Grateful Dead

Dick's Picks, Vol. 16: Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, Ca 11/8/69

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The Grateful Dead that took the stage of the old Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco on November 8, 1969, was a band in transition. None of their three albums had sold well, but their double-LP concert set, Live/Dead, was days away from hitting the stores; its extended improvisations would capture the essence of the group's appeal and finally help them turn the corner commercially. Meanwhile, the Dead had added an unsuspected talent for short, craftsmanlike country-folk-rock tunes with literate lyrics sung in harmony. All of this makes the show, issued here as Dick's Picks, Vol. 16, a crucial performance in the history of the group. The first set features the bulk of the material that will make up Workingman's Dead. They are anything but smooth; though they have worked out the general approach to the songs, they are still in near-rehearsal mode. Lyrics are blown and repeated, and the band is clearly feeling its way through the changes. It's hard to imagine another group that would throw half a set's worth of new songs at an audience without even knowing quite how to play them yet, but of course the Dead's fans only lap it up, and listeners decades later can delight in experiencing classic material in embryonic form. Starting with the second CD, the Dead present a definitive performance of their lengthy concert style, one long medley spreading across the second and third CDs. This whole section runs over an hour and 40 minutes, constituting an expanded, alternate version of Live/Dead. (The final track, a 25½-minute version of "Turn on Your Lovelight," comes from the previous night.) All told, Dick's Picks, Vol. 16 presents more than three hours of the Grateful Dead in fine form before a hometown crowd at a turning point in their development, halfway between what they had been and what they were becoming. In capturing a moment of extraordinary and unexpected growth, the album fulfills one of the major goals of such an archival series.

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