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Grateful Dead: RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C. 6/10/73

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Grateful Dead: RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C. 6/10/73
As much or more so than any previously released new release or archive package, the cover art of Grateful Dead's RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C. 6/10/73 accurately (and vividly) reflects the nuances of the music behind the enticing graphics. In a pastel green and pink/orange color scheme of both matt and glossy finish, Masaki Koike's intricate designs hint at the dense subtleties the iconic band infuses into its chosen range of material during this approximately four-hour cull from the larger seventeen-CD box set Here Comes Sunshine (Rhino, 2023).

Yet-to-be-released original tunes such as "Row Jimmy" and "Stella Blue" (from Wake of the Flood (Grateful Dead Records, 1973)) reside comfortably next to the so-called 'cowboy songs' like "El Paso." Meanwhile, fan favorites from Europe '72 (Warner Brothers, 1972), like "Jack Straw" and "Ramble On Rose," form a construct of dynamics not so readily discernible at first, but ultimately most impressive on close listening.

The latter experience is all the more engrossing based on the sound of this recording by Owsley 'Bear' Stanley. Bass, drums, guitars and vocals all carry their respective proportionate presence in the mix, conjuring a realism no doubt brought to fruition by applied technical advances like Plangent Processes as well as mastering engineer Jeffrey Norman's well-honed expertise.

The audio is no less scintillating for the concentration the Grateful Dead imbued their individual and collective musicianship. Renderings of the songs evince a light but firm touch all around, so that the sextet of players and singers maximizes the flow of tunes like "Here Comes Sunshine" and "Eyes of the World." In so doing, the group creates an ambiance within the compositions not altogether unlike that which proceeds from their flights of improvisation.

Including such numbers as the latter pair in the setlists also spreads the seeds of natural spontaneity across other selections, the end result of which was a seemingly effortless tradeoff between spontaneity and structure. As a result, "Looks Like Rain" has never sounded so exquisitely sad. Nor has "U.S. Blues"—here in an early form titled "Wave That Flag"—ever radiated so much devil-may-care attitude. And "Row Jimmy" is absolutely sublime in its slow-motion execution, all the more so without the predictable reggae coda the band tacked on in later years.

During "Birdsong"—which would not appear on record until the next year as part of From The Mars Hotel (Grateful Dead Records, 1974)—it's eminently clear how the other instrumentalists in the ensemble pick and choose their respective spaces around Jerry Garcia's guitar. In doing so, drummer Bill Kreutzmann, guitarist Bob Weir and keyboardist Phil Lesh. As depicted in the ever-so-patient rendition of "Dark Star" late in the set, he offers multiple counterpoints to the fretboard lines unfurled by the titular leader, the agility of both resulting from instinct as much as eight years history working together (for more of this long- established pattern, see Live/Dead (Warner Brothers, 1969) or Fillmore West 1969: The Complete Recordings (Grateful Dead, 2005).

Such interludes may or may not be conscious compensation for the absence from the stage of founding member Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, who had played his last show the year prior and passed earlier in 1973. Nevertheless, recurring instrumental segments like those represent the sweet spot between points of instrumental discipline and liberation between which Grateful Dead had swung from the late Sixties into 1970 (as does the pointedly sentimental vocal coda on "He's Gone").

That's not to say there are no blemishes to be found on RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C. 6/10/73, but only to say they are most minor in the context of the performance. Donna Jean Godchaux's wordless vocal is hardly so mellifluous as "Playing In The Band" demands and Lesh is curiously at a loss about how to smoothly deliver "Box of Rain:" his clumsiness in singing lead is all the more egregious, not to mention confounding, since it is a song he co-authored with the band's chief lyricist Robert Hunter.

If Ray Robertson's stream-of-consciousness essay in the twelve-page booklet doesn't quite reach the preternatural flow of the Grateful Dead at its peaks on the four compact discs, that point of comparison only reaffirms the uncanny nature of the band's unity. By the same token, action shots of the band on stage only hint at the understated kinetics taking place at the time of photography.

The respective roots of the Allman Brothers Band and Grateful Dead did not just run parallel, but intersected at points including blues and country music. Thus, the inherent dual chemistry reaches a flashpoint, albeit a relatively minor one, on the third set of the day when ABB drummer Butch Trucks and guitarist Dickey Betts sit in with their West Coast kindred spirits.

In his hard-hitting style, the former is noticeably distinct from Kreutzmann (otherwise alone at a kit during this period). The familiar likes of "That's Alright Mama" and two Chuck Berry songs comprise an almost uninterrupted hour of collaboration, during which the enlarged ensemble proceeds without falter—except for a brief interlude during "Drums"—attaining its peak of interaction during a tease of ABB's "Mountain Jam" during "Not Fade Away" (interestingly, initiated by Garcia, quickly picked up upon by his Southern brethren).

The combined forces wisely and fruitfully played it safe this sweltering day in DC. Yet it is exactly that approach the Grateful Dead eschewed during their time on stage alone. Not surprisingly then, the positive effect(s) achieved by joining forces was but a shadow of the multiple pinnacles that occur on the first three CDs of this invaluable set. Emanating as they do from the arguable apogee of the psychedelic warriors' concert career, those very high points command the utmost recognition.

Track Listing

CD 1: Morning Dew; Beat It On Down The Line; Ramble On Rose; Jack Straw; Wave That Flag; Looks Like Rain; Box Of Rain; They Love Each Other; The Race Is On; Row Jimmy; El Paso. CD 2: Bird Song; Playing In The Band; Eyes Of The World>Stella Blue; Big River; Here Comes Sunshine; CD 3: Around And Around; Dark Star>He's Gone>Wharf Rat>Truckin'; Sugar Magnolia. CD 4: It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry; That's All Right; Promised Land; Not Fade Away>Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad>Drums>Not Fade Away; Johnny B. Goode.

Personnel

Grateful Dead
band / ensemble / orchestra
Jerry Garcia
guitar, electric
Bob Weir
vocals
Phil Lesh
bass, electric
Dickey Betts
guitar, electric
Additional Instrumentation

Jerry Garcia: vocals; Bob Weir: rhythm guitar; Dickey Betts: lead guitar, vocals; Keith Godchaux: keyboards; Phil Lesh: vocals.

Album information

Title: RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C. 6/10/73 | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Rhino

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