. You can tell he is completely going for it. There are some stunning moments here. This is a fantastic ending to a seriously enjoyable second set. The band then chooses to rock the audience once more with a spirited rendition of “Johnny B. Goode” for the encore. I especially love Brent’s work on keys. From beginning to end, this is a really good show, certainly one of the best of the 1980s.

CD Track List

Disc 1

  1. In The Midnight Hour
  2. Cold Rain And Snow
  3. C.C. Rider
  4. Row Jimmy
  5. My Brother Esau
  6. When Push Comes To Shove
  7. Desolation Row >
  8. Bird Song
  9. Promised Land

Disc 2

  1. China Cat Sunflower >
  2. I Know You Rider
  3. Looks Like Rain
  4. He’s Gone >
  5. Drums >
  6. Space >
  7. I Need A Miracle >
  8. Black Peter >
  9. Around And Around >
  10. Good Lovin’
  11. The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo)

Disc 3

  1. Alabama Getaway >
  2. Greatest Story Ever Told
  3. West L.A. Fadeaway
  4. Little Red Rooster
  5. Brown-Eyed Women
  6. Beat It On Down The Line
  7. Tennessee Jed
  8. The Music Never Stopped
  9. Touch Of Grey >
  10. Samson And Delilah >
  11. Cumberland Blues

Disc 4

  1. Estimated Prophet >
  2. Eyes Of The World >
  3. Drums >
  4. Space >
  5. Uncle John’s Band >
  6. Morning Dew
  7. Johnny B. Goode

Dave’s Picks Volume 36 was released in early November, 2020. My copy arrived on November 6th. This four-disc set is limited to 22,000 copies.

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