Dick's Picks Volume Six

Grateful Dead

Grateful Dead Records, 1997


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


These days, it's nearly impossible for a true Deadhead to keep up to date with all things revolving around the Grateful Dead - never mind the band hasn't existed since Jerry Garcia's death in 1995. New releases from the band's vaults keep coming out, as regular as clockwork. The discovery of "FurthurNet," a kind of Napster for Deadheads (all live shows), makes keeping up that much more difficult.

Then there is the "Dick's Picks" series, now 25 volumes into its history. I'm so far behind with these that I finally just got around to listening to Dick's Picks Volume Six, which was mass-released by Arista a few years ago for a limited time. (The set is still available at the Dead's official Web site.)

The first of these volumes to touch on the '80s version of the Dead, this concert from Hartford, Connecticut back on 10/14/83 is an interesting choice. It was a time when Garcia's drug use was rumored to be on the increase, and was just four years before the band would earn their first top 10 hit. Add to this the fact that Garcia blows a verse in the concert's opening song "Alabama Getaway," and one may start getting bad karma from this show.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Fortunately, all these worries are quickly flushed out of the system. Garcia's singing and playing turn out to be strong efforts, and the Dead show that while they might not have been pop stars, they still knew how to blow the doors off of any arena they played.

Take, for example, "Althea". I absolutely hate this song, and tend to cringe when it comes time for it to appear in a concert. Yet Garcia's heartfelt singing and playing help to keep me interested in this particular rendition, and makes me think that the song could well hold out hope for me in the end.

The first disc (comprising the whole first set of the Hartford show) is noteworthy for the first appearance of "Keep Your Day Job" on any commercially-released Grateful Dead album. One listen to this, and you have to wonder why it never quite made the cut on any studio effort. It's a little tentative, but seems to have the potential to be a real barn-burner due to the energy and fun spirit it has.

The second set, though, is where the magic comes into play. Disc two features a mere four songs, but the hour of music created is some of the best work the Dead did for that time in their history. The absolutely electrifying versions of "Scarlet Begonias" and "Fire On The Mountain" could well rank as one of the best performances of this song duet, thanks in no small part to the keyboard work of Brent Mydland. Listen to the effects Mydland throws in (including synthesized xylophone) and you'll realize that Mydland may well have been the least appreciated member of the Dead in their history, and with no disrespect meant towards Vince Welnick or Bruce Hornsby, Mydland was sorely missed after his death in 1990.

My only complaint about this particular suite of music - this version of "Eyes Of The World" feels a bit rushed. And, yeah, when percussionists Mickey Hart and Bll Kreutzmann sound this good, I do wish that "Drums" had been longer than five minutes. But "Spinach Jam" gives the group a chance to rhythmically stretch their legs, and might have been even more enjoyable than "Space" (which gets the night off in this concert). As always, it's great to hear "U.S. Blues," even if it appears as the encore song.

At one time, I had the tapes to this particular concert, but somehow misplaced them in one of the many moves I've undertaken over the past 10 years. Dick's Picks Volume Six helps to remind me how good those tapes were, and is one of the best releases so far in this series.

Rating: A-

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