It’s a tribute to the longstanding appeal of the Grateful Dead that their (and rock’s?) first bonafide archival series is now well into it’s third year of reissues via Real Gone Music. The titles originally curated by the late Dick Latvala were first made available through the band’s own merchandising operation with limited retail circulation, but now, under the aegis of this well-established reissue label, are receiving wider distribution than ever. Whether the founders of this indie operation planned it this way or not, it’s a fact that, as the Dead’s fiftieth anniversary celebration ramps up, the most recently released titles vividly depict the iconic group in all their diverse glory, not coincidentally from a range of time spanning decades.
Dick’s Picks Volume 8: Harpur College, Binghampton, NY May 2 1970: It’s a tribute to the Grateful Dead, their crew and Dick Latvala, not to mention Real Gone Music,that the Pick’s titles are coming out again virtually identical to the original versions. That is, no remixing, apparently no remastering and no additional graphics or other liner content, but then this one, a jewel among this archive series in its mix of acoustic and electric Dead, hardly needs it. Deep within the nexus of vintage material in the latter mode, the band is equally enlivened on the new material of the time in the former style such as “Dire Wolf” and “Candyman.” It’s a tribute to their internal alchemy—not to mention the inspiration supplied by lyricist Robert Hunter—the group rendered the two ostensibly contrary styles in such complementary fashion– the one is as refined as the other is raw.
Dick’s Picks Volume 9: Madison Square Garden, September 16, 1990: With this show early in the group’s home stretch, the scientific approach to sound taken by engineer Dan Healy isn’t readily apparent at first: the clarity of sound highlighting the keyboards of Bruce Hornsby and, to a lesser extent, Vince Welnick, manifests itself best at high volume (or headphones—or both). The resulting revelation of dynamic range ultimately ends up secondary to this set’s reaffirmation of the scope of the Grateful Dead’s repertoire: at this latter juncture of their career, the group was mixing similar styles of song, such as the latter-day “Standing on the Moon” with the vintage likes of “Deal,” with a double sprinkling here of Dylan (“Queen Jane Approximately” and “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”) seasoning each of the two sets.
Dick’s Picks Volume 11: Stanley Theater, September 27, 1972: The sound quality here clarifies in direct proportion to how tight the band plays on this three disc set, but rest assured it doesn’t take that long. What begins murky sharpens in terms of the mix and the band’s playing and singing, which, while it’s delightfully ramshackle at the outset, becomes increasingly focused without losing the glee the Dead impart to originals like “Tennessee Jed” or covers such as “El Paso.” And it’s almost possible to hear the smiles in the voices of Garcia, Lesh and Weir as they harmonize here: they wouldn’t always hit the right notes—as on “Uncle John’s Band”—but they do and with delicacy during “Attics of My Life!”
Dick’s Picks Volume 18: Dane County Coliseum 2/3/78; Uni-Dome University of Iowa 2/5/78: Almost two full years back from their self-imposed hiatus, and with another studio album under their collective belt, every member of the Grateful Dead lineup were fully engaged and arguably at the top of their individual and collectivize game on the three winter dates included on triple cd’s set (there are selections from 2/4/78 interspersed with the tracks from the main dates). As captured in stellar clarity by Betty Cantor-Jackson, drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart interact with an almost reckless abandon, Phil Lesh’s prominent bass, as unpredictable as it can get, preventing the loss of momentum. Keyboardist Keith Godchaux plays with particular relish here as well making himself heard on “Scarlet Begonias,” while ,when the group stretches (way) out on “The Other One,” rhythm guitarist bob Weir reaffirms his idiosyncratic style is as precise in its own way as that of his lead counterpart Jerry Garcia. In fact, he latter’s work on “Playing in the Band”>”The Wheel”>”Playing in the Band” might well serve as an ideal example of what made him one of the greatest guitarists of his time.
Dick’s Picks Volume 13: Nassau Coliseum 5/6/81: The Grateful Dead worked valiantly to prevent stasis from afflicting their music as the decade of the Eighties evolved, those efforts fortified by the enhancement of their chemistry arising from the enlistment of keyboardist Brent Mydland in 1979. By the time of this Nassau Coliseum show, his skills as instrumentalist, singer and occasional contributor to the songbook of the band were fully integrated, so much so that the Dead genuinely took on new life. In a piquant turn often tendered by the band’s late original archivist, the highlight of the three disc set is actually an unlisted track, an extended interpolation of “Scarlet Begonias” and “Fire on the Mountain” which finds the band navigating multiple transitions back and forth out of tight structured playing and the expansive likes of which could make their concerts so deeply memorable