Grateful Dead – Dick’s Picks Volume 3

dicks picks vol 3

If 1972 was the first apex year for the Grateful Dead, then their second apex year came in 1977. Many of the May shows of that year are considered some of, it not the best shows the band ever played. This Dick’s Picks volume grabs a majority of the May 22nd show at the Sportatorium in Pembroke Pines, Florida. Though nine songs were ultimately omitted for the release of Dick’s Picks Volume 3, this show contains a selection that is a near perfect track list.

Grateful Dead in 1977.

Disc One contains six selections from the first set played that night in Pembroke Pines. The band starts off with a goofy 30 second rendition of the Neapolitan song, “Funiculi, Funicula.” It’s a quick and lighthearted guitar driven number that only served for the group to ensure instruments were in tune. The set doesn’t really kick off until they break into Bob Weir’s, “The Music Never Stopped.” The fun track is a great opener, allowing Garcia to warm up his fingers. The mixing is solid as well, with Donna Jean Godchaux’s backup vocals never overpowering the rest of the group. What follows next is an incredible rendition of Jerry Garcia’s, “Sugaree.” Garcia wastes no time getting the band into the jam, stretching the song out for 16 minutes. The vocal harmonies between the trio of Jerry, Bob, and Donna Jean are crisp, nearly as good as the harmonies in ‘72. Garcia’s guitar is airy and light, hitting every note with precision before building up to the distorted crescendo.

The band gets right into a “Lazy Lightnin’>Supplication”.  The two tracks penned by Bob Weir and John Perry Barlow first appeared on Kingfish’s self titled debut album. Though the tracks were from Weir’s side project, the Dead would adopt them and run with them much like other songs from Weir and Garcia’s side projects. “Lazy Lightnin” serves as a vessel for the dizzying jam of “Supplication.” Though short, Garcia proves himself to be in rare form and ready to bring it throughout the rest of the show. Finishing out the first set, the Dead bust into a cover of “Dancin’ in the Streets.” They stretch the old tune out to nearly 15 minutes, bringing a uniquely ‘70s feel to the track. The theme that the group find in the last five minutes of the jam is real funky, invoking the kind of jamming expected out of a more modern era jam band like Phish. The song descends to a near whisper before the Dead exits the stage.

The first disc ends with the first three songs from the second set. Tape Archivist Dick Latvala may have selected this because the next 27 minutes of the disc are perfection. The band shreds the beginning of their second set, running through “Help on the Way>Slipknot!>Franklin’s Tower.” These three tracks are the embodiment of the Dead in May of 1977. Garcia’s jamming is somehow both tight and loose, Keith Godchaux’s piano is still dynamic, the vocals are clean, and both drummers are in sync. The group gets aggressive on “Slipknot!” and transitions into tasty, 15 minute “Franklin’s Tower.” The dynamic between Phil Lesh’s driving bass and Garcia’s powerful soloing move the jam forward in a light way, never getting to spacey.

Disc Two continues to bring the fire from the second set. The band get into “Samson and Delilah” and “Sunrise” off their upcoming album, Terrapin Station. The first is powerful and continues the energy from the last song, but the second is a bit of a snooze. Not everyone may love solo Donna songs, though she does sound great on this track, it’s too much of a tonal shift for the set. What follows is the beginning of the end. Bob returns with the power for “Estimated Prophet.” The guitars bring a heavier reggae sound to the song than appears on the studio version. This reggae vibe then turns spacey when Garcia solos over the nine minute track. This spacey sound dissipates when transitioning to “Eyes of the World.” At this point Garcia brings some of his most inspired playing to the track, giving it a casual jazziness.

“Wharf Rat” brings on the final moments of the second set. The group slows things down and Jerry delivers tired vocals that work well to emphasize the powerful lyrics of the track. The group builds and builds the song up and Garcia subtly moves it into “Terrapin Station.” They forego playing the entirety of the medley, omitting “Lady with a Fan”, and get into the heavier verses and chorus. The group is in complete harmony during the coda, delivering each rise and fall with everything they’ve got. The band finish out the set with an incredible, 14 minute “[Walk Me Out In The] Morning Dew.” Garcia brings passionate vocals and guitar playing to the track, reminiscent of the great Europe ‘72 renditions. Though Disc Two doesn’t contain the shows encore, it leaves listeners’ brains on the floor after “Morning Dew.”

