Grateful Dead : Dick’s Picks 30 & 31

Written by Jamie Lee

September 22, 2012

Real Gone Music’s reissues of the Grateful Dead’s archival Dick’s Picks series continue to highlight unique performances including two sets focusing on the group’s early 1970s performances. Dick’s Picks 30 explores the 1972 run at the Academy of Music in New York City, New York, that took place  March 25-28. The contrasting Dick’s Picks 31 spotlights 1974, and the band’s shows on August 4-6 at the Philadelphia Civic Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and August 6 at Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, NJ. Together, these releases illuminate the limber nature of the band during these halcyon days.

The most impactful element of Dick’s Picks 30 emerges from the outset through a five-song collaboration with Bo Diddly. Opening with the apropos “Hey Bo Diddly,” the Dead settles in nicely outside of the spotlight, albeit with heady contributions to the song set. The band steers into obscure waters on discs three and four with breakouts of the late Ron “Pigpen” McKernan’s  rarely played  “The Stranger (Two Souls in Communion)” and a reading of James Blake’s waltz, “The Sidewalks of New York.”

Dick’s Picks 31 opens with the classic “Playing in the Band,” indelibly marked by vocalist Donna Jean Godcheaux’s cringe-worthy opening wail. It wasn’t uncommon during the Godcheaux years, but this off-key mishap proves prominent. Not to be deterred, the band takes off, navigating the composition over the course of 25-plus mind-boggling minutes. There are plenty of gems here, particularly on disc four and the expansive set taken from the August 6 show. Crowd favorite “Eyes of the World” stretches long, and the Dead pushes a repeat of “Playing in the Band” out into the stratosphere yet again, displaying the air-tight improvisation of this era.

The early 1970s marked  critical years in Grateful Dead history, including the loss of Pigpen, the addition of the Godcheaux’s, performances amplified by Owsley’s massive Wall of Sound, and the five-night run at The Winterland in 1974 that boasted the last shows before a year-and-a-half hiatus. The magic of this period is clearly articulated on Dick’s Picks 30 and 31.

Dick’s Picks 30 and Dick’s Picks 31 are out now on Real Gone Music.