Grateful Dead

Dick's Picks, Vol. 34: 11/5/77 Community War Memorial, Rochester, NY

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Powerhouse performances such as those captured on the 34th instalment in the Grateful Dead's Dick's Picks series are evidence of their 1977 renaissance. The centerpiece of this three-disc edition is the November 5 gig at the Community War Memorial Auditorium in Rochester, New York with practically an hour of filler from Toronto, Canada at Seneca College's Field House (November 2). While the entire band's energy level is uniformly high, it is Phil Lesh (bass) who consistently provides more than just his customary rock-solid rhythmic anchoring. For a combo known for mixing up their lists from night to night, remarkably half-a-dozen songs that had been done the previous evening are repeated here and four others would turn up the next night. However, repetition is a good thing when the calibre of playing is as inspired as it was in the final week of their late fall of '77 tour. Not a second is wasted as they burst from the gate with a boisterous rendition of "New Minglewood Blues," an update of "New, New Minglewood Blues" from the Grateful Dead's self-titled debut album. Equally robust is the no-holds-barred exertion given to "Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo." Jerry Garcia (guitar/vocal) makes up for the occasional lyrical flub with spirited fretwork, setting the tenor for the remainder of the show. Especially with the insightful lines he corrals in "Jack Straw," which muscles into one of the hottest "Deal"'s to have gone down during this era. Lesh is atypically assertive as he noodles around while the rest of the musicians gear up for the beginning of the second set, which commences with the first of several full-blown solos from the bassist. Bob Weir (guitar/vocals) interrupts with a plea for the audience to "Take a Step Back" to prevent attendees at the foot of the stage from getting continually crushed by their fellow concert-goers. This was obviously a problem as Garcia had previously addressed the situation. Once things settled down, they embark upon a sublime and nearly quarter-hour long "Eyes of the World," soaring with a strength that hearkens back to the improvisation-heavy renderings that were common some four years prior to the Grateful Dead's 19-month-long touring sabbatical. Lesh once again steps up, rounding out the tune with a melodic jam that lands into a heady overhaul of "Samson & Delilah." After above-average readings of the emotive ballad "It Must Have Been the Roses," and the deliciously noir pairing of "Estimated Prophet" with "He's Gone," Lesh stays front and center, adding his proverbial two-cents in the abbreviated "Rhythm Devils" section before steering the good ship Grateful Dead into a scintillating "Other One," whose direct ancestry can be traced to seminal late-'60s outings. Keen-eared participants will definitely note the shift in audio quality from "Black Peter" on, as missing open-reel tapes were substituted with a slight, yet discernibly inferior quality master recording -- with an emphasis on the word slight as the contents are both completely listenable and no less enjoyable. The bonus material was a good call, specifically the version of "Estimated Prophet" that features Garcia extracting eerily bellowing laments and wailing sonic exorcisms. Although not as far out, Weir's "Lazy Lightning" and "Supplication" are similarly aggressive as Garcia's leads are nothing short of blistering. There is a reason that 1977 is so thoroughly covered in the Dick's Picks series -- mainly because of expeditions such as these.

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