Dick's Picks Volume 7
Alexandra Palace - London
[September 9-11, 1974]
First Appeared in The Music Box June 1997, Volume 4, #6
Written by John Metzger
It's late in the day on a hot, summer afternoon as I carry my compact disc player and the latest Dick's Picks (Volume 7) out to the deck in back of my house. There is plenty of blue sky above me, separated by a few white, fluffy clouds, so I set up my lounge chair in the shade provided by the house. I pour a cold drink from the pitcher of margaritas sitting on the table, press "play" on the disc player, and settle in for a long ride.
As the clouds swirl past, I drift back to early September 1974, as the first notes of a brilliant Scarlet Begonias reach my ears. The members of the Grateful Dead are in tune with one another right from the start, carrying the song outward, anchored only by the solid, rhythmic drumming of Billy Kreutzmann. Even Phil Lesh's bass takes off to dart in and out of the twin guitars of Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia. This may only be a compact disc, but the sound is so incredible, it's like being there.
Culled from three shows at the Alexandra Palace in London, England, the band was gearing up for their farewell shows later that year. Dick Latvala has raised the stakes with this release, by far the best Dick's Picks to be released. This is the seventh release of the series, and it is packaged as three jam-packed discs that will surely blow you away. Each disc is better than the previous one, and given that there isn't a weak song here and that the Phil & Ned > Eyes of the World > Space > Wharf Rat > Space segment from the final night didn't make the cut, a fourth disc certainly could have been added. In addition, the cover graphics have been appropriately revamped for this issue with a gorgeous ticket taking the form of a magic carpet and soaring through the sky. The only complaint is that it would have been nice to have each song labeled with the date of the show from which it was taken. Some are obvious, others are not.
Among the outstanding songs on the first disc is one of the best versions of Black-Throated Wind ever performed. Lesh's bass is thick and heavy; Garcia provides a number of soaring guitar fills; Keith Godchaux's piano fills sound like he's in a blues saloon; and Weir's vocals are powerfully heavy with emotion. A fully jammed, spaced-out Playin' in the Band provides a fitting ending to the first disc.
The second disc kicks off with a delicate rendition of Weather Report Suite that gradually builds in intensity before concluding with the roaring finale of Let It Grow. Lesh fans will love this version — the sound of his bass is crystal clear as it weaves throughout the song. The ending jam briefly hints that it might turn bluesy before creeping into Stella Blue. Beginning as a whisper, the song erects a musical monument around Garcia's vocals and finally erupts in a beautiful guitar solo. I don't think the band ever performed a bad version of this wonderful song, and this is no exception. What is truly incredible is that this song which so often appeared towards the end of a show in later years, merely marks the midpoint of this collection!
Next, Truckin' erupts with a fiery passion and winds through a jam that briefly falls somewhere between Nobody's Fault and New Speedway Boogie. Quickly though, the jam steers further out into the oddly titled Wood Green Jam. The song threatens to dissipate into chaos, hinting at The Other One and Eyes of the World along the way but steering clear of both songs. Suddenly, the tempo changes and from the wreckage emerges the masterfully-performed, disc-concluding Wharf Rat.
As if the performances on the first two discs aren't enough, the third set begins with a solid Me & My Uncle and a well-jammed Not Fade Away. Garcia's guitar sings while the rest of the band locks into a funky, underlying groove. Everything culminates with every member of the band twisting and turning the song inside out, before heading back to the concluding lyrics. But the absolute highlight of the set is the truly amazing combination of Dark Star > Spam Jam > Morning Dew.
Dark Star settles into a mellow groove right from the start as the rocket ship effortlessly lifts off to travel among the stars. Dark Star is always a musical wonder, and this is no exception. This version clocks in at 24 minutes with plenty of space-age rooms to explore, including a spaced-out Death Don't Have No Mercy-style jam. In fact, it's 20 minutes into the song that the lyrics finally emerge, and once they do, Dark Star quickly dissipates into the chaotic space of Spam Jam. This is a total, apocalyptic meltdown, and out of the glowing embers a brilliant Morning Dew emerges. Garcia's vocals are superb as the band gives this one a tender treatment that gradually increases in intensity.
Appropriately, U.S. Blues appears as the encore to cap off the set. At the time of these shows, the band was near the end of nineteen performances in a row in which this song was played. Whew! It's a powerful ending to a wonderful three disc set. You will definitely want to check this one out!
Dick's Picks, Volume 5 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 © 1997 The Music Box