Music Reviews
Grateful Dead

Grateful Dead

Dick’s Picks 32, 33, 34

Grateful Dead Productions

The Grateful Dead may well be the most documented musical phenomenon short of the Beatles that has ever existed. Despite having lost Jerry Garcia in 1995, the Grateful Dead’s popularity has never been stronger. The surviving members tour as “The Dead,” and each of the remaining members has taken the slogan “The music never stopped” far beyond what Garcia, Pigpen, and the rest imagined back in Haight-Asbury in the 1960s.

Which leads us to the popular series of live shows released under the title Dick’s Picks. Started in 1993 by Dead archivist Dick Latvala and continued after his death by David Lemieux, each is a full show from band tapes, soundboard recordings, or audience tapes. Number 32 is from 1982’s Alpine Valley Music Theatre, 33 is from two shows in Oakland in 1976, and the last is the Community War Memorial in Rochester, New York in 1977.

Now, I’m a Dead fan, no doubt. I saw them twice, once near the end of Garcia’s life, and have listened to countless hours of live tapes. I’m definitely “on the bus” as they say. But faced with these three shows – nine CDs of material, clocking in at over 10 hours of music – I give. The first cut I played was the 10/9/1976 opener “Promised Land” from the Oakland Coliseum. Oi. Opening a show with a Bob Weir-led Chuck Berry song is probably a wise move – gives the band and its fans a chance to get settled and comfortable for the long set of music to follow – but Weir, for whatever talents he has (I doubt Garcia, a true genius of American music, would have played with him for all those years if he wasn’t any good) seriously couldn’t sing a lick. His voice is weak, devoid of passion, and off-key. But hey, its the first song, the drugs haven’t kicked in, and by the next number, “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” from Jerry, you understand why you listen to the dreck – because it only makes the brilliance of Garcia even more pronounced.

But even momentary glimpses of fire from Garcia couldn’t lure me into a full submersion in these shows, and it all comes down to just how you relate to the Grateful Dead. When I’m in the mood, I can listen for weeks to all things Dead. Live shows, DVDs, and Jerry’s side projects with David Grisman or solo, all of it. But otherwise, the band leaves me cold. The Grateful Dead exist in their own time and place. Concert promoter Bill Graham once remarked “they’re not the best at what they do, they’re the only ones who do what they do.” And truer words have rarely been uttered. You either take the whole tab of acid or you don’t. For each classic Garcia solo you have to put up with Weir’s weak vocals, meandering drum solos (“Space”) and bar-band reject country covers. It’s all part of “the long, strange trip” that the band and their fans have been on for all these many years. But damn, if you’re not in mood, you can certainly relate to the old joke.

“What does a Deadhead say when the pot runs out?”

“Damn, this band sucks!”

Grateful Dead: http://www.realgonemusic.com

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