How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Dave's Picks Volume 6 represents an important entry in this Grateful Dead archive series, on its own terms and as a crucial reminder of how this iconic band evolved around the cusp of the 1960's and the 1970's. Plus which, the sound quality of the recordings, originally administered by the famous Owsley "Bear" Stanley, is as notable as the evolving style of the group itself.
As keyboardist Tom Constanten notes so vividly from a performer's perspective in his abbreviated essay (his last appearance with the Dead is preserved for posterity here), the group was well into the process of working in a more structured format rather than the open-ended jamming that had characterized their live approach virtually since its inception. New material of the time, such as "Casey Jones" and "Uncle John's Band," which bookend this 2/22/70 performance from St Louis, facilitated the transition as did the band's own enthusiasm for its new compositions and the changes wrought on their performances of it.
Hear the full-throated group singing on "Cumberland Blues," and there's not one iota of hesitance to embrace the moves from singing to playing and back again. Such flexibility wouldn't remain so lithe as the years wore on, but the fresh approach kept the lineup on its collective toes. The two drummers of the time, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, worked out their breaks as well as their foundational accompaniment to foster movement suited to the compact arrangements of those songs.
Such discipline did not come at the expense of knowing when to let go, the hallmark of Grateful Dead improvisation for the duration of their career to this point and here evident on this 1970 performance as well as its counterpart in this package, a performance from the hallowed hometown venue Fillmore West captured some fourteen months prior. The pinpoint precision Garcia brought to his guitar tone and touch sounds as natural as the broader swath he cut in the formative years of the band, so that on such vintage pieces as "Dark Star," "St Stephen" and "The Eleven," he's as fluent as when he applies an economical approach to the rare tune of the time "Mason's Children;" a cull from the final running order of Workingman's Dead (Warner Brothers, 1970), the placement of this number in the midst of widely arcing jams on both shows makes for an effective exercise in dynamics as well as a delicious contrast in style.
An underlying theme to Dave's Pick's Volume 6 is the alternating presence and absence of Ron "Pigpen" McKernan from the lineup. The two marathon workouts of "Turn On Your Lovelight" that appear here are the keyboardist/vocalist/harpist in his element as conjurer of good times: the group were never more of a dance band-as opposed to exploratory improvisationalists-than when Pigpen fronted the group. Nor was the group ever more unabashedly abandoned than when following his lead, even in relatively small doses, as this "Good Lovin'" from 1970. When "Pigpen" passed on in 1973, the Grateful Dead itself, sans his earthy presence, passed into another era altogether.
A reprint of ruminations on the man's epochal presence its conspicuous placement within the cover design of this 3CD set. The graphics of thus reaffirm how these archived recordings, having become complete with the return of missing reels in 2012, carry more than just academic significance within the transformative lore of the Grateful Dead.
Track Listing: Fox Theater, St. Louis, MO 2/2/70: C D 1:1 Casey Jones; Mama Tried; Hard To Handle; Cold Rain and Snow; Black Peter; Cumberland Blues; Dark Star>Stephen>Mason’s Children; Good Lovin’; Uncle John's Band. CD 2: Turn On Your Lovelight>Not Fade Away>Turn On Your Lovelight; And We Bid You Goodnight. Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA 12/20/69: Dark Star>St. Stephen>The Eleven>New Speedway Boogie. CD
3: Turn On Your Lovelight; Mason’s Children; China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider; High Time; Me And My Uncle; Hard To Handle; Cumberland Blues.
Personnel: Jerry Garcia: lead guitar, vocals; Bob Weir: rhythm guitar, vocals; Phil Lesh: bass guitar, vocals; Tom Constanten: keyboards (12/20/69 only); Ron "Pigpen" McKernan:vocals, organ (2/2/70 only), percussion, vocals; Mickey Hart: drums; Bill Kreutzmann: drums.