Thursday, May 9, 2013

Grateful Dead-Dave's Picks vol. 6, Fillmore Auditorium 12/20/1969 and Fox Theater 2/2/1970; Rhino Records, 2013

Disaster Amnesiac will completely understand if any  of my valued readership is getting a bit tired of Dave's Picks posts. There is clearly only so much one can say about Jerry Garcia and the rest of his band of musical misfits before the point becomes belabored. For a Grateful Dead fan, of course, the listening pleasure is endless, so I listen, and feel compelled to write, to paraphrase Pigpen, just a little bit.
Speaking of Pigpen, why not start with him, as Dave's Picks 6 is in many ways a feature for his talents. The listener is treated to many minutes of Pig at his Rhythm and Blues best. It becomes abundantly clear from these recordings, from St. Louis ( 2/2/1970) and and San Francisco (12/20/1969) that Ron McKernan was very much, as Garcia never hesitated to note in interviews, the soul and salesman of the early Dead. The disc's major selling point, and probably of major revelation to many listeners, is the thirty minutes plus version of Turn on Your Lovelight, recorded at the Fillmore Auditorium in S.F., during which Pigpen sermonizes a down and dirty sexual hymn. Dave Lemieux, in a promo video for the release at, suggested that listeners keep that portion of the disc Rated R at home, and one can hear why, deep into the track. Let's just say that Pigpen gets a few bases past his usual Lovelight desire of "a little of your kissin'" from his amour, and does so in a very non-subtle way. The loud audience response from his pals at the Fillmore gives ample proof of their appreciation for his antics. Pig gets a lot of time during the track's duration with which to push and pull the tune's breakdowns into sections from which he expounds more of his, shall we say earthy, worldview. Disaster Amnesiac swears that he hears riffs from Foxy Lady, Feelin' Alright, and the Dead's own Alligator in there, to boot. DP 6's other Pig feature tunes, two versions of Hard to Handle and a the Lovelight from St. Louis's Fox Theater (clocking in at mere 14 minutes!), give equally great examples of his showmanship, and the way in which he lead the band into much more down to earth spaces. It's funny to hear Lesh and Weir cracking up and joining in with Pig's antics during the Fox tracks, along with his none too subtle come on to some audience member therein.
Also of note to Disaster Amnesiac is the fact that DP 6 is the first volume of the series to feature the pre-emotional collapse Mickey Hart in tandem with Bill Kreutzmann. The two sound fabulous together, their dramatic fills syncing up, their supportive coloration fitting just right. Even the paired-down playing of the then newly emerging Workingman's Dead tunes is clean and very un-clumsy. The two had been putting in 2-3 years' work into developing their one-mind drumming scheme, and on these tracks it sounds brilliantly realized.
Overall, the Dead sound amazing on these records. The meat of their psychedelic ranger phase, the Dark Star/St. Stephen/The Eleven (Mason's Children for the Fox show), is by turns spaced-out and jungle-dense, with the band going pretty much anywhere that they want, as one unit, throughout. Their silences during parts of Dark Star, and the Electronic Music vibes that emanate from them, are particularly cool. Lesh must have been in high heaven. The previously mentioned Workingman's tunes sound fresh and new, which, in the Dead's case, means that there are forgotten lyrics and sour notes, but, as any Dead Head will tell you, that just makes then all the more endearing; when they do sync, for instance at the point during the Fox show's Black Peter during which the band reaches the one point of silence that Garcia craved so much, the effect is pretty emotionally stirring.
These two sets show the band as they morph from one much-vaunted iteration to the next, equally vaunted one. There's just a lot to like about that. OK, enough yammerin' for now re: Dave's Picks and the Grateful Dead, at least until 2013's third quarter release!


Pig State Recon said...

I usually find Pigpen a sorta one-note, hunch 'n' grunt talent, but you're review has succeeded in getting me wanting to hear him again, at least for the duration of this 30 min. version of Lovelight.

And this Dark Star sounds particularly stellar! Silence always was a key ingredient to that jam.

Mark Pino On Drums said...

I think that this release will show Ron in a very new light!
The 1969 Dark Stars are so damn good.