Monday, August 12, 2013

Grateful Dead-Dave's Picks Volume 7: Horton Field House, Illinois State, Normal, IL; 4/2/1978; Rhino Records 2013

In terms of the Grateful Dead, the year 1978 does not generally warrant much enthusiasm from Disaster Amnesiac. This is probably due to the absolute love that I feel for all 1977 recordings, that year evincing a kind of lightning in a bottle magic, a psychedelic juggernaut of a band casting pearl after pearl of musical greatness. It may also be due to fact that the tapes from the former year that I have heard (and watched, via the Closing of the Winterland DVD), feature the group with a sound that is just different from the latter. It is tough to qualify what makes a band's sound magical or not so magical; that said, 1978 Dead sound has often struck Disaster Amnesiac as a bit less fleet-footed, not showing as much of the quicksilver energy so much on display in '77. It's often sounded to this listener as if the band is just sort of tired, maybe burdened by a bit of "business as usual" lackluster.
It has been from this vantage point that I have listened repeatedly to Dave's Picks  7. I say repeatedly in truth. This recording has been so very enjoyable, the band so surprisingly (to me) on, that it has been a mainstay during my coveted Listening Time for several, full version, delightful spins. Dave's Picks 7 has been an ample reminder of the fact that, for anyone inclined to enjoying their sometimes elusive (save 1977,of course), X Factor, the Grateful Dead were capable of unleashing it during any of their eras.
It's all there: "question everything" humor in the form of extensive quoting of the then-current hit single Stayin' Alive during Me and My Uncle and Big River and a slightly less obvious Time Has Come Today riff on Rhythm Devils, a goofy, wise cracking version of Werewolves of London; throbbing rhythmic subtleties on Friend of the Devil; Bob's hot rockin' macho on Passenger and Around and Around; deeply emotive Jerry-sing on Must Have Been the Roses and Black Peter (it has occurred to Disaster Amnesiac how much this song could be used to describe Mr. Garcia's life, post 1978); Phil's booming bass attacks and silences; Keith's Baroque/Boogie Woogie fusion; and heavy interplay in the form of a somewhat slower, yet towering Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain>Good Lovin' second set stomp.
Dave's Picks 7 offers new sounds, too. Take for example Weir's slide playing, which gives the Scarlet>Fire an Allman-like ride and adds new aspects to Ramble on Rose. One may also notice the change in timbre from Garcia's guitar. The Dean Markley sound had been dispensed with, and there are many examples of the sound that would emerge fully in the 1980's, particularly during the coda of The Music Never Stopped, which reminds me a lot of his work on Ornette Coleman's Virgin Beauty LP. I'm no expert on his pedal set up, but it sounds to me like he'd been tweaking it to get new sound aspects. Disaster Amnesiac has also been mightily impressed with the group's vocal harmony blend, too. In fact, this aspect is equal to or even better than their 1977 efforts, especially as regards Donna Godchaux. If I've heard a better performance from her within the Dead context, I'm unaware of it. Check out her solo spot during the transition from Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain for a fine example of what I'm talking about. Grateful Dead writers often mention her and Keith's malaise at this late date in their later Dead days, but, wow, she had a great night in Normal.
Not necessarily new, but on full display on Dave's Picks 7 is the way in which Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann lock in with such effectiveness throughout the show. Their duo playing runs the gamut from chunky funk to spitting lighting on the tunes, and their Rhythm Devils spotlight strikes Disaster Amnesiac as being easily as "primitive" as the earliest Amon Duul at times, always a good thing with psychedelic hippie drum jams. I have thought about how much these two carried the band during the hazier periods post-1980, and one can hear this dynamic in its early incarnation here.
Along with being simply a highly enjoyable listening experience, Dave's Picks 7 may have convinced Disaster Amnesiac of the merits of the Grateful Dead's 1978 sound. I wonder if this three disc set is a precursor to Volume 8 being a feature for a 1980's or 1990's show. A lot of comments at have been suggesting such a release. Perhaps those that have been making said comments are aware of some unreleased shows in which the band was able to kindle their patented interactive gestalt?


Pig State Recon said...

So what's been the typical fan explanation for why 1978 was is seen as an off-year for GD anyway? Road burn? Drugs? Keith? I've heard both crap AND amazing Dead sets from pretty much every era starting from the very beginning. I never could say, unequivocally, that one period was "better" than another - though specific keyboard players did tend to irk me more than others.

Mark Pino said...

To me, they've always sounded just sort of dull, in the 1978 tapes that I'd heard until this one.
Clearly, they had some good shows in that year, too.