Sunday, August 14, 2016

Dave's Picks 19 (1970-01-23 & 24)

     Once again Dave Lemieux has deemed another show (and a half) worthy of being Picked.  He's got a great track record so far, and Dave's Picks 19 continues his winning streak.  It is from the band's trip to Hawaii in January of 1970, and features two of TC's final shows.  The show on the 23rd is one I've had for a few years that I fell in love with at first listen, but haven't heard in a while, so it's great to have it in (mostly) pristine quality, mastered once again by Jeffrey Norman.  The 24th was one I was less familiar with, which of course is always more exciting for an official release.  In Dave's Seaside Chat he points out that they are missing most of this show, but what they do have is great, so it makes sense to fill out DaP 19 with this third disc.

     This is the third Dave's Picks from this era, with DaP 6 featuring shows from December of 1969 and February of 1970, and DaP 10 featuring another show from December 1969.  While I think Dave should maybe branch out a little more, I haven't been disappointed by any of his releases yet, so I trust all of his choices at this point.  This one isn't necessarily the best of the series, with some songs feeling pretty standard, as opposed to other Picks where every song is a standout version.  That having been said, the highlights of this show make it more than worth listening to, so it all equals out.  So let's dive in, and feel free to leave your own opinions in the comment section below!

A terrapin riding a surfboard near a mountainous tropical island, with the sun on the horizon

January 23, 1970
  • China Cat Sunflower >
    • A great early version of this pairing of songs, possibly the best from this era.
    • It's an unusual song to open with, but the band jumps right in and are immediately on the same wavelength (maybe a bad pun about surfing?).
    • As well all know, this was a transitional period for the band.  They were working on Workingman's Dead and their new countrified sound while still playing a lot of Primal Dead music.  They still had that raw, thriving sound, but were getting better at mellowing into slower grooves and playing more basic songs.  This "China > Rider" is a perfect example of their transitioning sound totally working; if you think about it, "China > Rider" as a pairing is kind of symbolic of this mix of pure psychedelia moving into a sprawling country sentimentality.
    • Bobby's solo on the way out of "China Cat" isn't as fully developed as it would get as the first half of the seventies progressed, but it's still excellent.  This is one of the best things about these early releases, you can hear what start as little hints or teases at ideas that eventually turn into full on staples of these classic songs.
  • I Know You Rider
    • While I prefer these seventies versions of this song, one benefit to the eighties and nineties ones is they went through the solo sections more times, giving the song room to build and build.  This one, like most others until after the hiatus, feels a little strangled.  The band is playing so well and with so much energy that it just doesn't seem natural for the solos to be so short-lived.
    • I loved TC in DaP 10, and I think he's just as good here, if a little softer in the mix.  His playing is part of what makes this particular point in the band's transition so interesting, he acts as a tether to the psychedelic spaces they were reaching the year before, while simultaneously helping the band develop the new direction they were moving in.
    • Phil does a descending vocal line on the final verse that catches me off guard each time I listened to it, but I really love it.
  • Black Peter
    •  Unlike the later sixties versions of this song, here in 1970 it is already in its final form.  It still sounds kind of raw, and of course it feels different with different keyboardists, but it has all of the recognizable parts that are found in the song for the rest of its lifespan.
    • Besides the raw sound I mentioned, you wouldn't know that this was a relatively new song in this band's repertoire from the way they play it.  The whole band knows where the changes and twists are, and there are no hiccups or hesitations.
  • Yellow Dog Story
    • Jerry broke his string and had to fix it, on account of he broke it, so Bobby took this as an opportunity to tell a story.
    • One of the better takes of this particular joke, featuring some Pig Pen interjections and pig noises.
    • Besides the joke, there's some good old banter from Bobby and Pig about drummers and bearded clowns.
  • Hard to Handle
    • Pig kind of jumbles some of the lyrics like he did for most 1969 takes of this song, but he's so authentic about it, how can we really criticize him?
