Grateful Dead - Dick's Picks 13: May 1981

Grateful Dead
Dick's Picks 13

Nassau Coliseum - Uniondale, NY

[May 6, 1981]

First Appeared in The Music Box July 1999, Volume 6, #7

Written by John Metzger

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With the recently released thirteenth chapter in his ever-expanding Dick's Picks series, Grateful Dead vault archivist Dick Latvala has done it again. For this three-disc set, Latvala chose a stunning performance by the Grateful Dead at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York on May 6, 1981. Fans of the band forever have hailed this concert as being among that year's best, but many have underappreciated the show in comparison to the band's numerous other legendary performances. This may be due in part to the fact that the quality of the recordings available on the usual circuits was seriously lacking and this now has been rectified with the release of Dick's Picks, Volume 13.

The first set of the show was an extremely solid affair that began with the frantic assault of Alabama Getaway and Greatest Story Ever Told before it temporarily slipped into the mellower terrain of They Love Each Other. The familiar tune floated gracefully along its reggae groove, while containing a few unique twists and turns. Midway through the song, keyboardist Brent Mydland launched into a solo that imitated the stylistic approach of Jerry Garcia, and this, in turn, forced the guitarist to travel a different, though no less scenic path on his own excursion. Other highlights of the set included a heavyhearted Looks Like Rain, an explosive and transcendent Let It Grow, and a potent Cassidy, all of which drew upon an otherworldly spirit to weave a myriad of emotions into a multicolored tapestry of psychedelic illusions.

As good as the first set was, it's the second half of the concert that stole the show. It all began with the unusual choice of Bob Weir's New Minglewood Blues, which was fueled by the cosmic whirlwind of Mydland's keyboard playing. Later, the band came through with another pair of Weir-penned songs Lost Sailor and Saint of Circumstance. On the former, the group fully explored the song's serene atmosphere, and yet, it built the intensity level throughout its powerful conclusion. Saint of Circumstance burst through the tension with a vengeance. Midway through the song, Garcia's guitar got a little lost in the mix behind Mydland's keyboards, but listen closely he played his heart out, pushing the song to mind-boggling proportions.

The centerpiece of the set was a beautiful and haunting rendition of He's Gone that Weir dedicated to the martyred Irish rebel Bobby Sands. Garcia's vocals were gentle and full of emotion as was his guitar playing. As the song wound down, he and Weir took turns crying out the words "he's gone" and "nothing's gonna bring him back" with a deluge of sentiment that held nothing back. A ferocious jam ensued that shape-shifted its way through Caution before arriving at a Spanish theme that sinuously traversed its distinctive terrain.

If for some reason this isn't satisfying, Latvala tacked onto the end of the second disc a hidden bonus selection of Scarlet Begonias and Fire on the Mountain, which were recorded at the same venue on November 1, 1979. It was an epic 35-minute endeavor that pushed this pairing to its absolute limit. As Scarlet Begonias concluded, the Grateful Dead spiraled the melody outward, eventually remaining connected to the structure of the song by only a slender thread. Gradually Fire on the Mountain came into view, but the group was in no hurry to get there. The jam between the two songs was long and deliberate, as if the band was determined to explore every possible nook and cranny before moving further along its musical pathway. Those who have heard this jam before know that the bonus material alone is well-worth the price of admission for this collection.

In any event, Latvala has acknowledged that the May 6, 1981 concert might be the best that the band performed in the 1980s, and after listening to this collection, that's definitely difficult to dispute. No matter what your take on this question might be, however, there's one thing on which everyone can agree when the Grateful Dead was on top of its game, there was certainly no better live band in the world. starstarstarstar

Dick's Picks, Volume 13 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 1999 The Music Box