Dick's Picks, Volume 33
Oakland Coliseum Stadium
[October 9-10, 1976]
First Appeared in The Music Box, January 2005, Volume 12, #1
Written by John Metzger
Within the first 18 minutes of Dick’s Picks, Volume 33, the Grateful Dead blasts its way through Promised Land; takes a leisurely stroll through the winding, Western refrains of Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo; and gallops jauntily across the economical, but no less expansive terrain of Cassidy. True, scattered throughout the collection are some bum notes and off-kilter harmonies, but the sum total of the experience is downright mesmerizing.
Prior to the Grateful Dead’s return to touring in June 1976, the group had performed only four concerts since its farewell shows in October 1974. As a result, much of the year was spent reestablishing the connection among both the musicians and their fans. Save for the reintroduction of Mickey Hart into the family, the personnel remained the same, but even so, much had changed. Although the collective still had a penchant for making exploratory, improvisational music, it undoubtedly had become a tighter ensemble, one which came at its material with a renewed energy and a myriad of fresh perspectives. It introduced a batch of new songs — the band’s Blues for Allah, Jerry Garcia’s Reflections, and Kingfish’s self-titled debut had been released during the hiatus — and it rediscovered several older tunes, such as New Minglewood Blues, Dancing in the Streets, St. Stephen, and the heretofore untapped majesty of The Wheel.
Taken from a pair of concerts performed with The Who on October 9 and 10, 1976 at California’s Oakland Coliseum Stadium, the 33rd installment of the highly regarded Dick’s Picks series of archival recordings contains nearly five hours of magnificently delivered (and impeccably remastered) music. Spurred by a hometown crowd as well as a friendly rivalry with its peers — the two legendary ensembles had previously appeared on the same stage at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and at the Woodstock Festival in 1969 — the Grateful Dead embarked upon a quartet of robust sets, which many consider to be among the finest and most consistent that the band unleashed that year.
From the bubbly groove and kaleidoscopic swirl of Scarlet Begonias to the ragtag fury of Johnny B. Goode, from the country bounce of Mama Tried to the delicately soulful strains of Wharf Rat, the Grateful Dead proved that it had lost none of its playful spirit and youthful vigor, even if it had become a veteran ensemble. Of course, the finest moments took place whenever the band dug to the core of its material and mined each and every chord sequence for inspiration. In its hands, the delicate Sugaree blossomed into a soaring anthem, and a pairing of St. Stephen and Not Fade Away unfolded with a vibrant, blues-baked intensity. Elsewhere, the collective frolicked within the elongated, serpentine suite of Help on the Way, Slipknot!, and Franklin’s Tower, which also incorporated into its swirling sonic architecture a powerhouse rendition of Samson and Delilah and a percolating interlude of drums and percussion. It also enveloped the circular motion of The Wheel, the thunderous strains of The Other One, the mournful whisper of Stella Blue, and a deep-space maelstrom within the penetrating potency of Playing in the Band.
There’s little doubt that the Grateful Dead’s improvisational excursions during the concerts presented on Dick’s Picks, Volume 33 were restrained, especially in comparison with the band’s countless spacious sojourns throughout the early ’70s. Yet, the music that is relayed rarely falters, and much like it did during the bulk of its career, the band bathed its songs in the warm glow of spiritual enlightenment, effectively utilizing texture and nuance to carry its fans on a whirlwind tour of the heavens.
Dick's Picks, Volume 33 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 © 2005 The Music Box