Dick's Picks Volume One

Grateful Dead

Grateful Dead Records, 1993


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


With Jerry Garcia gone now for almost three years, the legion of fans of the Grateful Dead have the recorded live shows to fall back upon for some time. Even if one isn't part of a tape trading network, the band's own label continues to comb through their tape libraries to make sdhows, or parts thereof, available on a regular basis - the Dick's Picks series.

So far, the only volume in this collection that has reached mass distribution has been Dick's Picks Volume One, a two-disc set taken from the Dead's performance in Tampa, Florida on December 18, 1973. The other volumes are available through mail-order or the Dead's Web page. (Memo to the good people at GDM: How's about releasing some of the other titles to the stores for those of us who don't have credit cards... and I will personally kill the first SOB that sends me credit card information via spam.)

1973 hasd not been a spectacular year for the Dead. Their first keyboardist, Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, had died that March of liver disease, a result of a life of hard drinking. The band was still with only one drummer, founding member Bill Kreutzmann, and a recent vocal addition to the band, Donna Godchaux, was not travelling with the band due to her pregnancy. (The liner notes credit her with "giving birth" on this album.) In less than twelve months, the Dead would "retire" from the concert stage to regroup and work on solo projects.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But this particular set (which does not highlight the entire show, unfortunately) features a stripped-down version of the Dead, led as always by Garcia and his jazz-on-speed guitar licks. The show puts a lot of focus on tracks from their most recent album of the time, Wake Of The Flood, and puts these tracks in a whole new light. I must admit that Wake Of The Flood is not one of my favorite Dead albums, but the performances of tracks like "Here Comes Sunshine," "Weather Report Suite" and "Mississippi Half Step Uptown Toodleoo" do sound a bit fresher when taken in the perspective of the circa-1973 Dead.

And it seems funny to me that the stripped-down version of the band actually drew more attention to the work of keyboardist Keith Godchaux, whose playing is much clearer on this release than I ever remember hearing him in numerous other live tapes. (Even on The Grateful Dead Movie, it sounds like his piano work was buried in the background - pity, 'cause he was an underrated keyboardist.)

"He's Gone," a track that opens up the second disc, takes on a whole new emotional level after the death of McKernan nine months previous - though I'm sure performances of this song right after McKernan's death were much more emotional. The second disc, for the most part, is one extended jam, with songs leading into other songs leading into jams. The version of "Truckin'" on this volume is especially intriguing and pleasurable.

There is only one truly sour note on Dick's Picks Volume One, besides the fact that this isn't a complete show. (Sorry, I'm kind of anal about that when it comes to the Dead.) The final song of the set, "Around And Around," features rhythm guitarist/vocalist Bob Weir screaming during the song as if he had been kicked in the manhood. Sorry, Bob, but these screams were really not needed, and were the low point of this experience - to the point that I could live without listening to this particular performance of "Around And Around" again.

I guess I should mention bassist Phil Lesh, seeing I've talked about everyone else in the band so far. Lesh's bass lines, on occasion, ring out powerfully, showing that he is one of the most technical, understated bassists in the world of rock music.

Dick's Picks Volume One is really a disc for the diehard Deadhead - those people who want to hear every recorded note in the band's history. It is an interesting slice of the band's history, and it makes me want to pick up the remaining volumes in this ever-growing series. (Side note: My wife gave me the second volume for Christmas last year; I've purposely held off on listening to it until I finished the first volume. Maybe she'll buy me the third volume for Father's Day.)


Rating: A-

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© 1998 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.