Grateful Dead

Dick's Picks Vol. 30: Live at Academy of Music, New York, NY

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The Grateful Dead's Dick's Picks series of archival releases consistently presented unique facets within the band's three-decade-long musical evolution. The 30th installment may well be the most interesting yet from the perspective of older and decidedly more jaded enthusiasts as it contains vibrations that have not been heavily traded and/or bootlegged, especially in such remarkably high sound quality. The contents in question are the complete March 28, 1972, performance at the Academy of Music in New York City. This was the final night of a week-long run just prior to heading off for their infamous Europe '72 tour. Also included in the four-disc package are highlights from a March 25th Hells Angels benefit show that was billed as "Jerry Garcia and Friends with special guest star Bo Diddley" as well as the far-out filler "Playing in the Band" from March 27th. The program is presented chronologically and commences with what is essentially a precursor to the Jerry Garcia Band. The notable substitutions are Phil Lesh (bass) in for John Kahn (bass) and the addition of Bob Weir (guitar). Another recent personnel shift came in the form of full-time contributions from Donna Jean Godchaux (vocals), a former Muscle Shoals session vocalist and wife of Keith Godchaux (keyboards). For this auspicious occasion, legendary R&B guitarist Bo Diddley mixes it up with the boys for a five-song/half-hour set of seminal Chicago-style boogie, commencing with a jivin' "Hey Bo Diddley" and the sinuous blues standard "I'm a Man" evolving into the extended instrumental "Jam." "I've Seen Them All" is a Diddley ramble about the seminal year of 1958 in the history of rock & roll and the musical royalty that he has seen, heard, and shared a stage with. The unique billing gives Garcia the opportunity to stretch out on a few of his favorite covers -- such as the cherubic and energetic take of Smokey Robinson's "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)" and the Bert Berns-penned classic "Are You Lonely for Me Baby" -- which is ragged, but overall emotionally satisfying. Perhaps owing to the nature of the set thus far, this particular reading of "Smokestack Lightning" comes off with a rare buoyancy threaded throughout. The improvisational interaction almost sidetracks the group into "Truckin'" before throttling down and gliding in for a landing. Rounding off disc one is "Playing in the Band" from the March 27th gig. While it is definitely inspired, it fails to reach the level of other 1972-era renderings, such as the legendary August 27th Springfield Creamery benefit in Eugene, OR, for example. The core of Dick's Picks, Vol. 30 finds the heroes on the eve of their first international tour. As the Grateful Dead had not issued a new studio album in almost a year and a half, there was quite an impressive backlog of concurrent material that was being road tested and would eventually turn up on the three-LP Europe '72 (1972) sonic scrapbook of their sojourn. Among this batch of fresh arrivals are the high-steppin' "Tennessee Jed," as well as a plethora of Pigpen on the slightly surreal "Chinatown Shuffle," the funky ode to the continuing quagmire in Vietnam on "Mr. Charlie," as well as his own soul-stirring "The Stranger (Two Souls in Communion)" -- the latter of which was debuted earlier in the week. There are also early and flourishing takes of Weir's emotive "Black-Throated Wind," the countrified and lonesome Bakersfield sound of "Looks Like Rain" (with a rare Garcia appearance on pedal steal guitar), the spry "Mexicali Blues," and another stretched-out "Playing in the Band" -- all of which would turn up on Weir's impending solo (though in name only) platter, Ace (1972). The lamenting "Sugaree" is a new Garcia number and would turn up on his self-titled Garcia (1972), the guitarist's first nonband project. It's also worth noting that this recording documents the only time that the Grateful Dead performed "Sidewalks of New York" -- a pop standard made popular by the likes of Duke Ellington, Tommy Collins, and Tiny Grimes among others, albeit in a cursory tune-up for the "One More Saturday Night" encore, another of Weir's Ace. These are but a few of the high points on this four-hour (and then some) package, which can be considered essential listening for the hardcore and neophyte enthusiast alike.

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