Dick's Picks 32
Alpine Valley - East Troy, WI
[August 7, 1982
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2004, Volume 11, #11
Written by John Metzger
There are several reasons why only 20 percent of the extensive Dickís Picks series has focused upon the final half of the Grateful Deadís career, the biggest of which might be the notion that the band took fewer risks and had fallen into some semblance of a routine. First sets generally began and ended with a predictable batch of songs, and they consistently featured almost obligatory nods to blues, country, and eventually the songbook of Bob Dylan, while second sets customarily were divided by a drum duet and a free-form jam, with a certain batch of tunes regularly slotted to fall on either side of the interlude. As formulaic as the bandís format became, however, thereís no denying that, in the process, it also turned into a tighter unit, and when it was on target, its shows could be a positively moving experience, even if they were a little less avant-garde in scope.
Dickís Picks, Volume 32 focuses on just such an endeavor, and while itís not the strongest of the Grateful Deadís latter day concerts to be released, the event still managed to feature a plethora of memorable moments. Recorded on August 7, 1982 at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin, the collection is essentially a streamlined snapshot of the refined rendition of the ensemble, complete with all the standard practices and procedures that typically were employed. Still, there was an urgent sense of inspiration to the performance that was missing from many of the bandís shows from this era, which undoubtedly explains its selection for inclusion in the groupís officially sanctioned canon, although it also holds the dubious distinction of being the weakest edition of the esteemed Dickís Picks series.
That doesnít mean, however, that the concert was utterly devoid of merit. Even when the Grateful Dead was at its worst, it still managed to unleash a few nuggets ó the cover of Bob Dylanís Visions of Johanna that blossomed amidst the rubble of the bandís performance at Soldier Field on July 8, 1995, for example ó and as a whole, the show featured on Dickís Picks, Volume 32 is quite far from being the most horrific evening of music ever put forth by the group. Indeed, the bigger issue with the new collection is that the ensemble effortlessly settled into its autopilot-driven mode of operation, occasionally showing flashes of brilliance within its otherwise solid, if not groundbreaking, suite of songs.
Rummaging through its exquisite catalog, the Grateful Dead peppered its first set with a few well-performed, if largely unexceptional, selections ó most notably Me & My Uncle, a far-too-methodical Althea, and the rarity On the Road Again ó along with a handful of more spectacular moments, such as the furious romp through Big River, Jerry Garciaís shimmering lead on an otherwise drab It Mustíve Been the Roses, and the sprawling jubilation of Let It Grow. The highlight, however, was the unusual opening medley of The Music Never Stopped and Sugaree. While the transition from the former into the latter was less than perfect, Sugaree became one of those blissful, defining moments when Heaven and Earth became one as Brent Mydlandís organ accompaniment splattered illusory swirls underneath the sunbeam-bright spirals that flew from Garciaís guitar. As a result, the re-entry to The Music Never Stopped was a more focused undertaking, and the band miraculously salvaged what easily could have become an complete train wreck by transforming it into something truly delightful.
The second set was an altogether different animal, and although on paper it appeared to be a fairly routine affair, the ensuing music ó from the burbling funk of Man Smart, Woman Smarter to the scorched-earth thunder and haunted, post-apocalyptic beauty that shaded Morning Dew ó was masterfully rendered. True, Garciaís voice showed more than a few signs of wear, but his serpentine lead glistened with substantive, stylistic grace. Of course, it almost goes without saying that Playing in the Band was the utmost highlight of the entire concert. Its strange architectural cadence and open-ended chord sequences were suited perfectly to the Grateful Deadís sweeping sonic explorations, and the ensemble frequently plunged into the tuneís textured tunnels, contentedly following them wherever they would lead. In addition, the customary pairing of China Cat Sunflower and I Know You Rider was a particularly exalted adventure as Garcia delivered a solo during the interlude between the songs that majestically darted through the ringlets of color painted by the rest of the collective, and the brief, but no less potent offerings known as Drums and Space respectively were purely primal and deliciously chaotic.
Thereís little doubt that Dickís Picks, Volume 32 isnít designed for those possessing merely a selective interest in the music of the Grateful Dead. After all, there is a plethora of more consistent material available, any of which would make for a better introduction to the band. Instead, the two-disc collection offers a time capsule of sorts to the groupís most avid fans, one that will allow those who attended the concert to reminisce fondly and those who didnít to wish they had found their way to Wisconsin for that fateful Saturday night in August 1982. For them, the notion that it also features some rather explosive music, particularly during its latter half, is reward enough for enduring a few of the bumpier moments contained within the show. In other words, itís as honest a depiction of the Grateful Dead as one is likely to find.
Dick's Picks, Volume 32 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 © 2004 The Music Box