Grateful Dead: Dick’s Picks #24 – 3/23/74 Cow Palace, Daly City, CA (reissue)


As the Grateful Dead organization entered its transition from an independent business entity to its full-fledged collaboration with Rhino Records in the middle of the last decade, the titles in the ‘Dick’s Pick’s’ archive series became available only sporadically. Beginning in 2011, however, Real Gone Music began the regular reissue of the titles.

Dick’s Picks #24
, recorded March 1974 at the venerable Cow Palace, is testament to a high level of inspiration in the band’s playing, no doubt elevated even further as it takes place on the group’s home turf in San Francisco. Even more notably, this concert represents the first use of the hallowed ‘Wall of Sound’ in its entirety.

The Dead are in relaxed but anticipatory mood right from the start of the easy going "U. S. Blues," slyly followed by Chuck Berry’s The Promised Land" as a thinly disguised comment on their own inimitable brand of patriotism. Yet Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir sing excitedly, the former so much so it’s as if he can hardly wait to add guitar fills around the vocals. Remastered for HDCD sound at the time of its original release in 2002, the audio here, as overseen by recordist Kidd Candelario and engineer Jeffrey Norman, preserves the full range of sonics, from Bill Kreuetzmann’s snappy drumming, Phil Lesh’s resounding bass and Keith Godchaux’ concise yet colorful acoustic and electric piano.  The clarity is all the more remarkable taking into account this recording is almost forty years old.

Evolving from the comparatively structured period including their two seminal studio albums, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, plus their eponymous concert album and Europe ’72, the deliberately conceived swan song to Warner Bros Records, the Grateful Dead at this period had achieved a fine balance of economy and open-ended spontaneity that allowed for momentum-gathering segues such as that of "China Cat Sunflower" into "I Know You Rider" in the first set.

Apart from the good-natured false start and some slightly shaky vocal harmonies, the band erects an extended continuity at the start of set two, navigating faultlessly through "Playing in the Band/Uncle John’s Band/Morning Dew," then back again. "Big River" and “Bertha" provide relative points of stability in the wake of such a mammoth segues (as does, in its own way, "Weather Report Suite" earlier in the concert), while the cinematic "Wharf Rat" simultaneously contrasts with and connects to the euphoria of "Sugar Magnolia."

With the current archive series ‘Dave (Lemieux)’s Picks’ now in full swing, the continued circulation of its antecedent is poetic justice. Dick Latvala set a standard not just for the contemporary Grateful Dead archive series, but that of all such vault releases, and this double set confirms that level of excellence in the product as well as the band that gave birth to it.

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