One of the most remarkable facets of the Grateful Dead’s artistry was the uncanny means by which the core members forged chemistry with different additional personnel throughout the course of the band’s history. Early to mid-Seventies is often regarded as a golden period for the group, while the converse is often perceived true of the same interval in the next decade. Directly addressing that point of view, Dave’s Picks Volume 27 effectively gives the lie to it.
As archivist David Lemieux recounts with his usual erudite and passionate liner notes, this is the first release from this period in the vault series, presenting proof positive that the iconic band could be absolutely brilliant, even at this juncture, on the cusp of a comparatively fallow period in its career. Implicit in the selection of this complete show at Boise State University is the crucial importance of Brent Mydland’s contributions to the ensemble; it’s no coincidence that, among the stage shots by noted photographer Bob Minkin within the CD booklet and digi-pak, there’s a prominently-placed solo portrait of the late musician, suitably blue-lit to highlight his deep concentration on the music he’s playing.
One result of such focus is the natural gusto the keyboardist/vocalist/songwriter brings to even his background vocals on “Jack Straw.” Meanwhile, his electric piano imparts a bounce to “Big River” that, over the course of its six minutes plus, makes Johnny Cash’s song work as a direct extension of the similarly perky “Mama Tried;” appropriated by the iconic band via Bob Weir from the discography of the “Okie From Muskogee” Merle Haggard, this ‘cowboy song’ was recorded by Dan Healy with the same immediacy as that original material surrounding it. So, “They Love Each Other” and “Brown-Eyed Women” radiate a realism that’s a direct corollary to the clarity of Tim McDonagh’s cover art.
As enhanced by Jeffrey Norman’s mastering, such audio excellence isn’t anything to take for granted, even though it’s become as much a custom for the Dave’s Picks series as any Grateful Dead archive release. But this virtue becomes prevalent when the band begins to stretch itself after its song-dominated first set: segues of “Help On The Way” to “Slipknot” and “Estimated Prophet” to “Eyes of the World” sandwich “Franklin’s Tower,” all of which improvisational action precedes a “Jam” into “Drums” and “Space.”
These interludes highlight the nimble interaction of drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart as much as their elastic bond with bassist Phil Lesh, a display of instrumental camaraderie that hardly recedes as the show moves toward its denouement via the interlocking renditions of “Throwing Stones,”Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” and “Black Peter.” And if the dolorous likes of the latter offers a surprise, as sung with palpable ennui by Jerry Garcia, hear how “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” follows the sextet’s hell-bent excursion through “Sugar Magnolia:” this resigned reading of the Bob Dylan song sounds like an exercise in inexorable logic.
As with his wise choices of instruments used to fill spaces during the aforementioned jams, Brent Mydland’s lusty singing and emphatic acoustic piano on “Estimated Prophet” earmark the subtle bonding elements he brought to the Grateful Dead over the course of his decade of membership, an alignment captured on Dave’s Picks Volume 27 prior to the explosion of mainstream acceptance later this same decade in the wake of their titular leader’s serious medical malady. Harbingers of that sequence of events arise in a reference to the gradual recession of Garcia’s stage profile during this very concert, noted in a news-clipping replicated inside this triple-fold package.
Still, the gleefully-engaged presence of his hirsute bandmate during these proceedings in Idaho during early autumn of 1983 suggests that, along with the filmed content from six years later featured in recent years for the annual Meet-Up at the Movies, there’s a concerted and wholly justified campaign underway to reaffirm the importance of Brent Mydland’s legacy within the annals of the Grateful Dead.