Grateful Dead
Dick's Picks Volume 10

Winterland Arena - San Francisco

[December 29-30, 1977]

First Appeared in The Music Box May 1998, Volume 5, #5

Written by John Metzger

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The Grateful Dead's Dick's Picks series celebrated its tenth release by issuing the best disc of the collection. Sure, the fourth and eighth editions included must-have, top-notch shows but they were widely known throughout the Deadhead community. With Volume 10, the spotlight is focused on a nearly perfect (and nearly complete) performance from December 29, 1977 that matches the magic of the February 13-14, 1970 (Volume 4) and May 2, 1970 (Volume 8) releases.

For years, December 29, 1977 has popped up in tape trading circles and scored minor recognition in the annual Deadbase "best-of" poll. Those who were there called the concert a legendary, life-changing event. It's unfortunate though that this show has lived in the shadow of the May 8-9 performances from earlier that year that have achieved a more-widely recognized legendary status among Deadheads. Nevertheless, December 29, 1977 was a better show, and this release should push it to the front of the pack.

From the first note of Jack Straw, the Grateful Dead put the controls into cruise control, leave their bodies behind, and begin to play their songs from a spiritual plane. Though the first four songs are really just a warm-up for the band, they are exquisitely energetic and draw the listener into the heart of each song. Of particular note is the inspired double-edged drumming attack from Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart. They seem to be herding the group towards the center of each song.

As the band begins Looks Like Rain, you can feel the group congeal into a single-bodied organism. Energy emanates with liquid radiance from the creature's many heads. There's no turning back from the trip that has begun. Jerry Garcia's guitar will lead you down the emerging pathway as musical notes dance joyously, painting a multi-colored landscape. The pathway becomes a river, raging with a beautiful intensity before cascading over a waterfall to the land of Tennessee Jed.

The beast continues to move as one as Garcia's guitar begins to soar. Bob Weir chimes in with his own unique rhythm style, and Phil Lesh grinds out a bubbly bass line. Tennessee Jed concludes and a raging Minglewood Blues threatens to send the group spiraling out of control. Yet, the band maintains its balance and continues churning, pushing, and driving the song into a sonic whirlwind.

At the center of the whirlwind is a calming Sugaree. It's a much needed rest from the intensity of Minglewood Blues. Its beauty is subtle, and it begins gently. If you let it, the creature will whisk you away. But before you know it, you're back in the whirlwind, circling the song faster and faster as the frenetic cosmic energy freely flows forming a magic carpet under your feet and carrying you into the Promised Land. Amazingly, this is just the first set!

The second disc of the set includes nearly the entire second set. Two songs (It Must Have Been the Roses and Sunrise) were not included on the release, but should become widely circulated as they were recently played on David Gans' Grateful Dead Hour.

The band returns with a Close Encounters tuning that leads to a tremendously energetic run through Bertha and Good Lovin'. Clearly the band is gearing up to top the amazing first set as they re-group into a single-minded, raging beast.

Playin' in the Band starts out with an upbeat intensity, but the song quickly enters a dream-filled garden of colorful sights and sounds. The song twists and turns through the foggy dew of time, creating a soft bed upon which to rest. Lesh embarks on a bass solo as the band surrounds the tune with space-filled embellishments that hint at China Doll. But instead, the first China Cat Sunflower and the first I Know You Rider since 1974 erupt from the calm. From the way the band performs China Cat Sunflower and I Know You Rider, it's impossible to guess that these songs were in semi-retirement. The segueway between the two songs is magnificent.

Upon the conclusion of I Know You Rider, the band immediately dips into a truly sweet, impeccably performed China Doll. The group moves as one in their tender treatment of the song, and the music compliments Garcia's vocals perfectly. His guitar solo screams with pain and sadness, adding a darker-edge to this otherwise joyful concert.

The darkness is brief, and the light returns during a brief Playin' Jam. This brief interlude focuses around Lesh's thunderous bass and leads to a rather mellow drum duet. Not Fade Away was always a natural progression out of the drum solo, and this version picks up the pace quite a bit. Not Fade Away is a celebration, not only of the coming New Year, but of life. It slams the door on the darkness of China Doll and offers a ray of hope to those in need.

But Not Fade Away doesn't end the set. Instead, the band reaches into its bag of tricks for a final visit to Playin' in the Band. It's a fitting ending to an outstanding show.

The band returns for a double encore, which appears on disc three of this package. A beautiful, fully developed trip to Terrapin Station emerges first, and a thunderous Johnny B. Goode draws the whole performance to a conclusion.

The remainder of the third disc contains a sizable portion of the second set from the following evening (December 30, 1977). It's a nice bonus of some outstanding material from this sensational run at Winterland, and it provides a nice ending to the package while making good use of the extra space on the final disc.

The band enters a mellow groove riding the jam out of Estimated Prophet. Garcia begins to let the sparks fly, but after a few minutes, he pulls the song back and effortlessly allows it to give way to a joyful Eyes of the World. It's well-played and jazzy. St. Stephen and Sugar Magnolia wrap things up with high-energy, flawless performances.

In a nutshell, if you haven't bought any of the Dick's Picks releases, now's the time to start your collection. This one is sure to put a smile on your face. starstarstarstarstar

Dick's Picks, Volume 10 is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, please Click Here!

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Ratings

1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!

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Copyright 1998 The Music Box