Setlists may not tell the whole story of a performance (by a long shot), especially when it comes to an improvisational band like the Grateful Dead. Yet the absolutely galvanizing performance contained on the two cd’s of Dick’s Picks #22 reaffirm impression given by the song titles listed. This release, part of the Real Gone Music reissue of the vaunted archive series, virtually defines a classic period in the history of this iconic rock and roll band,
Multiple aspects of this Tahoe, California show of February 1968 catch the ear and demand attention, but one aspect of the show that persistently calls for close listening throughout the performance is the double drumming of Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart. Quite possibly at the height of their powers as a duo, it’s quite evident during a number such as “The Eleven,” the extent of the practice they devoted to working together as a means of developing complex rhythm patterns to complement each other and the rest of the group. Rather than the tandem work that dominated their partnership in the later years of the group, where more imaginative playing was relegated to their “Rhythm Devils” spotlight in those stylized shows, Kreutzmann and Hart play off each other, accenting one another’s patterns and embroidering upon them so that while the pair keep the pulse of the song such as “Viola Lee Blues,” they refuse to relegate themselves to its fundamental beat.
Ron “Pigpen” McKernan’s presence is also more than a little notable on Dick’s Picks #22 as his spotlights reveal how different a band were the Grateful Dead when acting as his backup. While neither “Turn On Your Lovelight” nor “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” are, as was so often the case, extended showpieces pushing the half-hour mark, the Dead’s assumption of a role as a dance band, with all the joyful danceability that implies, becomes an exercise in dynamics expertly interwoven with the improvisational likes of “That’s It For the Other One” and even more within a mammoth series of segues including “Dark Star,” “China Cat Sunflower,” “The Eleven” and “Born Cross-Eyed.”
Recorded by Dan Healy, guitarist Jerry Garcia and bassist Phil Lesh’s roles as the main instrumentalists within the lineup has perhaps never been more clear than here (rhythm guitarist/vocalist Bob Weir is something of the eye of the sonic hurricane here). The ideas they constantly exchange display imagination and mutual empathy of the highest order, not to mention an invigorating energy that pervades the music from start to finish. In fact, start listening to Dick’s Picks #22 even casually and see if it’s possible to stop before it’s all over. That’s how arresting it is.