Dick's Picks 36
Spectrum / Folsom Field
Philadelphia, PA / Boulder, CO
[September 3 & 21, 1972]
The Music Box's #6 specialty package for 2005
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2005, Volume 12, #12
Written by John Metzger
In the 3½ years that separated its phenomenal string of shows at the Fillmore West in February 1969 and its Fall tour in September 1972, the Grateful Dead underwent an enormous period of transition that found it building upon, rather than sacrificing, its artistic credibility. In that time, the group not only had crafted its two undisputed classic albums Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, but as was evidenced by the music performed during its jaunt to Europe in Spring 1972, the ensemble also successfully had combined the various strands of its explorations and had seamlessly blended its newfound emphasis upon songwriting into its mind-bending sojourns. Indeed, the Grateful Dead was an unstoppable force, and even the declining health of keyboard player Ron "Pigpen" McKernan did little to slow its momentum. In September 1971, the ensemble had added pianist Keith Godchaux to its line-up, and by the time that McKernan retired the following June, Godchaux already was leaving his own mark on the band’s material.
The latest installment of the ever-expanding Dick’s Picks collection of two-track, live recordings captures the Grateful Dead in all its glory at a concert held at Philadelphia’s Spectrum on September 21, 1972. Forever a favorite within the tape trading community, the show had been earmarked for release by series’ founder Dick Latvala prior to his passing. Its centerpiece — a gorgeous, 37-minute Dark Star that turned playfully jazzy before tumbling through the farthest reaches of space, free-falling into a lovely melodic jam, and settling into the haunted, anguished strains of Morning Dew — is likely the primary reason, though the rest of the four-disc set — which also includes nearly an hour’s worth of material from the band’s weather-altering performance in Boulder, Colorado on September 3, 1972 — is stuffed to the brim with equally worthy fare. Indeed, the ensemble not only gave its country cover tunes a thorough workout, whipping the chugging rhythmic groove of Johnny Cash’s Big River into a delectable slice of cowboy funk and transforming Marty Robbins’ El Paso into a whirlwind tour of the open range, but it also placed a jaunty spin upon Ramble on Rose and twisted Cumberland Blues, its own ditty for the workingman, into a frenzied tangle of twirling guitars.
Much of the concert featured on Dick’s Picks, Volume 36, however, focused upon the Grateful Dead’s unparalleled ability to push rock music to its absolute limit, and the band wasted little time in pursuing its ambitious objectives. Although it was only the second tune to be performed at the show, Bird Song provided a glimpse at the vast terrain that the ensemble would traverse over the course of the evening, and while Bob Weir’s angular riffs relentlessly teased and taunted the melody, Jerry Garcia’s serpentine lead darted through the center of Phil Lesh’s coiling bass lines. Elsewhere, a sturdy rendition of He’s Gone drifted deliberately through a gospel-blues jam before diving into the rambunctious refrains of Truckin’; Playing in the Band, which was colored as much by Godchaux’s stylish piano accompaniment as it was by Garcia’s probing and puissant soloing, mutated into a burbling jazz-fusion epic; and despite its relaxed and easy-going gait, China Cat Sunflower also packed quite a punch as Weir and Garcia allowed their contrapuntal melodies to tug and pull on one another as the song seamlessly slid into the rolling locomotion of I Know You Rider.
Given the well-warranted buzz that has surrounded the Grateful Dead’s issuance of the 10-disc box set Fillmore West 1969: The Complete Recordings as well as its accompanying three-CD distillation Fillmore West 1969, it’s likely that Dick’s Picks, Volume 36 will become lost in the shuffle of the band’s 40th anniversary celebration. Nevertheless, it’s a remarkable endeavor that certainly ranks alongside this year’s gem from 1989 Truckin’ Up to Buffalo, if not the superlative 1977 show featured on Dick’s Picks, Volume 34, or the extraordinary highlights featured on The Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack. Indeed, it’s been a terrific year to be a Deadhead. ½
Of Further Interest...
Dick's Picks, Volume 36 is available from Barnes & Noble.
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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