Dick's Picks 31
Civic Center / Roosevelt Stadium
Philadelphia, PA / Jersey City, NJ
[August 4-6, 1974]
The Music Box's #3 specialty package for 2004
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2004, Volume 11, #7
Written by John Metzger
Just days before Richard Nixon resigned his position as President of the United States to avoid impeachment, the Grateful Dead unleashed a trio of exhilarating performances in the mid-Atlantic. For certain, 1974 was a magnificent year for the band ó even if it was the end of a rather disgraceful era for the country at large ó for its mad-scientist amalgamation of country, rock, jazz, and blues blossomed beautifully, and although it soon would take a 20-month sabbatical from touring, its energy remained remarkably high.
Indeed, the 31st edition of the esteemed Dickís Picks series culls material from the early August conclusion of the Grateful Deadís summer tour, and although it mixes and matches among the concerts to form what is essentially two shows, it does so in a seamless fashion, providing an intriguing and frequently mind-bending blast through the groupís much treasured canon. Beginning with Playing in the Band, the collection comfortably slips into a phantasmagorical display of Technicolor brilliance, as guitars and bass intertwine in double helix fashion around the trackís burbling percussive groove. In fact, featured within the four discs of the set are two distinct renditions of the song, each of which provides its own aeronautical view of the compositionís mountainous terrain. Other highlights naturally include the equally exploratory jazz-fusion gem Eyes of the World; the sprightly bounce of China Cat Sunflower on which the band embarks upon a whirling dance that carries it through a blissfully smooth transition into I Know You Rider; and an utterly perfect pairing of Weather Report Suite and Wharf Rat. This latter union begins in typical fashion with a quiet interlude that fully flourishes with the ebullient strains of Weather Report Suiteís third movement Let It Grow. Erupting like a summer storm, the segment surges over its percolating rhythms and is colored by splashes of piano and bass as shards of guitar slice through the consciousness-splitting madness with the utmost precision, leaving behind an elliptical trail of cosmic debris that swirls freely before coalescing in the gospel-hued refrains of Wharf Rat.
Moving beyond the obvious, however, there are numerous breathtaking moments on Dickís Picks, Volume 31 that occur outside of the Grateful Deadís lengthy, free-wheeling explorations. For example, Peggy-O encapsulates the bandís delicate gentility, while Ship of Fools demonstrates its ability to deliver a mournful blues-based ballad. Elsewhere, the ensemble delves into boisterous funk on Loose Lucy; becomes epochally rapturous on Sugar Magnolia; and unleashes a perky, joyous Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo that softly slips into the graceful tenderness of It Must Have Been the Roses. Unfortunately, there are a few moments on the collection when Donna Godchauxís contributions amount to little more than incessantly off-kilter wailing, but the blemishes are, at least, small in comparison with the epic sojourns of the band. In other words, Dickís Picks, Volume 31 is not a set for the faithful ó or the passively curious, for that matter ó to ignore simply because it offers far more than just a passing glimpse of "primal Dead" and encapsulates everything about which this series is supposed to be.
Dick's Picks, Volume 31 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