    • Unlike those 1969 versions, they jam the hell out of this one, starting to get towards the peak performances of the song that they reached in Summer of 1971.  This version is a little further out than the later versions, again due to the lingering psychedelia of the sixties.  In 1971 the jam became a little more structured in the way it developed, whereas this one kind of tumbles and boils over according to its own whims.  One could even say it's more choogly...
    • Bobby, Jerry, and Phil really drive this performance, with Bobby providing a platform for the other two to leap off of.  Again, TC is pretty low in the mix on this one, but he has some good fills of his own, and the drummers don't miss a beat.
  • Mama Tried
    • Classic lyrical amnesia from Bobby, because that's what we signed up for.
    • Very laid back country music here, as opposed to more hyped (coked) up, rocking versions of this from the rest of the band's career.  I like both versions for different reasons, but at this very moment the country version is winning out.
  • Casey Jones
    • There is about a minute of "Casey Jones" before the tape cuts.
    • This is disappointing, but not the end of the world, I'm just not sure why Dave would pick an incomplete show for a Dave's Picks release.  The songs that aren't missing are great, and it's definitely a show worth listening to, but Dave puts such an emphasis on releasing entire shows in this series that it seems like an odd choice.
  • Dire Wolf
    • Talk about laid back, this is as mellow as the show gets.
    • This is actually quite a bit different from the versions we would hear for the rest of the band's career, unlike "Black Peter."  With two drummers, Pig Pen on claves, and TC's ghostly organ, this early version really stands out as a beautiful alternative.  Maybe a little more dire, if you will (you don't have to).
  • Good Lovin'
    • If it weren't for "Lovelight," this would maybe be the best Pig Pen song on DaP 19.
    • I think the best versions of this song are the spacier and more precise ones from the Europe '72 Tour, but earlier ones like this are a lot more powerful and driving, and there's something to be said for psychedelia that spills over the lines.
    • They do the drum break that's typical of "Good Lovin'"s from this era, and once again the drummers are locked perfectly together.  As this year progressed they got a lot looser, but here they are still tightly in sync.
    • Jerry jumps back into the song and finds his place right in the the middle of the groove the drummers created, then Phil and the rest join in and the song starts to shift and evolve.  They shift back and forth from mellow grooves, to frantic peaks, to anxious psychedelic corners that Jerry and Phil shove the song into, while the drummers thunder along to the beat.
  • That's It For The Other One >
    • No time to catch your breath, because this is probably the highlight of DaP19.  They do the whole suite, and it's just about as perfect as it gets.
    •  They glide through "Crytpical" into another great drum break, with a little bit of feedback peaking through the cracks from the guitarists.
    • The drummers reach a climax, then shift down into the "Other One" rhythm and Phil comes thundering in, nailing his intro run.
    • As you might know, "The Other One" is my favorite Dead song, or at least in the top 5, and this version is an excellent demonstration of why that is.  Sure, it doesn't reach the same distant universes that Keith and the band would later reach, but they take what would otherwise seem like a simple riff on just a chord or two, and turn it into Dragon Music.  The band is telepathically linked with one another, and they just let the Old Powers flow through them while they chase the music and each other across the shifting and swirling time signatures.
    • They fly through the first verse and launch into a space that's a little farther out than the song got in 1969, but not quite get as far out as it would get later in the decade.  They return to the theme and thrash it about and explore all of its possibilities.  Jerry plays his classic riff that signals they're coming the end of the song, they mellow back into the rhythm, and shift into the second verse, transitioning smoothly into the "Cryptical Reprise."
    • They mellow into the easy lope of the outro jam, with Jerry getting some country-esque roynks out of his guitar.  They slowly build the song up, let it drift away, and build it up again, until they let it drift away one last time, and Phil slides them into...
  • Dark Star >
    • No complaints about that transition at all!
    • According to the info I have, this is the last "Dark Star" with TC as a full-time member in the band (he did sit-in with them at least one time in April of '71).
    • A pretty mellow start to the song leading up to the first verse, mostly staying on the theme.
