Dick’s Picks, volume XXIII – The Grateful Dead
Grateful Dead Records
"Holy fuck, why doesn't anyone play like this anymore?"
I actually said that, out loud, about halfway through the 39-minute "The
Other One" that is the obvious centerpiece, and raison d'etre, of Dick's
Picks, volume XXIII, recorded September 17, 1972 in Baltimore Maryland..
This "Other One" is simply one of the most superb pieces of free group
improvisation I've ever heard. The contemporary jamband movement the title
of this magazine refers to is supposedly inspired by this band more than any
other. So why is it that no band currently performing (including those
featuring the surviving members of the Dead) can improvise so lyrically,
with the subtlety, grace, and telepathic attentiveness exhibited in every
moment of this performance? When did guitar rock, funk and bluegrass become
acceptable substitutes for abandoning rules, preconceptions and ego and
dedicating oneself fully to the power and possibility of the moment?
The Grateful Dead playing on this "Other One" is the band I want to
anarchic, deeply textured, jazz-inflected and, at times, really
word that could be applied to a scant few of today's allegedly
Dead-influenced jambands. (Curiously, those who most trumpet their
admiration for the Dead often seem to be the ones quickest to forget that
the band's output went beyond "Saint Stephen" and "Friend of the Devil").
Unfortunately, not all the material on the set is quite as memorable, which
is probably inevitable with a complete show release. This was nothing less
than an excellent night for the Dead, though, and the band is as confident
and solid as I've ever heard them. That doesn't necessarily make this
version of "Sugar Mags" that different from any other, but it does mean each
of the three discs is littered with highlights, notably a beautiful
"Black-Throated Wind", a deeply weird "Playin' In The Band", a haunting
"Loser" and a
"Sing Me Back Home" that might have been better than the famous version
played in Veneta three weeks earlier had Garcia's voice been in slightly
better shape on this night in Baltimore.
I'm happy to report that the mix on this set is nothing less than
astonishing; it's hard to believe it was done live to two-track at the show. The five players are at almost exactly equal levels in the mix, providing
an exciting glimpse into the often-obscured worlds of Godchaux and Weir.
And the bottom end is as rich as any tape I've heard from this era, which is
especially lucky considering this is one of Phil's finest performances: he
leads and struts throughout, totally assured, dropping bombs left and
right.There are some fantastic full-color pictures in the liner notes, too,
well as two hilarious newspaper reviews of the show.
This is not the best Dead show from this period, nor the best Dick's
release to date. As well as they're playing, start to finish, on this set,
the "He's Gone > Other One > Sing Me Back Home" seems to be of a higher
level than the rest of the material, and I find the free improv, aside from
"Playin'" and "The Other One", to be a little aimless.
Even on as fine a night as September 17th, '72, this was certainly not a
band whose every quality is to be revered. I just don't understand why so
many of the performers covered in this publication seem to have taken
exactly the wrong lessons from them, and why so little about the jamband
scene today reminds me of the improvisational mastery that flows through
this monumental "Other One".