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Grateful Dead: Grateful Dead: Dick's Picks 24

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The plethora of available live Grateful Dead material might be a completist's delight, but it can make for a nightmare for the consumer who just wants a few really good discs. This was a truly multifaceted band, with every facet documented to the point of exhaustion (or even tedium, depending who you ask). At their rootsy best, they could claim kinship with both The Band and Allman Brothers Band, and as a longform improvising unit, they could be on par with any, whether it be the Mothers Of Invention or Sun Ra. Different periods brought forth different strengths. Despite a history with keyboard players that reflected that of Spinal Tap drummers (they all died), the Dead never changed personnel much, so the character of the group never changed drastically, even as approaches evolved and playing styles developed.

This set, from Daly City, CA's Cow Palace in 1974, captures the band during a particularly fertile period, in the midst of a run of great studio studio albums (the much-loved Wake Of The Flood, From The Mars Hotel, Blues For Allah, all reissued on Rhino). Not only was the band in great performing shape, but the songwriting duo of Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter was at a peak, generating much of the band's most enduring material. In addition, their touring sound system was the best any group had during that time, so the need to fight through bad stadium sound was rarely a factor for the players, leaving them free to concentrate on music. This show was actually the first with their now-famous "Wall Of Sound" set-up, and the clarity afforded by this enormous configuration of speakers is part of the palpable enthusiasm in the playing.

Vol 24 captures these highs very very well. Not only is Jerry Garcia at his freshest as a guitarist, but keyboardist Keith Godchaux has really found his place in the group, not only for his ability to back Garcia, but also as the glue between Garcia and bassist Phil Lesh. Similarly, the one-drummer version on the rhythm section—Bill Kreutzmann plays without Mickey Hart here— is lighter and more flexible than the dual drum lineups with Hart. The tunes themselves really represent the best of the Dead during this period, so there's more concentration on songs than on long jams, with the longest track on the disc being a fourteen minute "Playing In The Band," which means by Dead standards it's short. There are a few roots covers, most notably an enthusiastic reading of Chuck Berry's "Promised Land" and Johnny Cash's "Big River," both of which were early seventies Dead show staples.

The band would not stay this energized for very much longer. Godchaux would shortly after discover and play exclusively the Yamaha CP-70 electric grand piano, which was tinny and tended to go out of tune. Furthermore, his accompaniment behind Garcia's solos turned into distracting echoes of the phrases the guitarist played. Garcia apparently found this annoying, Godchaux kept it up anyway, and eventually artistic differences and his extensive drug use led to his leaving the band, at which point he was replaced by Brent Mydland.

A judicious Godchaux and an invigorated Garcia leading the Dead charge through a time of their best songwriting makes 24 a highlight of the Dick's Picks series, right up there with Vol 36 (9/21/72, Philadelphia Spectrum, and what a show). It was the height of their life as a recording band, and they're playing with bright, brave enthusiasm. Not long after this, the band enters a less rewarding phase, and the resultant live recordings don't linger as positively as this one does.

Track Listing: U.S. Blues; Promised Land; Brown-Eyed Woman; Black-Throated Wind; Scarlet Begonias; Beat It On Down the Line; Deal; Cassidy; China Cat Sunflower; I Know You Rider; Weather Report Suite; Playing in the Band; Uncle John’s Band; Morning Dew; Uncle John’s Band; Playing in the Band; Big River; Bertha; Wharf Rat; Sugar Magnolia.

Personnel: Jerry Garcia: lead guitar, vocals; Donna Jean Godchaux: vocals; Keith Godchaux: piano; Bill Kreutzman: drums; Phi Lesh: electric bass, vocals; Bob Weir: rhythm guitar, vocals.

Title: Grateful Dead: Dick's Picks 24 | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Real Music


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