Though just a slice of the full May 22nd, 1977 show, Dick’s Picks Vol. 3, is a filling piece of Grateful Dead pie. Everyone may talk about some of the early May ‘77 shows as the peak of the Grateful Dead, but for right now, this show is the best of the Dead in this era. From “Sugaree” to “Help>Slip>Frank” to “Eyes>Wharf>Terrapin”, this is an essential listen for any fan of late-’70s Dead.

The complete set list for the 5/22/77 show at Pembroke Pines, Florida was:

Set 1: “Funiculì, Funiculà”, “The Music Never Stopped”, “Sugaree”, “El Paso”, “Peggy-O”, “New Minglewood Blues”, “Friend of the Devil”, “Lazy Lightning” > “Supplication”, “Ramble On Rose”, “Dancing in the Street”

Set 2: “Help on the Way” > “Slipknot!” > “Franklin’s Tower”, “Samson and Delilah”, “Brown Eyed Women”, “Good Lovin'”, “Sunrise”, “Estimated Prophet” > “Eyes of the World” > “Wharf Rat” > “Terrapin Station” > “Morning Dew”

Encore: “Sugar Magnolia” > “Sunshine Daydream”

Bold appears on Dick’s Picks Volume 3

Europe ‘72 Vol 18: 5/18/72 (Kongressaal, Munich, West Germany)


Pulled out the box of flashcards (now dubbed Box of Rain) this week is Europe ’72 Vol 18: 5/18/72. This selection from the Europe ’72: Complete Recordings Box Set is from a show in Munich, West Germany only five days after the Lille Fairgrounds show we looked at last time. The Grateful Dead lineup remains the same as our previous entry and the majority of the setlist is similar to the Lille Fairground show. An interesting note on this set is that throughout the show the band comments on the numerous technical difficulties that occur, however listening back now there sound like there are none to be found.

Grateful Dead in Europe, 1972.

The first set is a nice long collection of the Dead in the zone. The “Truckin’” that starts her off is fantastic. They get right into the energetic song as if they had already been playing for a half hour before. Quickly running through the first few songs, “Sugaree” through “Black Throated Wind” is tight. Nobody misses a single beat throughout. The standout moments are definitely in the harmonies and getting to hear bassist Phil Lesh clear in the high parts. Also the similar guitar licks of “Tennessee Jed” and “Chinatown Shuffle” work perfectly back to back.

Following is a rendition of “China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider” that is textbook. Phil lays down phenomenal bass lines throughout and Garcia is in peak form. When they get to the vocals of “I Know You Rider,” the harmonies are much more in line than the show five days prior. Though this version didn’t make the final cut for the original Europe ‘72 album, it definitely should’ve been a contender. The only knock against it is the final harmonies on the outro aren’t at one hundred percent.

After the cool down of country tunes “El Paso,” “Hurts Me Too,” and “You Win Again,” the band kick things up a notch to finish out the set. A raucous iteration of “Playin’ in the Band” begins the end of the first set. The real climax comes to light with “Good Lovin’,” a Young Rascals cover. We’ve only previously covered the version of “Good Lovin'” that appears on 1980’s Go To Heaven, with this earlier version featuring vast differences. Pigpen is on lead vocals with the rest of the group bringing loud backup vocals. Pigpen’s bluesy vocal freestyling brings so much life to the track. It’s also a much more energetic jam than what it became later in their career, thanks in part to Bill Kreutzmann’s aggressive drumming and Keith Godchaux’s jazzy piano drifting throughout the track. Keeping with tradition, the group end the first set on “Casey Jones.” The seven minute track is near perfect with a harmonious ending.

