It’s fitting the main color scheme of Dave’s Pick’s Volume 25 is a bright deep orange. Binghamton, NY 11/6/77 is yet another cull from the treasure trove from whence came Cornell May 1977, a remarkably true-to-life recording by Betty Cantor-Jackson that finds the band on the proverbial fire during a show spreading throughout the three CD’s of which it’s comprised.
Listening to the Grateful Dead as they played in Broome County Arena compels any number of questions about the source of this vigorous musicianship. Is it the vestiges of the previous year’s layoff that rejuvenates them for a rising vocal crescendo on the somewhat subdued “Jack Straw.” Is it the more disciplined approach to songs choices and setlists that in turn allows for an increasingly abandoned visceral impact (admittedly at the expense of some of the music’s more cerebral attractions). Or is it the opportunity to hear themselves in such plush, crystalline sound through the auspices of Cantor-Jackson’s unique combination of technical and artistic expertise.
The explanation may actually be as simple as this: the concert the Grateful Dead’s last touring show of 1977 and the capper to a very productive year. The rationale hardly matters, however, when the compulsion is so great to sit down and listen ever so closely, to the exclusion of any other sensory input. Musical epiphanies can arrive as soon as the fiery first song, “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” or the Phil Lesh-composed outtake from Terrapin Station, “Passenger,” during which Jerry Garcia’s angular guitar leads an utterly rambunctious charge. Even the luxuriously slow unfurling of “Friend of the Devil,” has its own somewhat less physical impact: it envelopes the listener.
Yet the rather straightforward likes of the jaunty economical likes of “Dire Wolf” only whets the appetite for the “Scarlet Begonias” segue with “Fire On The Mountain.” And by the time an even more mammoth medley appears, in the form of “St. Stephen”/”Drums”/”Not Fade Away”/”Wharf Rat” then back to the start), the Dead’s collective exertion of muscle approaches awe-inspiring: the nuance arising from Cantor-Jackson’s expertise is equally evident in hearing Keith Godchaux’ piano interlock with Bob Weir’s rhythm guitar or noticing the mesh of Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart’s drum-play.
And, while Dave’s Picks are admittedly aimed at the music lover who relishes the holistic experience of any recording, live or studio, it’s worth complimenting the Rhino Records label (again), as well as art director/designer Steve Vance on the level of subtlety incorporated into packages such as this. Photos and other graphic images adorn not only the triple-fold digi-pak inside and out (and under the transparent CD trays), but the discs themselves boast customized art. On the other hand, Rob Bleetstein’s fanboy play-by-play of the show might’ve been trimmed down to its intro and outro only (or excised altogether): a shorter essay, paired with archive series producer Lemieux’ own abbreviated piece in the accompanying booklet, would sufficiently frame the picture in sound with which it’s enclosed.
Still, as much as Dave’s Picks Volume 25 is worth admiring in a variety of ways (many from a distance), like the best performances of the Grateful Dead, 11/6/77 is worth approaching as an interactive exercise. It will be proportionately fulfilling based on the perspective of the observer.