Year two of the Dave's Picks era has commenced, and Disaster Amnesiac can absolutely see why this smokin' recording from UCLA in 1973, legendary among Deadheads and Dead fans, starts off 2013's offerings from Lemiuex.
In the initial PR announcement for this recording, Dave described the concert's clear highlight: a massive, monster jam of Playing in the Band>Uncle John's Band>Morning Dew>Uncle John's Band>Playing in the Band, and, having listened to its over forty blissful minutes several times, it's clear that this suite is something special, the band ranging from mode to mode, by turns moved by and moving with Jerry Garcia's lysergic six string explorations. Disaster Amnesiac recalls a quote from Jerry in which he stated that he desired to bring a level of respect to Rock-n-Roll akin to that afforded to the likes of John Coltrane. There's a ton of that same kind of exploratory energy that 'trane brought to his live dates, here on the 11/17 show, much of which is generated during the extend Playing suite. Garcia plays spidery lines, sweet strums, fast banjo licks, and emotional screams. His performance here is a clinic in Psychedelic guitar playing, a career high point, no question.
First set Jer-tune Here Comes Sunshine is almost said monster jam's equal, as far Dead high water marks go. We're talking the second song here, and Garcia is already primed, taking his mates on a twelve minute bliss ride, the tune's beautiful chords leading into minutes of loose jamming. In the Garcia parlance, the golden yummies come out with the quickness.
As usual, I'd opine that the ballads meant a lot to Jerry, maybe more than the jamming, even, and the versions of Row Jimmy and Stella Blue are both standout, sparkling renditions, played with sensitivity and plenty of space.
Bob Weir seems to have wanted to veer away from his Jazz Fusion side at this particular show, instead going with his cowboy repertoire. They're all here: Me and My Uncle, El Paso, Mexicali Blues. Disaster Amnesiac sometimes skips ahead during these songs, but damned if even they are tight and succinct, moving along at brisk clips, going long enough to generate heat from the Dead but not lingering long enough to go complete cornball. I still can't say it enough: Bob Weir's playing is Garcia's equal when it comes to idiosyncratic uniqueness. When the band stretches, Weir's guitar sound, while not as overtly flashy and shimmering as his brother Jerry's, proves just as compelling a listen.
When preparing for this post, and listening to Bill Kreutzmann's drumming over the course of this release's 3 discs, Disaster Amnesiac considered giving it top billing, or perhaps only dealing with it and leaving all other instrumentalists for another time. It's that good. Rockin' Mr. K simply kicks ass throughout: swinging, shuffling, driving the tunes and their jams with an easy grace that subtly masks a powerful and singular Rock drummer. Bill will never get the kudos given to the likes of Bonham or Moon or Peart, but his drumming is their equal as far as personal style goes. It must have been a pretty tall order for Bill to muster up the attention and creativity to keep up with Weir and Garcia, let alone Lesh, and yet, there he was for years, setting them up never getting knocked out. At times, the music on Dave's Picks v. 5 sounds like a suite for drum set with accompaniment. It's instructive that there is not even the usual drum solo feature to this show. He played so much, there must have been no need felt for one.
From Marin Jr. College, Mr. Philip Lesh on the bass provides his usual ranging, woody sounds to the songs and the jams. Of all of the tones that distinguish the Grateful Dead's sounds over the years, it may be the timbre of Lesh's early 1970's playing that Disaster Amnesiac loves the most. Thankfully on v. 5 it is fully present in the mix. Lesh never relegated his playing to mere support, and, particularly in the Playing suite, he is front and center, mixing it up with Jerry, responding, jabbing, laying back and then attacking with his characteristic ferociousness.
Another factor of the 1970's Dead sound that is proving to be a deep well is the keyboard playing of Keith Godchaux. It is said that he was a very quiet man, but, his presence within the music is anything but that. Keith's acoustic piano sounds great when he boogies on tunes like Deal and Ramble On Rose and also when he dives in with rest of his compadres during the spacier sections. His sound defined the band as much as any other member in the early 1970's era.
Disaster Amnesiac must of course mention Donna Godchaux, and although her presence is somewhat lacking on the discs (what could she have been doing for close to an hour during the Playing jam?), she does manage to hit her trademark wail after the bridge section of the tune, and her Country training works wonders in The Race is On.
If Dave's Picks v. 5 is any indication of the high quality Grateful Dead live recordings that the folks over at Dead.net are preparing for 2013, Disaster Amnesiac suspects he's going to be mighty pleased with his subscription. The 11/17/1973 show documented therein is quintessential and powerful, documenting the band at a high point in the middle of an era that was chock full of them.