Dick's Picks Volume 16
Fillmore Auditorium - San Francisco
[November 8, 1969]
First Appeared in The Music Box May 2000, Volume 7, #5
Written by John Metzger
Between 1969 and 1970, the Grateful Dead were in a particularly creative and fertile period of their history. As the world moved from one decade to the next, the band was experiencing a transition of their own. Just a few years earlier, the Dead had burst onto the burgeoning San Francisco music scene where they dished out deliriously intense concerts that combined folk and blues with a pop music twist. Quickly, however, they began to define their own sound and style by stretching out these songs into lengthy improvisational journeys for the mind and spirit.
Throughout 1968 and 1969, the Grateful Dead's sets were anchored by the transcendence of Dark Star, the driving suite of That's It for the Other One, and Pigpen's extended rap rendition of Turn On Your Lovelight. Yet, as 1969 wore on, the band began to move in new and different directions. By the latter half of the year, their sets were filled with original songs that harkened back to early folk and blues music — the kind of tunes that crept from the hewn ashes of the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings' Anthology of American Folk Music and the kind of tunes that revisited the group's earliest days as a jug band. Dire Wolf, High Time, and Casey Jones now stood alongside covers of Merle Haggard's Mama Tried and John Phillips' Me & My Uncle, and the group was clearly hinting at what was to come — instead of electrified, psychedelic jams, they were preparing to move towards the acoustic-based, singer-songwriter fare that turned up on their masterpieces Workingman's Dead and American Beauty.
The latest edition of Dick's Picks, the sixteenth volume of this esteemed series, captures the Grateful Dead at the heart of this transition. Recorded at San Francisco's Fillmore Auditorium on November 8, 1969, the three-disc set showcases the group from both of these perspectives. Is it a perfect show? Not by any means. The Grateful Dead were always a little rough around the edges, and while this was certainly a result of their flagrant spontaneity, it was also a part of their charm.
Serving up a single, massive set that spanned nearly 2 ½ hours, the band tore through a gritty Good Morning Little Schoolgirl along with ferocious renditions of Good Lovin', China Cat Sunflower, and I Know You Rider. In addition, they delivered a relaxed and easy-going Dire Wolf, an earthy stroll through Mama Tried, and a world-weary High Time.
However, it was the latter half of the set that showcased the band at their best. Split across the final two discs of the package, the song cycle became more of a suite as the Dead's free-flowing musical interludes wound one song into the next. The group's signature anthem Dark Star became the glue that held it all together. Its familiar themes bubbled to the surface on three separate occasions, molding a rousing The Other One, an embryonic instrumental rendition of Uncle John's Band, and a customary, but no less exquisite, pairing of St. Stephen and The Eleven into a multifaceted musical concept. In addition, the band divided a 26-minute Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks) with The Main Ten, the precursor to Playin' in the Band. Tacked onto the end of the third disc is an uproarious cover of Turn On Your Lovelight, which was recorded on the previous evening.
Throughout it all, the Grateful Dead were clearly in tip-top form, allowing the music to be their guide through the cosmos. The dearly departed Dick Latvala had long wanted to release this concert in its entirety, and one listen to this set is all it will take to understand exactly why. ½
Dick's Picks, Volume 16 is available from iTunes.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2000 The Music Box