Give any scholarly Deadheads half a chance and they'll quote book and verse on the year 1974, inevitably proclaiming it as one of the most pivotal in the Grateful Dead's history. The 24th volume in the Dick's Picks series of archival Dead performances contains highlights from the equally regarded March 23rd performance at the Cow Palace in Daly City, CA. This Bay Area show is additionally noteworthy as the self-proclaimed "test" for the Dead's "wall of sound" -- a hand-built state-of-the-art PA system that the band would tote around on two continents for the next seven months. Although it proved to be somewhat of a logistical and financial behemoth, it was likewise a sonic breakthrough by providing top-shelf sound for attendees over the entire arena-type venues that the Grateful Dead had graduated into. There is an unmistakably palpable sense of sonic exploration and experimentation throughout this show -- including the performance debuts of "Cassidy" and "Scarlet Begonias," as well as the third airing of the reworked "U.S. Blues" (which was originally called "Wave That Flag"). In short order, all three tunes would become staples of the Dead's repertoire for the remainder of their touring career. Additionally, this is the only version of "Cassidy" to be performed by the single-drummer (Billy Kreutzmann) incarnation of the Grateful Dead. The burgeoning compositions are by no means the only ones to benefit from this newly found infusion of intensity. Standards such as "Beat It on Down the Line" and especially the "China Cat Sunflower"/"I Know You Rider" suite -- which is nothing short of a chooglin' rhythmic orgy -- are given notable and enthusiastic airings. The contributions and synergistic energies flowing throughout the band are highlighted by some poignant contributions from Keith Godchaux (piano) and Bob Weir (rhythm guitar). These are crucial during the 45-plus minute epic jam that includes "Uncle John's Band" and "Morning Dew" and is bookended by what is arguably one of the most probing versions of "Playing in the Band" to have ever been committed to tape. Although some of the more demanding Deadheads may choose to unwittingly write this release off due to its distilled (read: incomplete) nature, more discerning enthusiasts will hear that the flow of the two very distinct sets was only enhanced by re-sculpting the proceedings and trimming the occasional excesses. Likewise, it should be noted that of the first two dozen Dick's Picks, three volumes -- all of which are also compilations -- are dedicated to shows from 1974.
AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2