Grateful Dead

Dick's Picks, Vol. 31: 8/4-5-6/74

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This four-disc volume has been extracted from three consecutive 1974 dates, at the Philadelphia Civic Center in Philly (August 4 and 5) and Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, NJ (August 6). Enthusiasts generally consider this era as one of the Grateful Dead's most consistent during their three-decade performance history. At the core of the mid-'70s lineup are Jerry Garcia (guitar/vocals), Bill Kreutzmann (drums), Phil Lesh (bass/vocals), and Bob Weir (guitar/vocals). The quartet were joined in 1971 by the husband-and-wife team of Donna Jean Godchaux (vocals) and Keith Godchaux (piano). Incrementally, this incarnation began distancing the band's sound from the R&B-meets-psychedelia of the Ron "Pigpen" McKernan years, as well as the more recent rural twang heard on Workingman's Dead (1970) and American Beauty (1970). Instead, their collective fusion-based explorations continually challenge the musicians, while simultaneously providing fresh extensions and visages on familiar favorites. Nowhere is this more evident than on "Playing in the Band." After introducing the number in their repertoire (circa February of 1971), they cultivated it from a fairly rote and otherwise typical rendering into an unexpurgated show-stopping centerpiece -- as shown by the pair of 20-plus minute excursions on Dick's Picks, Vol. 31 (2004). They not only clock in at nearly half an hour apiece, but each is distinctive and examines the Grateful Dead's ability to end up at different places, despite the similarities in the point(s) of departure. Other lengthy and melodically sinuous passages include "Weather Report Suite," which trails into a medley with "Wharf Rat" and "U.S. Blues," as well as the coupling of "He's Gone" and "Truckin'." These are contrasted by shorter yet no less expressive readings of old favorites "Jack Straw," "Sugar Magnolia," and "Casey Jones," as well as a stunning "Uncle John's Band." Equal time is also given to recent arrivals "Loose Lucy," "Ship of Fools," the aforementioned "U.S. Blues," and two wholly unique "Scarlet Begonias." The longevity of the newer numbers is manifest by the fact that they would all remain key entries in the Grateful Dead's ever-expanding repertoire.

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