Dick's Picks Volume Four

Grateful Dead

Grateful Dead Records, 1996


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


I've always proclaimed myself to be a nouveau Deadhead. I've never taken drugs, I never followed the Grateful Dead from town to town (though I was there for their final concert in 1995), and I don't pretend that every note that Jerry Garcia and crew was the greatest thing to ever emerge from the speakers.

If my status was already looked down upon by true Deadheads, then my reaction to Dick's Picks Volume Four, a three-CD set covering the band's legendary stand at the Fillmore East on February 13 and 14, 1970, will cement my fate with them. There is plenty to celebrate on this collection, but this entry from the Dead's tape vaults also shows how the excesses of the band could do in an otherwise decent set.

Let me explain for the non-Deadheads. This particular run is considered to be among the Holy Grail shows for Deadheads, capturing the band at what was supposed to be a creative peak. They were just about to release Workingman's Dead on an unsuspsecting public, and were pushing the limits of free-form musical association with such performances as "Dark Star" (which was wonderfully highlighted on Live/Dead) and "That's It For The Other One". Portions of these shows have been heard before on Bear's Choice: History Of The Grateful Dead Vol. 1, though none of the songs on that disc are repeated here.

Now, I admit I don't have as much experience with the Dead as many others out there, though I think I could hold my own in discussions. And I find numerous flaws in this particular set. First, the vocals - from Garcia and others in the band - are not the strongest I've ever heard committed to tape. Listen to the harmony vocals on "I Know You Rider" fall apart - and if you've listened to any number of audience tapes, you know the Dead were more capable vocalists than this. (I do admit to having some bias toward the version on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Europe '72 - which was the first Dead album I ever owned.) And while I recognize it was still very much a new song for Garcia, he sounds a tad uncertain on "High Time". I will concede, though, that he was probably trying to find the right chemistry for this song, and it maybe just hadn't clicked yet.

The second disc of this set is the one I have the most problems with. Now, I'm not against the Dead cutting the chord on time limits and just letting the magic flow through the music - something they did well on the version of "Dark Star" that closes the first disc. But the two songs that take up the second disc overstay their welcome. The biggest offender is "Turn On Your Lovelight," a 30-minute exercise featuring the vocals of Ron "Pigpen" McKernan - and an exercise which could have easily had 20 minutes lopped off of it. I could have lived without the stage banter sung by McKernan to lengthen the song, or the mindless jams which fill the entire middle portion of this track. The fact is, "Lovelight" is a good song if it's kept as a tight, concise musical package - and I'm certain that Deadheads cringe at the shortened version that was featured on Skeletons From The Closet. But when no limitations are put on the music or musicians, it's like leaving Pandora's Box wide open, allowing everything - including listener interest - to escape. Fill that time with work that keeps me wanting to hear more, as they did on "Dark Star" - or even on "Feedback" - and that's one thing.

What's sad is that this one disc drags down the power that the first and third discs have. "Casey Jones" - another song which features the band trying to get what would become a natural rhythm down cold - is a powerful way to open things up, and the versions of "Alligator," "Not Fade Away" and "Me & My Uncle" are absolutely brilliant. ("Mason's Children," though, offers up more proof why this track never made the cut on any album - at least until after Garcia's death.)

I'm willing to admit that this run of shows might never offer up their true power unless you were there, watching the scene unfold in front of you. Maybe the Deadheads in the '70s could relate to this show better, especially those who are in the "Pigpen" camp when it comes to keyboardists. And maybe this particular release will become appealing the more one gets their feet wet in the whole Dead scene. Then again, I've been into the band for over a decade, and I still don't understand the magic of this show. Dick's Picks Volume Four has some wonderful moments, but this really is one for completists only - or for those whose audience copies of these shows are wearing out.

Rating: C+

User Rating: A



© 2001 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Grateful Dead Records, and is used for informational purposes only.