Dick's Picks Volume 21
[November 1, 1985]
First Appeared in The Music Box July 2001, Volume 8, #7
Written by John Metzger
In 1985, Jerry Garcia's health was seriously deteriorating, and by the following summer, he would sink into a life-threatening coma. While this all too often was reflected in his and the Grateful Dead's performances, that didn't mean there weren't good shows to be found.
Take the concert featured on Dick's Picks, Volume 21, for example. Recorded on November 1 at the Richmond Coliseum in Richmond, Virginia, this show has long been one of the better respected concerts that the Grateful Dead performed that year. The first set was solid from start to finish, as Garcia and Bob Weir inspired each other, building the momentum with each song that they delivered. Dancin' in the Streets was plagued by sound problems, but once Garcia's guitar cut in, it cemented the band together, while also offering an early flight into the stratosphere. Little Red Rooster was lifted by Brent Mydland's greasy organ solo as well as Weir's stinging, screeching slide guitar. Stagger Lee carried the blues theme further as Garcia's guitar fluttered around the group's syncopated rhythm. And a surprise pairing of Jack Straw and Don't Ease Me In concluded the first act with an intoxicating flourish.
But it was the second set of this show that truly shined. It was, perhaps, a bit mellow for some, but the splendor reflected in this stunningly perfect song cycle was truly astounding. On those rare occasions when High Time made its way into the Grateful Dead's set list, it often became a vocal train wreck. The version contained here, however, is certainly a keeper, packing volumes of emotion in Garcia's hazy vocals and the ensemble's laid-back accompaniment. Likewise, a spiritual rendition of He's Gone climbed out of nowhere and continued the relaxed atmosphere before the band shifted seamlessly into the slow groove of Spoonful. It was Mydland who led the way, heavily laying into the chords as Garcia chimed in with his serpentine guitar licks. In turn, Spoonful's dark hallway gave way to a redemptive Comes a Time, and despite Garcia's craggy, strained expressions, the song still managed to transcend itself to become a work of utter beauty — at one point unraveling into a million fragments and then re-congealing to continue its journey. Weir countered this the only way he could — with a pristine delivery of his mini-suite: Lost Sailor and Saint of Circumstance. And as if they weren't enough, the two songs were separated by a rapturously cosmic drum interlude as well as a spaced-out jam segment — with hints of Heaven Help the Fool — that surely sent many heads spinning in a kaleidoscopic fury.
As for the rest of the set, it was also well executed. Riding the crest of a wave from the coda of Saint of Circumstance, the Grateful Dead significantly lifted the energy level to careen into a segue that included a rowdy Gimme Some Lovin' and a chaotic, but jovial Gloria. Right smack between them was the most stunning rendition of Bob Dylan's She Belongs to Me as one is likely to hear, (although it is worth mentioning that Bob Weir's Ratdog is doing a terrific job with this tune, too).
As is becoming customary for the Dick's Picks series, Volume 21 includes some bonus material tacked onto the end of the final disc in the package. The selections — the back half of the second set — were taken from the band's September 2, 1980 concert in Rochester, New York. It's rather unfortunate that this is all that exists from this show in the Grateful Dead's extensive vault, but something is certainly better than nothing. The Drums and Space segments magically merge with the suite of Iko Iko, Morning Dew, and Sugar Magnolia to provide a stirring "third set" and wonderful addition to this collection.
Of Further Interest...
Dick's Picks, Volume 21 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