Grateful Dead – Dave’s Picks Volume 27: BSU Pavilion, Boise State University, Boise, ID – 9/2/83 (ALBUM REVIEW)

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.

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2 Responses

  1. The comment “Dave’s Picks Volume 27 effectively gives the lie to it” refers to the opening paragraph in which this show is compared to the Golden Era of the early 70s. Not even close. You don’t need to be a music enthusiast to hear how poorly they play on this night compared to their Golden Era. It’s all downhill after the opening Wang Dang Doodle, The Only Exception being Slipknot. The Dead sound like an unrehearsed bar band at this show. For a real taste of the 80s, go to Nassau, Dead Set, and Crimson white and indigo. For a real taste of dad in their prime, of course hennything up April ’78. It was hit-or-miss after that, but their worst night in 78 sounds better then Dave’s Picks 27.

  2. I tend to disagree with Todd Sherman’s comment to some extent. Yes, by this time in the early ’80’s pretty much everyone in the band was suffering from their drug addictions. Yes, there are some not so good moments in this show. The worst night in ’78 sounds better than Vol. 27…um, no. As far as Go To Nassau being recommended as a go to for the 1980’s, no.

    I actually find Go To Nassau as one of the weakest releases in the Grateful Dead catalog. The energy dissipates after High Time, which is the fourth song on the first disc and the mix is weak (the vocals sound overly processed and there’s no electric piano in the mix). On the second disc, Stranger -> Althea -> Sailor -> Saint are flat and Playing is just an aimless jam into Uncle John’s and everything else sounds like an afterthought.

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