Dick's Picks Volume 20
Capital Center / Onondaga War Memorial
Landover, MD / Syracuse, NY
[September 25 & 28, 1976]
First Appeared in The Music Box June 2001, Volume 8, #6
Written by John Metzger
The year 1976 may not have been the best year in Grateful Dead history, but it was certainly a good one. After a lengthy hiatus from touring, the band once again took to the road. Percussionist Mickey Hart had rejoined the group, and together they quickly regained their footing — investing a renewed energy into their songs.
That same year, a letter was sent to the Grateful Dead office by one of the band's fans. The note proposed a series of concert releases to be sold only through mail order. It took a long time for this concept to become a reality, but this year, the Dick's Picks series celebrated its 20th edition with a four-CD set, containing two nearly complete shows from 1976 — with each missing just a single song.
The first two discs cover the Grateful Dead's September 25 concert at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland. The first set was quite remarkable, beginning with an inspired Bertha and concluding with a typically sublime Sugaree. In between, Ramble On Rose soared, and Cassidy became an epic journey — incredibly in less than five minutes.
The highlights, however, were the triple punch sequence of Peggy-O, Loser, and Let It Grow. (It's All Over Now was not included in this release). Jerry Garcia's guitar resonated with melancholic beauty on Peggy-O, and on Loser, there was an air of desperation in his vocals, which was matched by the angst of the music. Let It Grow was a rare amphetamine pearl — raging along and threatening to spiral out of control, but retaining a thin-line connection to its pulsating beat.
After this, the second set could only be a bit of a letdown, and though it was solidly performed, it was still a rather routine affair. The Lazy Lightning/Supplication segue as well as Scarlet Begonias certainly had their moments, but they still failed to lift the band back to the lofty aspirations of the first set.
The final two discs of this Dick's Picks package are derived from the Grateful Dead's September 28 concert at the Onondaga County War Memorial in Syracuse, New York. Interestingly, four of the songs (Cassidy, New Minglewood Blues, Let It Grow, and Dancing in the Street) from the September 25 show were revisited here, offering some intriguing comparisons for the most detail-minded Deadheads. The rest should simply sit back and enjoy the ride.
Cold Rain and Snow kicked things off in a delightfully mellow way, with Garcia's soaring lead gliding over Phil Lesh's rolling bass line. As the set continued, Big River exploded with energy, Cassidy was potently concise, Candyman was downright beautiful, and Tennessee Jed ended with a bang instead of a whimper. The highlight, though, was the set concluding unification of Let It Grow and Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad. The former was given another full-blown, expansive treatment, guided by Lesh's mercurial bass and Garcia's silvery lead, while the latter slips into a buoyant beat that swept the band off the stage on a positively happy note.
As for the second set — which is completely intact on the final disc of the package — it began with a mind-bending Playing in the Band and never relented until the final note of the encore's Johnny B. Goode rang through the air. The Grateful Dead were certainly in fine form here, allowing the music to cast psychedelic visions across the movie screens of closed eyelids. Twisting, turning, and winding through the songs' darkly beautiful passages, the group set the controls for a nice slow broil, baking each refrain into a liquid mass of sheer ecstasy. The Wheel was uplifting, and its concluding jam blossomed like a flower after a spring rain; After a rousing Samson and Delilah, the space-filled ebb and flow of Playing in the Band reemerged only to fade into the haunted strains of Comes a Time; And a rapid, but rewarding Eyes of the World fluttered and floated with the gracefulness of a butterfly on a summer breeze before slipping into an unusual little jam that falls somewhere between a reggae number and Irving Berlin's Russian Lullaby. It's exactly this type of spontaneity that made the Grateful Dead so special and continues to allow these archival releases to sound so fresh and vibrant.
Dick's Picks, Volume 20 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 © 2001 The Music Box