Dick’s Picks, volume 27 – the Grateful Dead
Grateful Dead Records 4047
Like many Deadheads whose first in-person exposure to the band was limited
the first half of the 1990s, I wanted to see the powers-that-be (actually
Dick Latvala and now David Lemieux) release gems from this latter day era.
Judging from the mixed-bag that is Dick’s Picks, volume 27, I’m no
longer so sure. The show
featured is December 16, 1992 at Oakland Coliseum, with some bonus cuts
from the next night. The most recent release in the now decade-old series is
the first Dick’s Picks to feature Vince Welnick
as the sole keyboardist. Neither of these facts bode strongly for future
from the same era.
This run was notable because it wasn’t preceded by a traditional fall tour.
The annual Northeast trek was canceled due to mysterious circumstances
involving Jerry Garcia’s health. The group’s subsequent rustiness coupled
unfamiliarity with much of the material provides for a handful of awkward,
bordering on embarrassing, moments. The 16th wasn’t an awful show, but
with a band with a legacy like the Grateful Dead’s, you can’t put it against
any performance of the previous two decades and expect it to win.
The show gets off to a rocky start with the usually pleasing gait of "Feel
Like a Stranger." Unfortunately, no one in the band seems able to decide
where the rhythmic center of the song belongs, so it remains in different
spots throughout. If the Dead could do anything, they were able bounce back
after perfunctory readings of "The Same Thing" (weren’t they all?) and
"Loose Lucy," they latch onto energy and inspiration for the closing segment
of "Stuck Inside of Mobile," "Row Jimmy" and "Let It Grow." While many songs
appear on more than a handful – and possibly a dozen – Dick’s Picks
collections by now, "Row Jimmy" isn’t one of them. It’s nice to see it here
and on volume 28, which after a cursory listen, proves an infinitely
rewarding experience than this one.
Considering that Garcia was the reason the group was off the road prior to
these gigs, he’s in a lot better shape than most might expect. He brings
unbridled enthusiasm to "Shakedown Street" to open the second set and is
sagelike on "Ship of Fools." While the other band members had to work
overtime to cover his inadequacies throughout the 1990s, Garcia largely
remained brilliant on ballads. For whatever reasons, his playing and energy
had diminished, he was still able to find the emotional core of the slower
tunes and deliver them in gut-wrenching fashion. The "Dark Star" is symbolic
of this show as a whole: there remains a willingness to take chances and
please the audience, but the execution just isn’t there. For his part,
Welnick isn’t detrimental to the music as much as he often doesn’t seem to
be involved in it.
The filler from the following evening is obviously included because of
Welnick’s classic rock combo of The Who’s "Baba O’Riley" and The Beatles’
"Tomorrow Never Knows." I
remember this being big fun live, but listening to it here, I have to chalk
it up to the excitement and novelty of the live experience. I hope that if
latter day shows are given the privilege of official release, they don’t
continue to confirm that thought.