Sunday, August 16, 2020

Dick's Picks: Top Ten Tribute


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 


                                                    DEADOLOGY VOLUME II




Friday, August 7, 2020

8-7-82 LET IT GROW


Thirty-eight years ago today, I witnessed a remarkable show in Alpine Valley. This was my first major road trip to see the Dead (eighteen-hour drive). My heroes greeted me with an unprecedented opener, Music Never Stopped > Sugaree > Music Never Stopped. Those were two of my three favorite songs. Towards the end of set two I was rewarded with my other favorite, Morning Dew. However, the real stars of this show were the greatest Let it Grow known to man, and meaty versions of Cat > Rider and Playin’. These performances are featured in my new book, DeadologyVolume II: The Evolution of 33 Grateful Dead Jam Anthems.



8-7-82 Alpine Valley Music Theatre, East Troy, WI: Alpine Valley sounds like the type of place where the Grateful Dead would rip a memorable “Let it Grow,” and Deadheads reaped a bountiful harvest on 8-7-82. From the opening riffs to the final chord, this is as perfect as live improvisation gets. Weir’s on top of his game singing with conviction and Brent is a major improvement over Donna on background vocals, especially during “Let it Grow.” In 1982 the Dead tended to play cocaine crisp, and this hyped rendition is the best of that milieu. The between-verse solo is streamlined virtuosity that carries on after Weir howls, “Seasons round, creatures great and small, up and down, as we rise and fall.”

            The life sustaining joys of planting, plowing, and harvesting surge through glistening sonic streams—photosynthesis at the speed of sound. The scary thing about this alpha jam is the smoothness of the segues. The machine plows effortlessly. Phase two takes flight. Crops take heed! The temperature and intensity of the rhapsody is on the rise.

            Moving into phase three is a cross between ecstasy and a nightmare. Bob’s orchestrating, and Brent’s pounding the fertile fields. It’s all silky smooth. Garcia’s guitar overboils, and Brent’s there to pound out the warning on his keys. Alpine Valley, beware! Here comes the Great Garcia with a climactic run, wrapping it up with a bold lightning strike run. The boys stick a perfect landing as they ease back into the melody line. All the crops of Alpine Valley stand proud and tall. 

            The focus is uncanny as Weir leads his mates through the chorus reprise, and Garcia blazes from the last sung words,” Listen to the thunder shout I am, I am, Iam…I am!” The jam is astounding without overstaying its purpose. There’s not a sour note anywhere in this performance. They duck back into the final melody line as Garcia and Weir’s guitars sigh in unison. Garcia approaches the last chord by striking each string individually, and then he digs in for the mother of all final chords—one gorgeous strike packed with fertile heart and soul. Let it Grow indeed! 




8-7-82 Alpine Valley Music Theatre, East Troy, WI: On a beautiful summer’s eve in the Midwest, set two opens with the confident “China Cat” strut—Jerry’s thick opening riffs cushioned by organ mounds of Brent sound. Second set “Cats” from this era have a patient vibe, it’s the start of an adventure as opposed to a closing statement when it was played at the end of set one. Jerry’s line of attack is focused. Expressive and focused leads pour from his Tiger into the Alpine Valley night. This version is technically perfect, one of several fine performances from this show which is immortalized on Volume 32 of the Dick’s Picks series. The extra-curricular activity makes this a standout Cat > Rider. The band is slowly heading toward “Rider,” but Jerry is having “Cat” flashbacks. We must be in segue paradise—the Dead are playing both songs at the same time. “Rider” stands tall as the band sizzles two lyrical instrumentals.



8-7-82 Alpine Valley Music Theatre, East Troy, Wisconsin: “Playin” is the fifth song of a terrific second set. And as it would happen at many shows in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Jerry led the band into a noodling extravaganza that crashed into Drums. The jamming is above average, but the star here is the reprise. On the other side of Drums, Space spins into “The Wheel.”  The Wheel > Playin’ transition is dreamy and mesmerizing. Weir emphatically preaches the virtues of being a rock star as the band rams this home. Jerry’s wailing, Weir’s strumming and the drummers are pounding. This goes past all normal reprise barriers. The only “Playin” reprise I would rate ahead of this one is 10-12-84 Augusta. But on that night, there was just a “Playin’” reprise inside of a “Uncle John’s” loop. The beginning of “Playin’” never took place. Back in Alpine Valley, the fiery reprise leads to the Holy Grail, “Morning Dew.” 




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