The Grateful Dead were Psychedelic Cowboys at this point, and set one definitely focused more on the Cowboy, with their second set moving more into the Psychedelic. They bring out the rarity, “Sitting On Top Of The World”, applying years of expertise to the track featured on their debut album. There’s a more distinctive country twang than on the album version, but it’s a welcomed sound that fits more in line with the band in this era. The Dead keep the Country going on “Me & My Uncle” and “Ramble on Rose”, before once again pulling off their debut album. The group has a little trouble breaking into “Beat It On Down The Line,” but once the first verse gets going they find the rhythm.

I’ve been eager to review our first “Dark Star” and today’s the day. As far as a first “Dark Star” for this column, this one is a goodie. The band absolutely demolishes a 28 minute rendition of this legendary jam, taking it to a dark and spacey place. The key to this “Dark Star” is the combination of Jerry Garcia, Phil, and Bob Weir. Jerry drives variations on the main theme of the track for a while and nine minutes in, the psychedelia breaks through. Jerry doesn’t come in for the first verse until 14 minutes in and what follows is another 12 minutes of devolution. The band plays with disharmony and Phil plays deeper and deeper bass notes. Garcia and Weir play a delicate back and forth stabbing higher and higher reverberated notes. The 12 minute coda couldn’t be more “out there,” pushing their sound into an organized chaos. When everything comes to, Jerry brings light out of the darkness.

Immediately out of “Dark Star,” the band moves into “Morning Dew.” The song whose lyrics describe a man coming out to view his world after a nuclear holocaust, works so perfectly coming out of the madness of the previous jam. After a brief “Drums,” the band rip into the assumed set ender, “Sugar Magnolia.” Instead of ending on the high energy, Jerry moves into the Merle Haggard tune, “Sing Me Back Home,” and the band follows suite. The 11 minute track is soft and reflective, with vibrant vocal harmonies. After the slow country number, the band encore to “One More Saturday Night.” It’s a short one, but the band puts their last bit of energy into the song and leave the stage electrified.

Much like the previous Europe ‘72 show we covered, this one is another fantastic representation of this era of the band. It’s got plenty of Cowboy tunes as expected, but the band reaches for more of their early roots. The standout tracks on this one are definitely “Good Lovin’,” “Dark Star,” “Morning Dew,” and “Sing Me Back Home”. This show is a perfect companion to the 5/13/72 Lille Fairground show, with both set lists showing off the band at their height in ‘72.

Grateful Dead – Europe ‘72 Vol 16: 5/13/72


After listening and getting in-depth with every Grateful Dead studio album, it’s finally time to listen to some live albums (picked randomly from a box of index cards). Kicking off the first live album on The Other Ones is the Europe ‘72 Vol 16: 5/13/72. This is one of the 22 shows from the legendary Europe ’72 tour that was released in a 2011 box set. Vol 16 is made up of the full set from the show at Lille Fairgrounds in Lille, France on May 13th, 1972. This particular show took place during the day and was free for the public, as the Dead had to make up for not having their equipment make it to the venue in time on the previously scheduled date. This time around, the band brought their A-game.

LilleFRA 2
Jerry, Bob, Bill, and Phil at Lille Fairgrounds.

Lineup for the Lille Fairgrounds show is typical for this Europe ‘72 tour, but definitely an interesting one in the group’s history. Pigpen’s health was failing, so Keith Godchaux takes the piano, leaving Pigpen with energy for singing and playing harp and organ. Also, Donna pops in to sing backup on a few songs. Mickey Hart had left the band at this point as well, leaving drumming duties solely to Bill Kreutzmann.

The album gets started on the first set with “Tuning Rap,” not a song but just some stage banter. Eventually it turns into Phil and Bobby making fart noises over random instrument sound tests. It’s funny on the first go around but becomes a must skip upon a second listen. The rest of the first set consists of 15 songs that were fairly standard for that tour. Despite a couple of microphone feedback issues, the band comes in hot with a great rendition of “Bertha.” Keith brings the fire on the keys and Jerry delivers with a solid solo. Though never recorded on a studio album, “Bertha,” remains one of the great legendary Garcia-Hunter compositions. Later in the set, Pigpen comes in with decent vocal performance on “Chinatown Shuffle.”

