Dick's Picks Volume 23
Civic Center - Baltimore, MD
[September 17, 1972]
The Music Box's #4 specialty package for 2001
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2002, Volume 9, #4
Written by John Metzger
One listen to Dickís Picks, Volume 23, and itís easy to see why 1972 remains a favorite year among Grateful Dead fans. Simply put, the band was on fire, and its ever increasing arsenal of songs was quickly becoming one of the finest that Americana music had to offer ó a fact that remains true thirty years later. But the Grateful Dead never pretended to be just a roots-rock band; they had a lot more to offer. It wasnít unusual for the groupís concerts to include more than three hours of varied music, linked together to form a cohesive, epic journey across time and space ó much like the September 17 event replicated here.
Intermingling selections from Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, John Phillips, and Merle Haggard with a vast array of original compositions, the Grateful Dead just couldnít be stopped. Even the untimely death of Pigpen ó the bandís founding keyboardist ó couldnít cause the gears of the Deadís momentum to slip. They just kept trudging on, getting better and better with each passing day. Sugaree ó introduced just a little over a year earlier ó had blossomed into beautiful, laid-back groove. Likewise, Bird Song had become a phenomenally gorgeous addition to the Grateful Deadís repertoire. And then there were the jams ó those amazing moments where anything can happen, and often did as the band leapt off into the abyss, taking the audience along for what frequently was a wild ride. Short improvisational bursts flavor Bird Song, Truckiní, and the pairing of China Cat Sunflower with I Know You Rider. But it was the lengthier excursions that delivered the most interesting explorations ó first with a typically magnificent Playing in the Band and then with a sterling triple punch of Heís Gone, The Other One, and Sing Me Back Home.
Most folks talk about the expansiveness of the Grateful Deadís signature song Dark Star, but shortly after its debut, Playing in the Band moved into a similar realm. As Dark Star faded from the groupís repertoire, Playing in the Band remained and almost always was interpreted with inspired creativity. Its verses and its chorus became mere touchstones around which the Dead melded a variety of musical themes. And, like the version that appears on Dickís Picks, Volume 23, it is these interludes where things really got interesting. Guitars clamored and clashed against piano, bass, and a jazz-oriented rhythm as the musicians played off one another in a delicate dance of give and take like an ocean wave gently resculpting a sandy beach.
As for the trilogy of Heís Gone, The Other One, and Sing Me Back Home ó this is a perfect depiction of the Grateful Dead at its best. For sixty minutes, the band embarked on an incredible journey ó one with a unique musical vision not replicated before or since. Heís Gone was tender and sweet, peeling off into a gentle harmonic convergence of voices before Jerry Garciaís guitar lit the way out of the song. The thunderclap of Phil Leshís bass catapulted the band through the cosmic fury of The Other One ó a massive whirlwind of a tune that drifted from raging maelstrom to the deepest realms of space. Capping off the expedition with Sing Me Back Home surely was no accident as Haggardís prison lament was turned into a soothing salve for the soul.
As with most Grateful Dead concerts from 1972, itís a difficult task to choose one over the another. But a careful comparison between Dickís Picks, Volume 23 and Dickís Picks, Volume 11 will prove that this latest installment is the stronger of the two shows.
Dick's Picks, Volume 23 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 © 2002 The Music Box