Dick's Picks Volume 14
Boston Music Hall
[November 30 & December 2, 1973]
First Appeared in The Music Box August 1999, Volume 6, #8
Written by John Metzger
Seeing the Grateful Dead perform was always much more than a concert. Even in their later years, the group could churn out music that turned their performances into life-altering, religious experiences. There is no question, though, that the group hit a creative peak between 1972 and 1974, with night after night of epic performances and monumental jams designed to transport their audience to the far reaches of the galaxy.
Admittedly, this is also the favorite period of Grateful Dead tape archivist Dick Latvala, and for the fourteenth volume in his Dick’s Picks collection, he turned to a pair of shows from late 1973. This is the first set in the series to include four discs, and it contains highlights of the first and last concerts of the three-show run at the Boston Music Hall.
Dick’s Picks Volume 14 is bookended beautifully by two stunning renditions of Morning Dew — each with its own identity and purpose. The band used the first rendering to set the pace and tone for the shows and to build a musical launching pad from which they could propel themselves to the next level. The concluding version was the final knock-out punch that brought the trio of shows to a roaring, rampaging meltdown. In between, the band did just about everything for which you could have asked.
Each of the discs corresponds to a set over the course of the two nights, with disc one covering the first set from the show on November 30. After opening with Morning Dew, the band sank into a mellow groove, performing an elongated and leisurely Dire Wolf and a relaxed, but no less potent Black-Throated Wind. It was the perfect set-up for the fireworks to come, lulling the audience into the soothing atmosphere of the music before steering them into the musical cyclone that erupted in Playing in the Band. It was a dazzling 23-minute workout, not unusual for this portion of Grateful Dead history, but amazingly, it only hinted at where the band was going to go during the remainder of the show.
Disc two contains the heart of the second set, picking things up with a titanic rendition of Here Comes Sunshine. Jerry Garcia made his guitar sing with sublime beauty, strewing notes like rays of sunshine on a cloudy day. He seamlessly slipped from solo to rhythm, joining Bob Weir and Phil Lesh on a glorious journey before taking the reins once again for a glorious return back to the main theme of the song. Weather Report Suite followed and was handled beautifully by the group. Its tender introduction was delivered with a slow and deliberate intent. It’s as if the group had entered a trance and was in the process of allowing the music to take control of their physical bodies. By the end of Let It Grow, the transformation was complete, and the music drifted along a psychic highway into the midst of a Dark Star Jam. Sounds collided and folded into one another — a few thundering booms from Lesh, the gentle guitar noodling of Garcia, Keith Godchaux’s alternating series of chords and notes, Weir’s brush-strokes of rhythm — and occasionally the familiar melody emerged only to be plowed back underneath the fray. A hint at China Doll floated through the air, but instead the band veered off into the joyful strains of Eyes of the World and then Sugar Magnolia. Talk about your happy endings — this conclusion surely sent the audience home in the best of moods.
The third disc, which begins the December 2 show, is perhaps the weakest portion of the collection. That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable — it just doesn’t live up to the three hours of music on Dick’s Picks Volume 14. Nevertheless, the band did serve up some rather sweet versions of Cold Rain and Snow, Jack Straw, and Ramble On Rose before launching into another stellar Weather Report Suite.
However, whether we’re talking about this release or the original three-show run, everything led up to the final set of the final night — a phenomenal 100 minutes of music that was full of twists and turns and led down an alleyway of psychedelic delirium. The set began with the unusual choice of Wharf Rat, which the band built from a whisper to a roaring crescendo. Again, the music took control, steering the group through a glorious Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo and into the cosmic vortex of Playing in the Band. As the bottom dropped out of the song, the band freely floated about the sonic space they inhabited, flirting between the melody and complete chaos. Suffice it to say that in the end chaos won, but once the band was pulled through the black hole, one of the sweetest jams erupted. It was solidly built around the Mind Left Body Jam, but there were hints of Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad that drifted through the theme. In addition, there was an unmistakable Allman Brothers-like feel to Garcia’s playing. This too mutated into a funky groove before the band settled upon He’s Gone.
As with all the Dick’s Picks, the cover of the package contains a proclamation that this is a snapshot at history and not a professional recording. Nevertheless, the sound quality is extraordinary, and the music is superb. The Grateful Dead were so much better than most of the world ever gave them credit for being, and Dick’s Picks Volume 14 is a clear testament to the reason why this was so. The power the band wielded was monumental, but to understand what was going on you had to allow yourself to be open to the experience of and succumb to their performance. In other words, you needed to work a little bit at shutting out the distractions of daily life, and perhaps that’s why so few people really got it. Fortunately, this set (and series) gives those folks a second chance, and it gives the rest of us an opportunity to once again experience the magic.
Of Further Interest...
Dick's Picks, Volume 14 is available from iTunes.
To order, please Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 1999 The Music Box