Grateful Dead

Dick's Picks, Vol. 23: 9/17/72 Baltimore Civic Center

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Those who concern themselves with such details have long contended that 1972 is a zenith year in terms of performance quality for the Grateful Dead. This 23rd installment in the Dick's Picks series provides ample fuel to that fire. This three-disc volume features the Dead's complete performance on September 17, 1972, at the Baltimore Civic Center. In spite of losing the onstage presence of their ailing one-time frontman Ron "Pigpen" McKernan -- his final public appearance with the band was exactly three months prior to this show -- the band remained relentless in forging new sonic territories. Although the set list reveals what may appear to be an archetypal show for the era, there is actually a high concentration of newer material not only from the concurrent Grateful Dead albums, but the debut solo releases from Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir. Although rightfully considered staples of Grateful Dead live shows, "Sugaree," "Bird Song," and "Loser" were all issued on the January 1972 release, Garcia. Likewise, "Black-Throated Wind," "Mexicali Blues," and "Playing in the Band" are from Bob Weir's Ace, which was released in May of the same year. All of these tracks would remain as key entries in the Dead's live repertoire until they ceased to tour some 23 years later. It isn't only the massive infusion of fresh material that kept the Grateful Dead sounding so consistently reinvented. The band's approach remains exceedingly focused. Their ragtag intensity informs the extended psychedelically motivated instrumental interaction during "Bird Song" or "Playing in the Band." This likewise is true of burgeoning Grateful Dead works such as "Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo" -- which is performed here for only the tenth time. Other not-to-be-missed highlights include some dynamic band interaction during the creamy center of a particularly potent "China Cat Sunflower"-"I Know You Rider" coupling, as well as a triumvirate including definitive renderings of "He's Gone," "The Other One," and a cover of Merle Haggard's "Sing Me Back Home."

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