Pigpen and Jerry.

The band doesn’t really get meshing until seven songs in, when they get to “China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider”. Though the vocal performance on “I Know You Rider” isn’t as in harmony as some of the other shows during that tour, they still bring the energy. The band keeps the pace up, rocking through “Me and My Uncle” and a few more songs. The final four songs before set break, really bring it though. Donna comes out for a rocking “Playing in the Band” that jams for 12 minutes. They get back to their Americana roots on an emotional “Sugaree” and Jerry plays fast and fun on a short “Mexicali Blues.” The group wraps up the first set on the always classic “Casey Jones.” Jerry’s voice seems to be a little tired and in need of rest, but the rest of the group keep the song alive with Bob’s backup vocals and Phil’s deep bass lines.

After a set break, the band come out full of energy on an 11 minute “Truckin’.” They bring raucous playing to the song, each member doing their best in the jam. The break also seemed to work for the vocal performances of Jerry, Bob, and Phil, as their voices meld into a powerful force. Transitioning out, Bill drum solos for a few minutes. Before the group kicks into “The Other One.” Coming in at nearly half an hour, this jam is the finest moment of the show. The first ten minutes are pure Jerry Garcia. He improvises and rips forward and backward in waves, with the rest of the group following suit. It begins to break down into a jazzier, free movement with Keith, Phil, and Bill all holding it down until Bob comes in with the song’s first verse. Once more, Keith’s addition to the group proves invaluable as he drives the melody. The jam ventures of into space, with Phil providing foreboding bass notes under Jerry’s manic runs. Eventually they return back to Earth on the melody of “The Other One” and Bob wraps up the song on the second verse.

After the ripping and roaring from the electricity of “The Other One,” the Dead slow things down a bit with “He’s Gone” and “Hurts Me Too.” They begin to wrap up the second set with a great “Sugar Magnolia.” This one lacks Donna, which leaves the vocal backup duties to Jerry and Phil. Finally the band get into a short “Not Fade Away” before “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad”. This rendition of “GDTRFB” is a phenomenal eight minute rocker, bringing Donna back into the fold. In classic Dead fashion, they return to “Not Fade Away.” This “NFA>GDTRFB>NFA” is fantastic with Bob and Pigpen jabbing back and forth and bringing their remaining vocal power. The group comes back for an encore with “One More Saturday Night,” exiting Lille with a little Chuck Berry flair.

This 5/13/72 Lille Fairground show is a great example of the Grateful Dead in that era. It’s not too long at almost three hours and the band knows when to take the long jams and when to move the pace along quickly. This setlist ends up being a great crop of old and new. There is moments of psychedelia, blues, Americana, and jazz. It’s a great intersection of who the band was in the ‘60s, slamming into who they’ll become in the ‘70s. This record would make a fine introduction album for people who have never heard little or near nothing of the Grateful Dead’s live discography. What a great start to a new journey.


Grateful Dead – Built to Last (1989)

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After achieving great mainstream success with In the Dark, the Grateful Dead toured to greater and greater audiences. This newfound success also came with pressure to release a new album. In February of 1989, the Grateful Dead decided to get back into the studio to work on their 13th album. With In the Dark, the Dead spent seven years on the road perfecting the songs for the new album. For this new album, the band stepped into the studio with no prior work on the new songs. What resulted was Built to Last, a nine song album written and recorded in only eight months.

19890901_0922.originalUnfortunately, Built to Last is a disjointed album from start to finish. The final album in the Grateful Dead studio discography is one with high highs and very low lows. The album is an absolute group effort, featuring four songs by Brent Mydland, three by Jerry Garcia, and two by Bob Weir.