    • Once they finish the riff after the verse, though, Bobby and Phil lead the way into a dissonant, dissipating space.  Most "Dark Star"s from this era did this kind of thing, dissolving into a very loud silence punctuated by bursts and blips of feedback, organ runs, and gong splashes, and this one is particularly good.
    • Phil is the first to start to really crack through the sonic barrier, and the feedback builds until it subtly turns into a jam.  It's not quite the "Feelin' Groovy" jam, but it's similar, kind of like a mix between that and the "Beautiful Jam" from the 1971-02-18 "Dark Star," and Bobby is playing some of his best guitar here.  He's truly leading the way through new musical territory in a way that no one else can.
    • They march triumphantly back into something recognizable as "Dark Star" and shift into position for the closing lyrics.  They nail the outro, as well as the intro to...
  • St. Stephen >
    • A very punchy "St. Stephen," but also very tight.  There are maybe some (more) cracks in the different instruments' tuning showing, but what can we really expect from early Dead?
    • Not too much to distinguish this St. Stephen from other versions of it from this era, but that doesn't mean it's lacking at all.  It's very high energy, and there's no confusion over lyrics or parts.
    • They get to the jam after "one man gathers what another man spills," and really hit a peak in their playing, and then instead of finishing "St. Stephen" they take a sudden left turn into "Lovelight!"
  • Turn on Your Lovelight
    • Despite what some people, and even their typically sane alter egos, might say, there is nothing wrong with a 38 minute "Lovelight."  Sure, Pig Pen has a lot of "wait a minute"s and "tighten up now"s, but throughout it all the Grateful Dead is playing its collective hearts out.
    • Seriously, this song gives Jerry almost as much freedom as "Dark Star."  He can follow the main song and play straight rock or blues, or he can take it into outer space and dance among the stars, and the rest of the band will follow him, until Pig Pen decides to tell us all about it.
    • Some interloper comes on stage at one point and Pig Pen tries to get a back and forth going with the guy, but he's too shy, too high, or both, and just yells for a bit and then leaves.
    • Pig Pen and the boys bring the song up to a raving climax and close out the first night of the Hawaii trip.
 January 24, 1970
  • Cumberland Blues
    • Another song that is better when it's a bit longer, but a great version of it nonetheless.
    • This is still played ferociously, and is another song made more noticeably unique by TC's contributions.
    • The singing in this show is a bit rougher in general, I think, but it's not the worst I've heard these guys sing.
  • Cold Rain & Snow
    • An early slow version of this song, compared to the hyper versions from their earlier days.  I like both versions, but the slower way of playing lasted until the end of the band, and is more iconic.  It also gives them more room to build the song up, sand the solo doesn't feel as rushed.
    • Again, some tuning issues from both singers and players, but undeniable energy and tightness in the playing.  "A" for effort, right?
  • Me & My Uncle
    • Another fun one with TC, feels a little like a cartoon Western.
    • Jerry's solo has a real bite to it, and the drummers create a relentless beat behind the song. 
    • This time Bobby broke a string, and they take a small break to fix it.
  • I'm a King Bee
    •  A lot of people overlook this when talking about Pig Pen, and I think that's a real shame.  It's a great slow-burner of a song, giving Pig plenty of space to blow his harp and sing his blues while the band slides under him.
    • Not to mention Jerry's blues solos combined with that Primal Dead sharpness to his sound.
    • I forgot how much I loved the dynamic those two had when trading leads.  When I think of Jerry I think of 50 years of Guitar Hero stardom, but at this point in 1970 he had only really been a big name for a couple of years, and those years started with him following Pig, who was the original leader.  You can hear how much those two love and respect one another in their playing.
  • Mason's Children
    • Dave Lemieux said this is possibly the best "Mason's Children," and he might be right.  I think  I like the first one from DaP 6 better, but Dave didn't oversell this one.
    • They come the closest to getting all of the lyrics right that I've heard from pre-1995, and the song feels faster and more complete than it did in earlier versions.
