The early 1970s were a definite time for peak sonic explorations from the Grateful Dead. With the 'retirement' of Ron "Pigpen" McKernan (vocals/keyboard/mouth harp), much of the focus turned from the R&B rave-ups that McKerman had contributed as well as the decidedly countrified sound of their most recent studio efforts: Workingman's Dead (1970) and American Beauty (1970). Dick's Picks, Vol. 28 (2003) is an epic four-disc extravaganza featuring highlights from two consecutive performances on February 26, 1973 in Lincoln, NE and February 28, 1973 in Salt Lake City, UT, respectively. The operative phrase for the band -- and subsequently this set -- during this era (circa '73 -- '75) is jazz-fusion. This is reflected in the onslaught of new material as well as fresh interpretations on classic titles. In late 1971 the Grateful Dead's personnel incorporated the talents of the husband and wife team of Keith Godchaux (keyboards) and Donna Jean Godchaux (vocals). Their influence (especially Keith's) was almost immediately evident in his jazzy, soulful, and above all aggressive, contributions and interactions. In the 16 months that the couple had been with the Grateful Dead, their collaborative efforts were producing such consistently incendiary results, enthusiasts have rightfully coined the phrase "primal Dead" when attempting to describe the sonic immensity in the band when they are hitting on all cylinders. There is something for just about every dimension of Deadhead on Dick's Picks, Vol. 28. Those who prefer the comparatively shorter and self-contained tracks such as "Jack Straw," "Greatest Story Ever Told," and "Loser," are offered profound readings -- although acute ears might detect the occasional Bob Weir-ian lyrical flub. Other particularly striking performances include the seminal and note-perfect readings of "Row Jimmy," "Loose Lucy," and two (count 'em) white hot renderings of both "They Love Each Other"and "Eyes Of The World" -- all of which had only been introduced into the Grateful Dead's performance repertoire a few weeks earlier. Interestingly, the vast majority of the concert attendees had never heard any of those songs before. The band had yet to release them and it would be nine months until Wake Of The Flood (1973) would usher in a new era as they tried their hand at manufacturing and distributing their own releases via Grateful Dead Records for band projects, and Round Records for solo efforts. For such a significant number of unfamiliar tunes, the audience responds with equal enthusiasm to the new compositions as they do to the recognizable tracks such as the expansive "Playing In The Band," and "Not Fade Away," and the "Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad/Not Fade Away" (reprise) medley. The poignant "We Bid You Goodnight" is a somber and noteworthy conclusion as the Salt Lake City show was the last Grateful Dead performance that the band played prior to the death of one-time spiritual center Ron "Pigpen" McKernan -- who passed away a week later on March 8, 1973. Also of note is the phenomenal sound quality, which bests a majority of most other 30-year-old recordings.