Dick knew how to pick ‘em. The thirty-six volumes of the Dick’s Picks Series blesses us with a wide array of Grateful Dead magnificence from every era. Much of the mind-blowing music that I return to time and time again comes from this series. Dick's Picks reaffirmed great performances I already knew, and I discovered many masterpieces for the first time thanks to Latvala’s ear for extraordinary jams. In my latest book, Deadology Volume II: The Evolution of 33 Grateful Dead Jam Anthems, I write about 279 sublime jams. Forty-one of these performances come from this series. Here are my ten favorite Dick’s Pick’s, listed in the order they were released:
Volume 2: 10-31-71 This single CD is my favorite official Grateful Dead release. It’s a snapshot of high-octane Dead, a perfect second set. The set kicks off with a rapturous twenty-three-minute presentation of Dark Star. It’s as graceful and focused as a Dark Star can be without losing any X factor before it flows into Sugar Magnolia. All four songs of the ensuing segment, St. Stephen > Not Fade Away > Goin’ Down the Road Feelin Bad > Not Fade Away, are feature in Deadology Volume II. Playing it passionately for Columbus, Ohio, this was the Dead’s last performance of St. Stephen for five years. The NFA > GDTRFB > NFA is the ultimate Grateful Dead rock and roll masterpiece. The segues are sublime, and the NFA reprise is a sonic cyclone. This Halloween affair is all treats.
Volume 4: Jaw-dropping Primal Dead. The third set of 2-13-70, Dark Star, That’s It for the Other One, Turn on Your Lovelight looms enormous, the Mt. Rushmore of Dead folklore. All three made the cut for Deadology Volume II. Around this trifecta we get ripping raw performances of Not Fade Away and Dancin’ in the Streets. New numbers like Casey Jones, High Time, and the rarely played Mason’s Children, shake hands with the past, Alligator and Caution. There were many sensational shows at the Fillmore East, but 2-13 + 14 reign supreme.
Volume 8: Binghamton was a Grateful Dead stronghold, and it began on May2, 1970 at Harpur College. Disc one is a stunning acoustic set, and then the Dead plug-in and kick ass as they take names. How’s this for five cover tunes in a row: Good Lovin’, It’s a Man’s World, Dancin’ in the Streets, Morning Dew, Viola Lee Blues. I delve into Dancin’, Dew, and Viola in Deadology II.
Volume 15: This was my first Grateful Dead tape. The Englishtown (9-3-77) Mississippi Half-Step and Eyes of the World changed my perception of music. I instantly understood why Garcia was worshipped, and why people would give up just about anything to follow this band around. On a big stage in front of 150,000, the Dead conquered. This Dick’ Pick contains outstanding versions of Peggy O, Not Fade Away, and Truckin’ served with a Terrapin Station encore. Half-Step and Truckin’ appear in Deadology II.
Volume 18: The genius of Mr. Latvala. He had the ability to pair kindred shows for fabulous releases. The Music Never Stopped and Estimated > Eyes from Madison (2-3-78) are fabulous and can hang with the best versions of ’77. These shows have that muscular luster typical of ‘77 but they lack the creative set list design of the best from that year. The Dead always shred in Iowa. On 2-5-78 in Cedar Rapids, the band bombards Iowa from the start of set two with Samson, Scarlet > Fire. A concise yet furious Other One follows Drums. All four Cedar Rapids performances are included in Deadology II.
Volume 19: Oklahoma City was blessed with a monumental concert on 10-19-73. They Love Each Other and a bombastic Playin’ in the Band are the stars of the opening set. The band was feelin extra groovy during a classic 73 China Cat to open set two. The Dark Star > Morning Dew, Sugar Magnolia conclusion was outrageous. The encore could almost be considered a third set: Eyes of the World > Stella Blue, Johnny B. Goode. The 10-19-73 Playin’ found its way into Deadology II.
Volume 29: The Dead combine performance brilliance and architectural genius during this iconic show in the fabulous Fox Theatre on 5-19-77. The synchronistic power of this Sugaree has had Deadheads shaking in their boots since that night. There’s much to praise here, but the Playing > Uncle John’s reprise > UJB is an all-time transcendent moment. Sugaree and Uncle John’s Band are at the top of the heap in Deadology 2.
Volume 31: Once again, Mr. Latvala fuses an amazing release from shows on successive nights. This time it's August 1974. One can argue that the 8-6-74 Roosevelt Stadium show would have been a monster release on its own. Anyway, this Dick’s Picks is magical. The 8-6-74 Eyes of the World ranks as one of the great live performances in the history of Western Civilization. Obviously, that made Deadology II, as well as the Playin’ > Scarlet > Playin, Uncle John’s Band, and Cat > Rider.
Volume 32: This is my favorite Dicks Picks from the ‘80s. Alpine Valley 8-7-82 was my tenth Dead show, and the first time I made a cross country trip to see the band. The Boys greeted me with a never-before played sandwich of my favorite songs at the time: Music > Sugaree > Music. They also broke at the Dew towards the end of set two. But the real deal of this show is the best Let it Grow you’ll ever hear, and superb renditions of Playin and Cat > Rider which are also in Deadology 2. Also, lookout for On the Road Again, Althea, and a turbo-charged 1 More Sat Night.
Volume 36: Here we get one of the all-time great shows in The Spectrum on 9-21-72. The Dead let it all hang down for the City of Brotherly Love. After a monster presentation of Dark Star > Dew, the band plays four standalone gems before closing with NFA > GDTRFB > NFA. Closing out the fourth disc is an outstanding He’s Gone > Other One > Wharf Rat segment from 9-3-72 Boulder. Dark Star > Dew, Mississippi Half Step, and The Other One were inducted into the Deadology Jam Anthem Hall of Fame.
Other outstanding performances from the Dick’s Picks series in Deadology Volume II:
Volume 5 (12-26-79): Uncle John’s Band, Estimated Prophet
Volume 6 (10-14-83) Scarlet > Fire, Eyes of the World
Volume 7 (9-10-74) Morning Dew
Volume 11 (9-27-72) Cumberland Blues, Uncle John’s Band
Volume 12 (6-26-74) China Cat > Rider, Spanish Jam
Volume 13 (5-6-81) Caution > Spanish Jam
Volume 21 (9-2-80) Morning Dew
Volume 23 (9-17-72) The Other One
Volume 33 (10-9-76) Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Drums > Samson > Slipknot > Franklin’s
Volume 34 (11-5-77) Mississippi Half Step