The debate is ongoing and will certainly remain so, but with each Grateful Dead archive release from the "Wall of Sound" era, the 1973-4 phase of the iconic band's history rises further in prestige. And it should hardly be surprising, given that the impeccable sound translates through recording and Jeffrey Norman's remastering. On this title, that uncanny clarity allowed the group to play at an elevated level precisely because they could hear themselves so well, individually and collectively.
During shows like the one documented on Dave's Pick's Volume 17, on material ranging from the similarly ebullient takes on "Bertha" and "Beat It On Down the Line," both Keith and Donna Jean Godchaux are at the pinnacle of their respective contributions to the group's loose but knotty interplay and open-ended arrangements. Still, it's quite one delight to hear the Dead playing and singing with such robust relishparticularly so given this is the inaugural show of a tourand a wholly other one to experience the sensation of the group almost literally sounding as if they are in the very room where one of these three discs is playing. No doubt it's something akin to being on stage with the band hearing the music, otherwise surrounding by equally resounding quiet (and it sounds all the more vivid imagined in the open air and bright sunshine of the digi-pak foldout photo).
1974 is further distinctive within the Dead canon for the plethora of material in their repertoire at the time (including bassist Phil Lesh's "Seastones" collaboration with keyboardist/composer Ned Lagin included here from the intermission). The prolific nature of the Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter songwriting team, in full flower continuously from the likes of "Tennessee Jed" to "Row Jimmy" and "Scarlet Begonias" seems, in retrospect, to have inspired rhythm guitarist/vocalist Bob Weir: his ambitious "Weather Report Suite" had already turned into an inspiring epic improvisational vehicle by the time of this July show in Fresno, California. And while "One More Saturday Night" was already entrenched as a regular closer for Dead concerts by this time, it's well to remember it's a tune excerpted from Ace (Warner Bros, 1972), the solo album from the group's youngest member (on which the whole group backed him).
All that said, it should come as no surprise that, with the exception of the epochal year of 1972, more archive titles have emanated from 1974 than any other single year of the Grateful Dead's career. Counting ten combined from Dick's Picks and Dave's Picks, Road Trips and the soundtrack to The Grateful Dead Movie (Rhino, 2005), it almost goes without saying this significant phase has been well represented. But opportunity remains for additional culls to be prepared for release with all the optimum technical skill and imaginative graphic design (punctuated by Nicholas G. Meriwether's erudite, discerning essay) as Dave's Picks Volume 17.
Track Listing: Tracks
CD 1: Bertha; Mexicali Blues; Deal; Beat It On Down The Line; Row Jimmy; Me And Bobby McGee; Scarlet Begonias; El Paso; Tennessee Jed; CD: Playing In The Band; Seastones; Brown-Eyed Women; Me And My Uncle; It Must Have Been The Roses; Jack Straw. CD 3: He's Gone>U.S. Blues; Weather Report Suite>Jam>Eyes Of The World>China Doll; One More Saturday Night.
Personnel: Jerry Garcia: lead guitar, vocals; Bob Weir: rhythm guitar, vocals; Phil Lesh: electric bass, vocals; Keith Godchaux: keyboards; Bill Kreutzmann: drums; Donna Jean Godchaux: vocals.
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