The track list contains some real gems, most notably Brent Mydland’s “Blow Away” which would become a legendary live song. Some of the other tracks that still contain that Grateful Dead vibe are “Built to Last” and “Foolish Heart”, both Garcia and Robert Hunter collaborations. Though his voice sounds raggedy and failing, Garcia still manages to save the album when his voice is on the track. His finest moment on the album comes on the track, “Standing on the Moon.” Co-written by Robert Hunter, the track is beautiful and full of retrospection. The lyrics “A lovely view of heaven, but I’d rather be with you” are a perfect description of Garcia’s life at that moment, health failing but dedicated to playing the music for his fans.

Built to Last also features some real disappointing tracks. With the exception of “Blow Away”, the rest of Mydlands contributions come off as boring soft rock. Even the final song on the album  “I Will Take You Home” is a bizarre lullaby and doesn’t sound like it should be the last song ever released on a Grateful Dead studio album. However it wasn’t just Mydland who disappoints, but Bob Weir’s contributions all fall flat. “Victim or the Crime” is not catchy, his vocal performance is flat, and it seems like he was trying to capture the spirit of the In the Dark’s “Hell in a Bucket.” Though his other contribution, “Picasso Moon,” is a rocker in the vein of ‘80s Rolling Stones, it comes up short in the greater Weir/Barlow discography. However the track is saved by Garcia’s guitar on the track, resulting in one of the few moments in the album where Garcia plays with his all.

Built to Last is a sad send off for the group. After 13 studio albums and over 24 years together, the band finally feels like they should just “play the hits.” The group retreated back to a life of touring. Even though the group had wildly successful tours, drug abuse continued to get worse for some members. In 1990, less than a year after the release of Built to Last, keyboardist Brent Mydland died from an overdose of cocaine and morphine. Mydland’s death would rock the group and Jerry Garcia in particular.

Following Built to Last and Mydland’s death, the band would enter their final lineup adding Vince Welnick and Bruce Hornsby on keys. The Grateful Dead would spend the next five years touring and never released another studio work.

From the Author: In two weeks, I will begin on reviewing the live albums. Every other week I will post a new review of a live album picked at random. The style of the reviews will change a bit, but each time I will focus on the show and highlight songs we’ve never covered. The first album we will start with is Europe ’72: Vol. 16.

Grateful Dead – In the Dark (1987)

in the dark

After the release of the 1980 album Go to Heaven, the Grateful Dead had fulfilled their contract stipulations with Arista Records. This allowed the band to get out of the studio and focus on their real interests, touring arenas and releasing live albums. The Grateful Dead would spend the next six years of their career doing just that. However as the band continued to exist in their bubble, the music industry around them began to change. By the time the band got back into the studio in 1986, the industry was almost entirely different.

In 1980, the best selling album of the year was Pink Floyd’s The Wall. However by 1986, the popular rock music genre had transitioned into hair metal and the best selling album of that year was Whitney Houston’s eponymous debut album. One of the biggest changes in the music industry had come just a year after the release of Go to Heaven, when Viacom launched a television channel devoted to showing music videos. This channel, MTV, became the most influential way of reaching a new generation of music fans. The radio single became second fiddle to the music video and by 1986, VJ’s were the tastemakers and the music video was king.



A Grateful Dead promo image from 1987. 

All the while the Grateful Dead’s fanbase was growing show by show, but performing for ever growing crowds had come with its own issues. By 1983 the toll of long tours, heavy cigarette smoking, unhealthy eating, and opiate addiction was manifesting in Jerry Garcia. His performance on stage lost its life, with all his energy going towards playing his guitar. In 1985 the band held an unsuccessful intervention due of his heroin use and soon after he was arrested in Golden Gate Park for possession. Garcia spent a considerable amount of 1986 clean before relapsing. This time he fell into a diabetic coma for five days, coming out with a new lease on life. Within a few months Garcia had rehabilitated and was back to playing on stage.

The Grateful Dead decided to re-enter the studio to produce an album of new songs they had been playing for the last few years. They tried a new approach this time, recording all together in a dark theater to recreate the feeling of hearing the songs live. This approach, in conjunction with songs that had years of perfecting, would lead to an album of seven solid tracks. The album, In the Dark, would become the band’s best selling studio album, as well as, their highest charting.

