Grateful Dead

Road Trips: Vol. 1, No. 1: Fall 1979 [16 Tracks]

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Road Trips follows in the wake of the defunct 36-volume Dick's Picks series. One primary difference is that Road Trips anthologizes highlights from a tour -- rather than narrowing it down to specific concerts. This debut installment contains just over two-and-a-half hours from the newly reconfigured lineup with Brent Mydland (keyboards/vocals) -- who had replaced the husband-and-wife team of Keith Godchaux (keyboards/vocals) and Donna Jean Godchaux (vocals). Otherwise the usual suspects -- Jerry Garcia (lead guitar/vocals), Bob Weir (rhythm guitar/vocals), Phil Lesh (bass/vocals), Bill Kreutzmann (drums/percussion), and Mickey Hart (drums/percussion) -- are here. While not overtly designed to replicate a typical evening, the 16 selections -- spanning shows from the combo's late October and early November 1979 East Coast run -- accurately provide the contents of average Grateful Dead sets during the era. The primary caveat to that statement being the absence of lengthy drums or free-form space excursions that would occur during the latter half of a concert. Compilers were afforded the luxury of choosing the best executed performances but some enthusiasts may find that destroys the organic ebb and flow that made each and every time that the Grateful Dead interacted a unique event. Conversely, common entries including "Jack Straw" or "Bertha" are undeniably fresh. On the former, Weir lyrically ad-libs the line "...now we play for Clive" in reference to Clive Davis, owner of their current label Arista Records. The reading is particularly inspired as the rhythm section places the emphasis between each of the lines during the verses. The simple, but effective modification breathes new life into the songbook standard. The fiery "Passenger" benefits from the absence of Donna Jean Godchaux's questionable vocal intonations. There is also a long and wonderfully boogie-fied revival of "Dancin' in the Streets" -- a Motown cover which the combo had first done as the house band for the Acid Tests. Skipping nary a beat they land right into a fun and funky take of "Franklin's Tower" with Mydland's synthesizer sounding like a deranged clavinet. One zenith among all the highlights is the nearly 40-minute medley connecting the opening two movements of the "Terrapin Station" suite with a psychedelic excursion of "Playing in the Band" that hearkens back to the mind-blowing mid-'70s sonic meltdowns. From Shakedown Street (1978) comes the quarter-hour tail-shakin' title track. Plus, "Good Lovin'" -- another resurfacing oldie deeply rooted in the Grateful Dead's expansive repertoire -- concludes a lengthy expedition from "Wharf Rat" into the Weir rocker "I Need a Miracle," which is fused to an exceptionally hard-driving rendition of "Bertha." Early editions also included a full-length Road Trips: Vol. 1, Number 1: Fall 1979 (2007) whose nine-song tune stack arguably equals that of the feature presentation.