Is it really any coincidence (some of) the best live playing in the Grateful Dead’s career took place during 1974? This period represented a culmination of the burst of creativity that produced two fine studio recordings (Wake of the Flood and From the Mars Hotel), both released on their own independent record label, at the time they utilized their famous ‘Wall of Sound” system, all of which occurred prior to their self-imposed hiatus beginning late in the year,
Dave’s Picks Vol. 13 reaffirms, in no uncertain terms, that this latter notion, perhaps even in its nascent stages in late February, afforded them a very unusual sense of freedom. It’s arguable it equaled the self-discipline and structure that gave birth to their business/technological endeavors and, in turn, manifested itself in their musicianship. Add in the cache of the finale of a three-night a hometown appearance at the Winterland Arena and it’s little surprise that, over the course of the three CDs in the package (where, for once the cover graphics and inside inserts are much less scintillating than the content enclosed), the Grateful Dead are playing and singing with consistent gusto on selections from an absolute wealth of material at their disposal.
Original collaborations with lyricist Robert Hunter span “U.S. Blues,” “Candyman,” “Row Jimmy” and “Bertha,” all radiating a glow that also illuminates the range of cover material the Dead were interspersing into their sets at this time, including “Beat It Down the Line,” Chuck Berry’s “The Promised Land” and a statuesque reading of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.” The peal of Jerry Garcia’s guitar, especially as it contrasts the bell-like tones of Keith Godchaux’ piano recalls their early synchrony on Europe ’72, but the titular leader’s singing is almost equally notable, strong and steady whether on a lead vocal for “China Cat Sunflower” or harmonizing tunefully with Bob Weir and Donna Jean Godchaux on “I Know You Rider.”
So, it makes perfect sense that the outstanding sound quality afforded the Dead on shows like this one, recorded by Bill ‘Kidd’ Candelario, the ‘Wall of Sound’ would lend itself to displays of musicianship simultaneously as daring as precise as the uplifting segue between those two numbers. But even more ambitious is the linkage of “Dark Star” and ”Morning Dew,” an excursion through a maelstrom of inner space during which the band is equally nonchalant and daring, the transition from which renders even more ebullient the sequence of “Sugar Magnolia”>”Not Fade Away”>”Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad”>”Not Fade Away.” Highly vivid contrasts along these lines are further testament to the collective confidence of a band that, at this particular point in their history, had every right to feel sure of itself on and off the stage.