Dick's Picks Volume Three
Grateful Dead Records, 1995
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/02/2000
What I'm about to say might get me hung in effigy by the brotherhood and sisterhood of Deadheads out there, but here goes: When the Grateful Dead were on, they were incredible. But when they were off, it could sometimes be painful to listen to them.
I got to thinking about that when listening to Dick's Picks Volume Three the other day. This two-CD set captures Jerry Garcia and crew in concert at Pembroke Pines, Florida on May 22, 1977. While there still are some great performances on this set, the bulk of the show tends to be weighted down in mediocrity that was surprising to hear from the Dead. What made this show stick out in the mind of the late Dick Latvala (the beloved tape librarian for the Dead) I'll never quite understand. (Hey, are you guys taking resumes?)
Now, I have fond memories of this particular section of the Dead's history. I used to be in possession of an audience tape from a show just a week prior to this particular concert, and the energy level was so high, it would have buried the needle. It was fun to hear songs like "Estimated Prophet" as they made their birth cries, having just been released on Terrapin Station. More importantly, the band was on that night. I don't know what ever happened to that tape, but I miss it.
Why there would be so much difference between shows one week apart is surprising, to say the least. It just seems like things get off on the wrong foot with "The Music Never Stopped," a song that was always "iffy," to say the least, in my mind, and they never were able to capture the magic.
Oh, it's not that Garcia and crew didn't try. Bob Weir inpresses me with the take on "Estimated Prophet," a track that could well be one of the most underrated of the Dead's numbers. And I've got to admit that I even was enthralled with this version of "Samson And Delilah," a song I don't particularly care for. If the Grateful Dead can get me interested in that song, then things have to be going well, you'd think.
Alas, this isn't the case. Garcia seems off for most of the night, even to the point where one of my favorite medleys, "Help On The Way / Slipknot! / Franklin's Tower," is stretched far too long. Garcia seems to lazily take on the verses of "Help On The Way," and "Franklin's Tower" seems like it goes on for infinity. If I heard Garcia drawl out "Roll away the dew" one more time, I thought I was going to put my foot through my stereo speakers. I love that song, but 15 minutes was pushing it in this case.
For that matter, Garcia seems perfectly happy to stick with the plodding numbers throughout Dick's Picks Volume Three. From the too-slow start of "Sugaree" (which does have its moments in Garcia's guitar work) to the lifeless take on "Wharf Rat" to the almost suicidal performance of "(Walk Me Out In The) Morning Dew," Garcia is just off all night. And some people would agree that when Garcia was out of it, he could easily drag the band down with him. (And I'm sorry, but I would not be disappointed if I never again heard "Sunrise". Thank you very much.)
There are, of course, going to be those who disagree with me, and say that Dick's Picks Volume Three is the kind of CD that you should be worshipping every note of. To them I say: go fetch a tape of the 5/15/77 show in St. Louis, listen to that puppy a few times, and then tell me that I'm off my rocker.