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Album Review

Grateful Dead: Dave’s Picks Volume 38: Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale, NY 9/8/73

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Grateful Dead: Dave’s Picks Volume 38: Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale, NY 9/8/73
For all the most practical of reasons, the Grateful Dead were never better in live performance than in 1973-1974. Those pertinent virtues of this iconic rock and roll band on stage are fully on display over the course of this three-CD edition of Dave's Picks, a clear depiction of the sweet spot between structured and open-ended playing, based on splendid songs, within which the group comfortably resided during this period.

First off, the iconic band had a wealth of original material dating back to their prolific output around the time of the one- two punch of studio efforts Workingman's Dead (Warner Bros., 1970) and American Beauty (Warner Bros., 1970), then continuing into the live Europe '72 triple-LP set. The exquisite ballad "Stella Blue" is just one example of the prolific output from the well-established songwriting team of guitarist/vocalist Jerry Garcia and the erudite wordsmith Robert Hunter. Rhythm guitarist/vocalist Bob Weir's compositional collaborations with John Perry Barlow were also beginning to bear fruit in the form of the ambitious "Weather Report Suite'' too. In addition a whole host of covers such as country artist Marty Robbins' "Big River" and "Beat It Down the Line" were regular insertions into setlists, providing the utmost pacing for the psychedelic warriors' now marathon two-set concerts.

In addition to this treasure trove of a repertoire to choose from, the Grateful Dead had at this point honed their stage presentation for nearly ten years since their formation in 1965. The well-rehearsed and stream-lined suite that distinguishes Fillmore West 1969: The Complete Recordings (Grateful Dead Records, 2005) set a precedent for smooth segues often populated the later setlists in the unconventional form of "Eyes of the World" and "China Doll;" this coupling comprised of the former, cull from the not-yet-released debut of their own independent record label, Wake of the Flood (Grateful Dead Records, 1973) and the latter, which would not appear on a studio album til next year From The Mars Hotel (Grateful Dead Records, 1974).

Road testing such new material kept the ensemble on its toes for the sake of not just mastering novel arrangements but also injecting the spontaneity of new ideas upon which to improvise during the course of the shows. The surprising inclusion of keyboardist Keith Godchaux' lead vocal on "Let Me Sing Your Blues Away," which also features sweet harmonies from spouse Donna Jean, is indicative of the confidence, not to mention the versatility, permeating this personnel lineup of the Grateful Dead (both husband and wife were fully ensconced in the lineup at this point, having joined, in succession, the previous two years prior).

It's a measure of the savvy of chief archivist David Lemieux that he chose to illustrate the exploratory approach of the Grateful Dead in this package via two extended pieces from the previous night's appearance at the Long Island venue. Both the thirteen-minute plus "Bird Song" and the eighteen-plus minute plus "Playing in the Band" are longer than most all the selections from 9/8, clearly illustrating how Grateful Dead performances could vary markedly from night to night. Equally importantly, the two protracted tracks illustrate how natural and easygoing was the exchange of instrumental ideas in those moments when the sextet decided to stretch out and jam.

Juxtaposed with vivid sepia-toned action photos (and Lemieux' own prose) within the twelve-page booklet enclosed in the triple-fold package—itself festooned on the outside with colorful stylized artwork by Helen Rebecchi Kennedy—eyewitness Jay Kerley's whimsical play-by-play of the evening speaks to the contrasts in tourstops from the perspective of his twelfth attendance of the year on the San Francisco band's itinerary (a creative graphic of which is also pictured inside next to photos and essays). Notwithstanding his effusive fanboy tone, there is more than a little to marvel at during this three-hours plus, from the ambiance of the room as captured by recordist Kidd Candelario (once he balanced the vocal levels) to the constant surprise in the drumming of Bill Kreutzmann: in Grateful Dead lore, the acclamation for the man in this era of the single-drummer has its roots in this kind of nimble yet assertive percussion work.

The now-legendary 'Wall of Sound' would make its road debut in roughly six months, further enhancing the Dead's in- the-moment response to each other while playing, based on the optimum clarity from the gigantic system. In addition to a banner raised by the late impresario and promoter Bill Graham—"They aren't the best at what they do, they are the only ones that do what they do"—Owsley Stanley's sonic masterpiece would be set up for the run at Bill Graham's Winterland in autumn of 1974, after which the Grateful Dead would go on hiatus from performing for almost an entire year (during which time Garcia would work assiduously on a cinematic project that would eventually coalesce into The Grateful Dead Movie (Grateful Dead, 2004).

The group would return to ongoing live performance again with a New Year's Eve 1976 at the Cow Palace, the storied West Coast venue which, perhaps not coincidentally, was the site of the Beatles' final concert except for the legendary rooftop gig in January '69 (recordings from which were released in 2007 as the first package produced under contract with Rhino Records). No less a credible source than bassist Phil Lesh himself would later state that, upon its return to the stage, the Grateful Dead had lost something intangible but crucial from its musicianly interactions: as an illustration of what he meant, the bassist might well have chosen this recording from Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale, NY 9/8/73.

Track Listing

CD 1: Bertha; Me And My Uncle; Sugaree; Beat It On Down The Line; Tennessee Jed; Looks Like Rain; Brown-Eyed Women; Jack Straw; Row Jimmy: Weather Report Suite - Prelude/Part I/Part II (Let It Grow). CD 2: Eyes Of The World; China Doll; Greatest Story Ever Told; Ramble On Rose; Big River; Let Me Sing Your Blues Away; China Cat Sunflower; I Know You Rider; El Paso. (Bonus) Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale, NY (9/7/73) - Bird Song. CD 3: He's Gone; Truckin'; Not Fade Away; Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad; Not Fade Away; Stella Blue; One More Saturday Night. (Bonus) Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale, NY (9/7/73) - Playing In The Band.

Personnel

Grateful Dead: band/orchestra; Jerry Garcia: guitar, electric; Bob Weir: guitar; Keith Godchaux: piano; Phil Lesh: bass, electric; Bill Kreutzmann: drums.

Additional Instrumentation

Jerry Garcia: vocals; Bob Weir: vocals; Keith Godchaux : keyboards, vocals; Donna Jean Godchaux: vocals; Phil Lesh: vocals; Bill Kreutzmann: drums.

Album information

Title: Dave’s Picks Volume 38: Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale, NY 9/8/73 | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Rhino

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