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Each successive Grateful Dead archive release illuminates a new perspective on the history of a band whose career may be the most colorful in the history of rock and roll. Dave's Picks Volume 5 catches the iconic group on the cusp of two crucial junctures in one of the most prolific stages of its time together.
Recorded at UCLA in November 1973, the Dead plays with uncommon poise and good humor, whether skipping lightly through succinct performances such as "Me & My Uncle" or allowing itself to flow in and out of an extremely elongated circular passage including segues in and out of "Playing in the Band," Uncle John's Band" and "Morning Dew." Indicative of sharp collective instincts, there's a light touch in the musicianship that guides the sextet through transitions like those in "Here Comes Sunshine" with nary a stumble. Meanwhile, the overall dynamics here are exquisite.
That internal logic is no less impressive here, given that the bulk of the material is original. There are select covers, in the form of Chuck Berry's "Around and Around" and Marty Robbins' "Big River" (not to mention "Me & My Uncle," the cowboy tune of Mamas & Papas' John Phillips that the group made its own), but these selections are minimal decorations in the midst of a set list containing such well-honed tunes as "Tennesee Jed" and "Ramble On Rose," not to mention culls like "Stella Blue" and "Eyes of the World" from the studio album released earlier in the year Wake of the Flood (Grateful Dead Records, 1973).
That title inaugurated the Grateful Dead's first major business venture in the form of its own independent record label, a momentous move that in itself would've justified extricating itself from its contract with Warner Bros. But the continuation of touring further supported equally ambitious endeavors such as the "Wall of Sound" that would make its road debut early in the following year. Little wonder the Grateful Dead exudes such confidence in both its singing (only shaky and strident in spots) and playing throughout this home state concert: its members were making things work on their own terms off stage as they had taught themselves to do so onstage. At this point, the two environments were mirror images of each other.
Bill Walton's liner notes accompanying the three-CD package also reflect the interweaving of life inside and outside the music. His career as a stellar college then professional basketball player and passionately self-avowed Deadhead might well stand as a metaphor of how deceptively the Grateful Dead has insinuated itself into the culture of the times as years passed from the sixties into the seventies. Walton is remarkably astute in placing his lighthearted but nevertheless deeply felt and discerning descriptions of the sensations arising from such shows as Dave's Pick's Volume 5 into the context of a more broad lifestyle: his story becomes an almost perfect complement to the bountiful high clarity recording in the set.
Track Listing: CD1: Me And My Uncle; Here Comes SunshineLooks Like Rain; Deal; Mexicali Blues;
Tennessee Jed; The Race Is On; China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider; Big River;
Brown-Eyed Women; Around And Around. CD2: Row Jimmy; Jack Straw; Ramble On Rose;
Playing In The Band>Uncle John's Band>Morning Dew>Uncle John's Band>Playing In The
Band. CD3: Stella Blue; El Paso; Eyes Of The World>Sugar Magnolia; Casey Jones
Personnel: Jerry Garcia: vocals, guitar; Bob Weir: vocals, guitar; Phil Lesh: vocals, bass; Keith
Godchaux: keyboards; Donna Jean Godchaux: vocals; Bill Kreutzmann: drums;.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.