Heading toward the twentieth anniversary of Jerry Garcia’s death and the ostensible passing of the Grateful Dead, the band’s legacy has never loomed larger in the history of contemporary rock and roll. The remaining members’ arrangement with Rhino Records gave birth to a brand-new archive series called Road Trips, which has already come and gone to be replaced (and rightfully so) by Dave (Lemieux)‘s Picks, so named after the current keeper of the vault’s contents. Stellar shows arrive on a quarterly basis like clockwork, the cyclical schedule augmented (not interrupted) by mammoth packages such as this year’s May 1977 colossus.
Meanwhile, Dick’s Picks, the series that began archiving as we know it been resurrected by Real Gone Music issuing entries in reverse chronological order of original release, a campaign that should insure all thirty-six titles are as widely distributed as possible before physical CDs disappear into the digital ether. Intentionally or not, the most recent Dave’s and Dick’s titles taken from the Eighties era, reflect upon each other in perfectly complementary fashion.
And on a parallel plane, the archiving of the live performances from titular leader of the Grateful Dead has resumed in the form of Garcia Live. Carrying on handsomely as an ongoing sequel to the Pure Jerry titles of 2004-2009, the initial titles overlap just enough to maintain continuity with preceding releases even as the series promises to expand in breadth by from varying eras. The assets of these releases offer broad appeal to attract Deadheads and music lovers in general particularly those inclined to be completists.
Dave’s Picks Vol. 8: Boasting multiple virtues over the course of its three hours playing time (though the unusually thin audio quality is not one of them), this triple set features a jubilant abandon of the band’s playing that is altogether remarkable, so much so that the quiet tunes like “It Must’ve Been the Roses” and “China Doll” radiate as much glowing energy as upbeat tunes like this hell-bent for leather version of “El Paso.” Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir sound equally inspired as they sing together and apart on “The Wheel” and “Lost Sailor”/”Saint of Circumstance” (here in a particularly haunting rendition), while the former’s lead guitar playing sparkles even more brightly than usual here in this 1980 show. Whether the result of a desire for redemption for a desultory show at the venue some months before or the need to cut loose after the Radio city Music Hall performances recorded for Dead Set and Reckoning (as suggested in Nick’s Paumgarten’s engrossing essay) matters less than this music is as vivid, colorful and imaginative as the cover graphics.
Dick’s Picks Vol. 21: Apart from the all-too-obvious strain in Jerry Garcia’s voice, the Grateful Dead play and sing with great gusto on this show from the fall tour of 1985 in Richmond VA. Perhaps as an implicit recognition of their twentieth anniversary, the group’s song selection, as noted by essayist Stu Nixon, varies more broadly than ever, traversing a scope that reaffirms, in no uncertain terms, the group’s eclectic range: from “Dancing in the Streets (opening the show!) to “Gimme Some Lovin'”, blues in the form of “Spoonful” and “Little Red Rooster.” The group also plays homage to Bob Dylan with “She Belongs to Me” and spotlights their own tried and true originals in the form of “High Time” and “Comes a Time.” By the time this show is complete, the Dead have also engaged in extended forays into drums and space (the alternately eerie and funky likes of which, as bonus content, echo through the thirty-five minutes of a Rochester NY show five years earlier) where the colorful keyboards of Brent Mydland match his soulful singing in reconfiguring the sound of the band: the man was not shy in any of the roles he fulfilled for the band during the decade he played with them.
Garcia Live Volume One- March 1st 1980 Capitol Theatre: Recorded with impeccable clarity in part because the concert was to be broadcast on WNEW-FM radio, the audio quality and stereo separation fashioned by producers marc Allen and Joe Gastwirt is worth hearing in and of itself. The simplicity of the musicianship here belies the leader’s level of inspiration, which elevates the whole quartet’s playing, in particular long-time comrade John Kahn on bass, who exerts mighty effort to ascend to Garcia’s level of expertise and ingenuity. Original songs like “Mission in the Rain,” stand out in even clearer relief when juxtaposed with chestnuts such as “That’s All Right” as well as the familiar choice of The Beatles “Dear Prudence.” As much as this inaugural title it represents an introduction to the new series and, for many who missed Pure Jerry titles, its also offers much that’s familiar, but in a fresh context, as David Gans so astutely observes in his pithy essay.
Garcia Live Volume Two–August 5th 1990 Greek Theatre: Rendered by a totally different band lineup apart from bassist Kahn, minimal carryover in terms of song selections, featuring material from Van Morrison (“And It Stoned Me”) and The Band (an absolutely heartbreaking “Tears of Rage”) via more recent era Dylan (“Forever Young” from 1974’s Planet Waves) appear next to standards such as “That Lucky Old Sun”. In a tacit nod to Garcia’s own history as musician, tunes performed with Bela Fleck on banjo, the singing of Jaclyn Labranch and Gloria Jones combined with Melvin Seals’ emphasis on the use of Hammond organ revive what on the surface of the stylized graphic design of the credits may look too familiar for its own good. This new series is set to finalize for posterity the beauty of Jerry Garcia’s solo endeavors.
Garcia Live Volume Three–Legion of May Northwest Tour December 14-15 1974: The only other officially-released recording of the Legion of Mary (so far), this collection of exquisitely recorded live performances come from two successive nights during the Grateful Dead’s hiatus. As with most Garcia Live, the repertoire is familiar in the form of “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You) and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” but the approach is fundamentally different in that the quintet–here including Elvis one-time drummer Ron Tutt and hornman Martin Fierro (from a Doug Sahm lineup of yore)–emphasizes collective improvisation. Every cut but one extends to double figures in duration and one number, “Wondering Why,” written by keyboardist Merl Saunders (who also sings the novel inclusion of Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman” and Randy Newman’s “You Can Leave Your Hat On”)), almost hits the half-hour mark. No doubt because the leader himself is deliberately hungry to expand the boundaries of his jams, everyone involved makes a concerted effort to push themselves beyond their known limits (even in the context of a Garcia group), entering rarified air regularly through the course of the performances. This stylishly packaged triple-cd set adds to the mythic status of this short-lived group (they played just sixty shows total).