Grateful Dead

Dick's Picks 35: 8/7 & 24/71

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Although many of the entries in the Grateful Dead's Dick's Picks series of archival recordings have great stories behind them, this four-disc volume bears an exceptional lineage. It seems after Keith Godchaux (keyboards) was hired in the summer of 1971, the keyboardist -- who would be replacing Ron "Pigpen" McKernan -- was given tapes of a recent tour by Jerry Garcia (guitar/vocals). Godchaux's mandate was to familiarize himself with the band's concurrent repertoire in preparation for their next batch of dates in the fall. Fast-forward three and a half decades as Godchaux's personal belongings are being gathered and sorted by his son Zion and brother Brian on a houseboat once owned by Keith and Brian's parents (Zion's grandparents). There they found a significant cache of Grateful Dead master reels from the spring and summer of 1971. As they had been aboard the vessel for 35 years, the vast majority of the music had never been circulated among even the most faithful Deadheads. That is until now. Dick's Picks, Vol. 35 (2005) contains the complete August 7, 1971, show at Convention Hall in San Diego, as well as the surviving fragments from the previous gig on August 6, 1971, at the Hollywood Palladium. There are also pieces from a show at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago on August 24, 1971. One major caveat for listeners is significant (read: noticeable) distortion on Bob Weir's (guitar/vocals) vocal microphone during the August 24th performance, in particular on otherwise excellent versions of "Uncle John's Band" and "Brokedown Palace." The four-plus hours of music uncover the combo at a critical juncture as Mickey Hart (percussion) had taken a sabbatical a few months earlier and Tom "T.C." Constanten (keyboards) quit to pursue a solo career. Plus, Pigpen was beginning to suffer from years of drinking and questionable lifestyle choices. Several tunes that would become staples in the Grateful Dead's continually increasing repertoire are heard here in their infancy. Among them, "Big Railroad Blues," "Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad," "Bertha," "Playing in the Band," "Brown-Eyed Women," and Kris Kristofferson's "Me & Bobby McGee" are but a few of the highlights. Another is the McKernan original rarity "Empty Pages." The slow bluesy number recalls his interpretation of the Otis Redding tearjerker "Pain in My Heart" and this is one of a mere handful of times the cut was played. In terms of the group's trademark symbiotic instrumental interaction and despite (or perhaps because of) the personnel changes, there is a tight yet limber quality propelling the lengthier jams, specifically those connecting "Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad" to "Johnny B. Goode" during the San Diego concert and the especially tasty suite that sandwiches "Me & My Uncle" between "The Other One" at the Hollywood Palladium. For many, this will be the highlight of the entire package as nary a note is misplaced and they combine their acidic antics with some lean and convivial communications. Here is hoping there is more to be heard from this formerly hidden stash of vintage Grateful Dead.

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