Grateful Dead

Dick's Picks, Vol. 15: Raceway Park, Englishtown, NJ 9/3/77

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It has been noted that Grateful Dead tape archivist Dick Latvala, the Dick of Dick's Picks, was especially fond of the '70s, so it's not surprising that the first volume in the series of releases of Dead live shows to be issued after his death is not only from that decade, but from 1977, a year that has already been chronicled on two previous Dick's Picks albums. Still, in any examination of the band's history, its performance at Raceway Park raceway in Englishtown, NJ, on September 3, 1977, is a significant one. The show was the first the Dead had played in almost three months, and the first since the release of Terrapin Station, the album that marked their return to the world of major-label record-making. It was also an extremely big gig, with an audience estimated at upwards of 100,000. The Dead had a reputation for blowing big gigs. This is a band that played the Monterey Pop Festival, Woodstock, and the 1973 Watkins Glen show said to have drawn the largest crowd in history, not to mention a performance at the pyramids in Egypt, but no one has ever said they played well at those concerts. Yet the Englishtown gig was an important one on the Dead's terms, nobody else's, and they were up to the occasion instrumentally, if not vocally. This is certainly not the show you want to own if you care about the lyrics to the Dead's songs. Starting with Bob Weir going up on the words to the opening song, "Promised Land," there are several vocal gaffes. But the main reason the show is a popular one with tapers is that there are some interesting musical excursions. The versions of "Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo" and "Eyes of the World" have extended instrumental interludes that sound more like new songs in the development stage than just jamming, and in the second half of the second set a lengthy version of "He's Gone" gives way to more than 20 minutes' worth of "Not Fade Away," with the vocals not coming in until after the nine-minute mark. There are other highlights as well. The group is unusually animated, with Weir, Jerry Garcia, and Phil Lesh all talking good-naturedly, and sometimes facetiously, to the crowd. There are several selections from the new album -- "Estimated Prophet," "Samson and Delilah," and the 11-minute title suite, and the band plays "Truckin'" for the first time in almost two years. Thus, there are many elements to appeal to the average Dead Head, even if Dick's Picks, Vol. 15 can't be recommended to the more casual listener as being among the Dead's finest performances.

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