The first side of In the Dark immediately starts off with the band’s hit single, “Touch of Grey.” The Garcia/Hunter track enjoyed mainstream success thanks in part to a frequently played music video on MTV. The track is a welcoming one for the new album, inviting new listeners. Garcia’s voice now sounds deeper and his aging and declining health is taking a sonic toll. However, the song still has great percussion from Mickey Hart and nice harmonies from the group of middle-aged rockers. The album transitions into “Hell in a Bucket,” another single which featured MTV play. The track penned by John Perry Barlow with music by Bob Weir and Brent Mydland is a heavy rocker. Weir delivers some powerful vocals tinged with comedy. The lyrics are about a guy who’s aware of his eventual demise, but is going to enjoy the long way down. The song drums up images of bikers and circuses and includes the sound effects for it in the background.

The band then slows things down on the track, “When Push Comes to Shove.” The slowed down blues rock song features Hunter using the famous idiom in a catchy way. The real standout on the track is keyboardist Brent Mydland, whose piano playing pulls the emotion out of the track. Side one winds down with another Garcia/Hunter track, “West LA Fadeaway.” The melody is right out of the Garcia playbook, but brought up to date with some synth playing from Mydland. These synths, along with the pitched up background vocals and rattle effects, feel incredibly dated compared to modern music.

The other side of the record starts off with the Brent Mydland track, “Tons of Steel.” Mydland’s only lead vocal on the album is strong, utilizing his emotional and gruff voice. The lyrics, which compare a woman and a train, are fairly cheesy, but feel much more meaningful because of Mydland’s vocal prowess. Again though, Mydland plays with a overly-’80s synthesizer which only dates the song. The next track, “Throwing Stones,” is a Barlow/Weir composition that sounds pulled out of the group’s ‘70s discography. With an opening riff that sounds similar to “Terrapin Station” and an “Althea”-like progression, Garcia gives the song and instant Dead quality. Barlow’s political lyricism echoes the maturity, which in tandem with the nursery rhyme “Ashes to Ashes” in the chorus, make the tune smart and entertaining.

The group wrap up the album on “Black Muddy River.” The nostalgic folk song feels like “Ripple” or “Brokedown Palace”. The track’s lyrics ring with the maturity of a middle-aged man realizing they are halfway through their life. The track is a perfect ender for the album, and is especially fitting that it was the second to last song played at the Dead’s final concert. On the tape release of In the Dark, there was one more song, “My Brother Esau”, which appeared after “Black Muddy River.” This Barlow/Weir composition was ultimately omitted from the Vinyl and CD releases, as well as, the digital edition to this day.

In the Dark is the natural progression of the Grateful Dead after over twenty years together. They never get too into the jams and produce a short album with all radiolength songs. The experience of studio hiatus, newfound energy, and a fresh approach in the studio was the perfect synergy to create an album that would find success. In the Dark’s success can be attributed to many factors, but timing might be the ultimate reason. Looking back at 1986-1989 many artists who came to fame in the 60’s had regained success, Paul Simon with “You Can Call Me Al,” The Beach Boys with “Kokomo,” George Harrison with “Got My Mind Set On You,” and Steve Winwood with “Roll With It,” just to name a few. All these artists had well over twenty years in the industry under the belts and were still charting in the Top Ten.

With a music video on MTV, “Touch of Grey” became a huge hit. This hit song led to In the Dark peaking on the Billboard chart at #6 best selling album of the week. After 22 years of existing in the counterculture the band was finally mainstream in their middle age. The success of In the Dark also gave birth to a new generation of fans dubbed Touchheads. These new Deadheads began to flood the live shows for the band. The Grateful Dead were now attracting more people to their concerts that could fit in the arenas and soon had more people outside of the venue than in. The Dead were bigger and more mainstream than ever, but the band had now become the group they never strived to be.