Grateful Dead

Dick's Picks, Vol. 3

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The third installment in the Grateful Dead's Dick's Picks series captures the combo during a mid-'70s peak. In fact, for many Deadheads 1977 is considered one of their (if not the) prime years in terms of consistency, stylistic range of material, and available tapes to support these claims. And there is evidence thanks to this double-disc entry featuring excerpts from the band's May 22, 1977, show at the Sportatorium in Pembroke Pines, FL. The lineup that was resurrected post-sabbatical included co-founders Jerry Garcia (lead guitar/vocals), Phil Lesh (bass/vocals), Bob Weir (guitar/vocals), and Bill Kreutzmann (percussion). Plus, Mickey Hart (percussion) is back in the fold and staying for good. Also at the top of their game is the husband-and-wife team of Keith Godchaux (keyboards) and Donna Jean Godchaux (vocals). Although the entire concert is not presented, Dick Latvala -- Dick's Picks' namesake and the Grateful Dead's tape archivist -- made some choice selections throughout. Even as the set list may seem typical for 1977, each song is performed with the trademark greasy grooves and that almost sacred and unspoken ability for the players to unite and lift well-worn entries such as "Sugaree" or the driving and admittedly disco-fied revival of Martha & the Vandellas' "Dancin' in the Streets" that stretches a quarter-hour. Weir's coupling of "Lazy Lightning" and "Supplication" is energetic and adeptly executed. All the more powerful is the "Help on the Way">"Slipknot!">"Franklin's Tower" trifecta. Garcia's excursions during the instrumental "Slipknot!" are hands-down among the best moments on Dick's Picks, Vol. 3 (1995). The serene Donna Jean Godchaux-penned ballad "Sunrise" has long been considered one of her finest offerings. The song's haunting subject matter deals metaphorically and indirectly with the loss of Rex Jackson, a Grateful Dead staff member who passed the previous year. His wife, Betty Cantor-Jackson, also deserves props. Her efforts of perpetually perfecting the art of recording the Grateful Dead won her a place in the band's folklore as her reels of oxide-adhered documentation became nicknamed "Betty Boards" -- which loosely translates as ultra-high-fidelity soundboard recordings. The concluding combination is interesting. It links "Estimated Prophet," "Eyes of the World," and "Wharf Rat" to an odd "Terrapin Station" that omits the usual "Lady with a Fan" introductory section and concludes with "(Walk Me Out in The) Morning Dew." All told, this is nearly an hour of nonstop musical manna for inclined minds. Very keen-eared listeners might detect some slight audio anomalies in the form of fluctuating frequency loss at various points. Those are remnants of the "baking" procedure that the master tapes had to undergo. Over time the oxide surface that stores the information had become separated from the plastic/Mylar backing. In order to bond the two together, the physical tapes had to be placed in a special kiln-type oven and slowly baked at a very low temperature for an extended period of time. The process' success speaks for itself.

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