Dick’s Picks XXV – the Grateful Dead View From The Vault III – the Grateful Dead
Grateful Dead Records 4045
Grateful Dead Records 4087
No one is likely to argue with the idea that the Grateful Dead was a more
beautiful and powerful creature in 1978 than it was in 1990. Yet, examining
Dick’s Picks XXV, which contains the majority of the May 10 and 11,
shows, and the View from the Vault III soundtrack, recorded June 16,
1990, reveals an
interesting angle. These were both pre-transitional periods for the band as
their keyboardists were unknowingly at the end of their tenures. Keith
Godchaux, highly valuable to the band earlier on, is all but useless on the
1978 New Haven, Connecticut, and Springfield, Massachusetts, shows. He would
shortly after and lose his life in motorcycle accident not long after being
booted. Brent Mydland, a similar creature to Godchaux in terms of vice and
mental stability, would be dead from an overdose later that summer but is
still competent and, at times, inspired.
To choose a winner among these collections isn't the right way to
approach them; DP XXV wins on era alone. Each shows the band at a critical
point in its career. While the transition that followed the removal of the
Godchauxs resulted in a new and fully realized chapter, the loss of Brent
essentially the beginning of the end.
Having had ample time to digest it, the silver anniversary of the Dick's
Pick's series is a bit of a tricky one. An old show buddy raves about it
first time he's mentioned any of them in years). The other two in our little
trinity don't get it. Both shows are well played, we agree, but that is
simply something we've come to expect from the Vault series. Likewise, song
selection is inspired. It's interesting that in Dennis McNally's great
biography, A Long, Strange Trip, Phil Lesh admits to being a drunk in
1978 as he is certainly in command of the ship, as it were.
The first night – at the recently shuttered Veteran's Memorial Coliseum in
New Haven – hits its stride with an interesting succession of "Peggy-O,"
Grow," "Deal" and "Bertha." As for disc two, let's face it, most "Estimated
Eyes Of The World" pairings are a treat, and this one doesn't fail. Jerry
Garcia and Bob Weir are
focused throughout, although hint at the "speed era" of the band that was
around the corner.
The next night in nearby Springfield gets the nod though. Exuberance abounds
with a "Dancing in the Streets" that is notably mainly for the singers going
out of their way to crack each other up. The playfulness returns later on in
the set on "Werewolves of London," where growling and general lunacy rule
tune. The "Lazy Lightning" (at least personally, this song has begun to
almost every recent release it's appeared on) through "Fire on the Mountain"
to close the first disc are all pretty awesome as well. It must be tough for
David Lemieux to select shows for release because of the high batting
of the previous two dozen.
Now in its third installment, the View from the Vault series – and
accompanying soundtracks that began on Volume II – has become something of a
curiosity. While any VHS/DVD footage is welcomed with open arms, it has to
noted that this series was culled from the in-house video footage used at
summer stadium shows, including the often cheesy graphic enhancements. The
large screen monitors were introduced in the late 1980s and, within a few
years, the band's power was showing signs of being diminished on a
basis. So, with essentially the 1990s to draw from, these will generally
better viewing than listening experiences. Nineteen-ninety, it is
was the Dead's last overall pleasing year.
June 16 at Shoreline offers quite a few glimpses as to why. It must first be
noted that sound of this show is crystalline, with each instrument
abundantly audible in the mix. The first set, although played with an
lethargy (even more apparent on the DVD), is
notable for an inventive set list. After a walk through of "Let the Good
Times Roll," Weir cues the familiar opening to "Truckin'" and the band has
fun with it. Without missing a beat Garcia is strumming the opening to
of Grey". A set full of openers? No. Perfunctory versions of "Mama Tried,"
"Big River" and "Friend of the Devil" follow. Things open up a bit during
"Cassidy" before a surprising, yet routine, "Big Boss Man" leads toward set
end. In yet another proverbial curveball, Weir utilizes "One More Saturday
Night" as a first set closer. This set is marked by creative placement but
generally uninspired playing.
It would be interesting to know what went down at setbreak because a
different band seems to come out for set two. A "China Cat Sunflower > I
Know You Rider" picks up
momentum with Garcia coaxing saxophone and flute sounds out of his MIDI
system at the bridge. Lesh, seemingly feeding off Garcia, drops bombs
throughout "Rider". After Mydland's spirited vocals on the under-appreciated
ecological warning, "We Can Run" things really pick up. An epic "Estimated
Prophet" shows Weir typically cutting a gargantuan jam short (but to be
on a dime). He is then is abetted some vocal effects that forewarn to weird
View from the Vault III contains substantial filler: October 3,
1987, same venue. The Meters' "Hey Pocky Way" is full of life (and is
another tribute to Mydland, who would die shortly after the 1990 show).
Weir has big fun with "Minglewood Blues," singing "T right here for
wherever we are… a garbage heap." For better or worse "My Brother Esau"
doesn't surface often but I always smile when it does.
This is a better purchase as a DVD/VHS viewing and listening experience. But
thanks to the magic of the second set, it also makes a compelling listen for