Grateful Dead – Dave’s Picks Volume 16: Springfield Civic Center, Springfield, MA 3/28/73 (ALBUM REVIEW)

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davespicksDuring the course of their thirty year performing career, the Grateful Dead turned more than one cliche inside out, but the deeper into the vault  archivist David Lemieux dives, the more he reaffirms the veracity of the old saying “Hindsight is 20/20.” The various phases in and out of which this iconic band morphed over the decades become more clear through each successive release within Dave’s Picks (and other standalone issues such as Thirty Trips Around the Sun).

Volume 16 of the current ongoing series was recorded at the Springfield Civic Center 3/28/73 and is distinguished by new material of the period at the beginning (“Here Comes Sunshine”), middle (“Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleoo”) and end (“Weather Report Suite” ). And it’s further notable that these culls from Wake of the Flood, released later this same year, are already becoming so deeply integrated into the group’s repertoire that the latter, for instance, is quickly becoming fodder for the extensively improvisational explorations that would continue for years to come.

Meanwhile, “Eyes of the World” links two of the Grateful Dead’s most tried and true jam vehicles in their entire history: “Dark Star” and “Playing in the Band.” The transitional periods of the group are usually earmarked by one stable point or another and here, in spring of 1973, roughly a year prior to the introduction of the “Wall of Sound,”  the Dead are stretching themselves on the musicianly rather than technical front,  sustaining lengthy delicately intuitive jams as well as compact economical arrangements using what had become, at this juncture, a stable and extensive foundation of original material.

Selection of songs date back to the wellspring of the early Seventies, with originals such as Phil Lesh’s “Box of Rain” interwoven with “Row Jimmy” while “Wave That Flag” (an early version of “U.S. Blues” which would appear on the next year’s studio work From the Mars Hotel) pops up alongside  a bounty of cover songs: this setlist includes staples such as “El Paso” as well as a rarity called “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” a Loretta Lynn tune Donna Jean Godchaux renders fervently in an otherwise conventional country delivery. Throughout the performance, the slight blemishes of flat solo guitar notes and somewhat ragged vocal harmonies pale next to the incisive collective solidarity with which the Dead otherwise play.

Kidd Candelario’s detailed recording for  deserves the high-resolution mastering engineer Jeffrey Norman applies to it, so it should come as little surprise the packaging of the three-CD set boasts its own  nuances. Vivid stage shots and reproductions of newspaper pieces of the day are juxtaposed in the triple fold digi-pak as well as the comparably colorful enclosed booklet.

And the latter insertion carries a further distinction with the inclusion of an unusually insightful essay made all the more enlightening as it comes from the perspective of Dennis McNally. Some ten year’s before he became their official publicist and, eventually, one of their most renowned  biographers (but the only authorized one), he recounts his growing fascination with the Grateful Dead, a phenomenon this performance validates, especially as McNally writes with his customary eloquence, in a direct reflection of his subject.

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