Grateful Dead - Dick's Picks, Volume 29: May 1977

Grateful Dead
Dick's Picks Volume 29

Atlanta's Fox Theatre / Lakeland Civic Center

[May 19 & 21, 1977]

(Grateful Dead)

The Music Box's #5 specialty package for 2003

First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2003, Volume 10, #11

Written by John Metzger

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There was no shortage of mesmerizing Grateful Dead performances in 1977, so itís not surprising that Dickís Picks, Volume 29 returns to that year for its latest edition. Itís the fourth chapter in the ongoing series to do so ó the second from the magnificent month of May ó and itís the seriesí first six-CD set. Granted, this may seem a little excessive to outsiders, but for those who are well-aware of the bandís magic, itís every bit as welcome as the sunshine of spring after a cold, cloudy winter. Not to mention, the only possible way to release the concerts recorded on May 19 and 21 in their entirety (save for a U.S. Blues encore) is to issue such a monstrous collection ó a concession that most everyone upon hearing the music contained therein will agree is warranted completely.

In short, Dickís Picks, Volume 29 is an epic and monumental package that ranks among the very best outings of this rapidly expanding series. As such, there are numerous highlights to be found within it. For certain, there was something special in the air during May 1977, a month that found the Grateful Deadís creative juices returning full-force. The up-tempo material was given a significant infusion of energy, but it was the ballads that stole most of the attention. In particular, the first set from May 19 was stuffed with transcendent beauty from the shimmering strains of Peggy-O to the quiet desperation of Loser to the tenderness lent to Looks Like Rain through Donna Godchauxís stunning harmonies.

Sugaree, however, was the one song that consistently managed to outshine everything else that the Grateful Dead performed that month, and the rendition featured on Dickís Picks, Volume 29 was no exception. Stretching the tune into an astounding 16 minutes of unadulterated pleasure, the band never hit a lull nor did it ever force the song to go where it did not wish to travel. Simply put, the group allowed the melody to carry it away, rather than the other way around. Driven by Jerry Garciaís mellow, yet intense guitar lead, the song shifted from graceful swing to thunderous roar and back as colors pranced, tumbled, and twirled through the patchouli-scented rhythmic accompaniment. Among the many spectacular showings that this song received, this may be the greatest of them all.

Even better, this is hardly the be all and end all of Dickís Picks, Volume 29. In fact, these concerts were merely getting underway when the Grateful Dead launched into Sugaree. Throughout the four gracious sets of music featured on this collection, the band continuously dabbled in spacious experimentation, channeling its muse to create music that utterly melts the mind. Estimated Prophet appeared in both shows, and thus is featured twice; both versions were stellar, turning reggae inside-out through the songís rippling rhythms. The latter half of the second set from May 19 was built around the psychedelic anthem Playing in the Band, which skipped merrily into an inverted Uncle Johnís Band, blossomed into a resplendent rendition of The Wheel, and floated through the fragile strains of what is surely one of the finest performances of China Doll ó all before landing squarely back where it all began with the scintillating conclusion to Playing in the Band.

As for the May 21 concert, it had plenty of its own spectacular moments. The Grateful Dead struck gold with the shimmering strains of They Love Each Other as well as the gentle oscillation of Row Jimmy. It traversed the cosmos through the spiritual rebirth recounted in Cassidy, delicately danced through Jack-a-Roe, and found bliss within the intoxicating transition from Scarlet Begonias into Fire on the Mountain. The diamond of this performance, however, was the opalescent Heís Gone that sprung up midway through the second set. The tune dripped with a portentous ache before charging full-bore into the thunderous roar of The Other One, only to ease effortlessly into the sweet strains of Comes a Time. It all amounts to another classic moment in the Grateful Deadís variegated history.

As if this isnít enough, Dickís Picks, Volume 29 is augmented with additional material recorded on October 11, 1977 in Norman, Oklahoma. Dancing in the Street was full of funky jubilation; Dire Wolf sauntered along at a pleasingly slow, deliberate gait; the breezy elegance of Eyes of the World ó omitted from the bonus tracks ó wafted through the introduction to what became an expansive and explosive rendition of Not Fade Away; within the tender, melancholic ballad Wharf Rat, the Grateful Dead inserted a resolutely uplifting gospel song; and Around & Around was built from a mid-tempo blues groove into a frenzied fury. Indeed, either of the primary shows featured on Dickís Picks, Volume 29 would have been sufficient to make it a terrific collection, but taken together and supplemented with selections from the Norman, Oklahoma concert makes this extraordinary package not only the ultimate encapsulation of the bandís 1977 tours, but also a keeper for fans of any of the Grateful Deadís eras. starstarstarstarstar

Dick's Picks Volume 29 is available from iTunes.
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Ratings

1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!

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