Grateful Dead

Dick's Picks, Vol. 8

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Once again, Dick picks a great one. Harpur College, 5/02/70, is consistently ranked by Deadheads as one of the band's best shows ever, and it's easy to hear why on this three-hour triple-CD. Crucially, this concert was held after the Dead had recorded their breakthrough album, Workingman's Dead, but a month before it was released. One can imagine the surprise of the audience when the group broke out acoustic guitars and played a first set in what we would now call an "unplugged" format, introducing then-unreleased songs like "Friend of the Devil," "Dire Wolf," and "Uncle John's Band," sometimes backed by New Riders of the Purple Sage members David Nelson and John Dawson. But that hour of wonderful music is only the beginning, and the Dead prove just as inspired when they plug in and launch into their more familiar mixture of updated R&B ("It's a Man's World," "Dancing in the Street") and expansive psychedelia ("St. Stephen," "The Other One"). But beyond all that, it's amazing to hear the band this engaged, joking with the audience and among themselves, seeming far more enthusiastic and spontaneous than they were later in their career. This is an album for people who wonder why Deadheads collect tapes, and also for Deadheads who have worn out their tapes of one of their favorites. (One song, "Cold Rain and Snow," has been deleted, probably more on grounds of quality than timing: it was the least impressive performance in the show.)

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