    • Phil clearly loved this song from its birth, and you have to wonder from the amount he plays it now if he brought it up at band meetings from 1970 on to bring the song back into rotation.  Just imagine a '74 version on the Wall of Sound with Keith!
    • They really stretch out the second jam of the song, with Jerry ripping off some stellar leads.
  • Black Peter
    • Not too different from the previous night's version, but Jerry's solo is a little more biting, like in "Me & My Uncle."
    • The outro jam is a little more lively and expansive too, with Jerry taking the song to different heights before bringing it back down to a close.
  • Good Lovin'
    • Unlike the previous night's version, when Billy and Mickey think it's their turn to shine Jerry and Phil immediately launch into a big jam, and the drummers can only follow along.
    •  This one isn't quite as driving as the night before, but has a little more funk to it.  Jerry and the rest of the band are focused more on finding new riffs to explore and settling into a groove than shooting off into outer space.
    • This one also has a cut in it, but thankfully it's at the very end of the song, so we get to hear the real meat of the jam.
  • Feedback >
    • Dave hypothesized that these next two tracks came after "Alligator > Caution," but no one can say for sure until the complete recording surfaces.
    • A very melodic "Feedback," helped out by TC's presence.
  • And We Bid You Goodnight
    • I think Jerry throws in a few extra verses on this one, but I haven't actually heard one of these in a while and I'm not going to do the research to find out.
    • Surprisingly, after some of the iffy vocals from the rest of this release, I really like this.  It's not the best version, or even particularly in tune, but they still manage to sound good together.  They know what their voices can and can't do, and try to craft the song in a way that works within those limitations.
    • They finish the song and the crowd keeps clapping, so Jerry delivers the cosmic message "that's your groove, take it with ya," which I'm sure some Hawaiians are still thinking about and clapping along too.
  • Dancing in the Streets
    • 1970 was arguably the best year for this song.  The earlier versions from 1967 are of course even more primal, and the "disco" versions from the later seventies had more funk to them, but ones like this are grade-A Grateful Dead.
    • Besides having the combined power and fury of two drummers, they take the jam from straight rock and roll and turn it into a marching dance through the clouds.  They really make it a much more spacey song than it was in any of its other iterations.
    • It's another case of Jerry and Phil not necessarily singing in tune while they do their backup vocals, but I just love that touch to these versions of the song!  Someone, I think Pig Pen, even picks up a tambourine, which usually is kind of hokey, but really brings the feeling of this song together: a pop song, performed while dancing on the edge of a black hole.
    • Seriously, how can they make such a simple pop song sound so metaphysically profound??
    • Jerry's guitar is like liquid silver dropping from the sun while Phil catches his leads before they hit the ground the drummers have created, and Bobby and TC shepherd the silver back up to the sun for Jerry to send back down.
    • They break through peak after peak in a series of musical climaxes, and eventually rock right back into the song itself and bring the night to an epic close.

     Well that's Dave's Picks 19!  All in all it's not the best Dave's Picks, but it definitely has some of the best songs Dave has released yet.  "That's It For The Other One" and "Dancing In The Streets" are Hall of Fame material, and we get some golden Pig Pen numbers.  Dave said DaP 20 is one they've been working on for a while, and that should be out in November, so it's a long wait for the fourth of the year!  I'll have a review of that once it comes out, and should have a review up shortly of Golden Gate Wingmen's show in Brighton on 2016-08-13, so stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you to a great extent, but I feel you're missing one important point. One of the things that has made the DaP series so excellent has been the quality of the liner notes, essays, archival research, and reproduction of original reviews, etc. And this has all been produced very well. In the last few DaPs this has totally changed around, which is very puzzling and dismaying! In fact in DaP19 not only does the essay contain almost no references to the milieu/zeitgeist of the Honolulu concerts, the only illustrations are photos that are not of the concert itself. The Honolulu Civic Center was an indoors venue and the photos are of an outside event. I think that the production of this release is in some ways far, far below the level Dave has set with other releases. I hope he rises to this level again, or he may be in danger of losing one subscriber I know.