Dick’s Picks, volume XXVIII – the Grateful DeadView From The Vault, volume IV – the Grateful Dead
Grateful Dead Records 4048
Grateful Dead Records 4089
By now, three years after my first Dick’s Picks review in
Jambands.com, there sure have been a lot of vault releases and a lot of
reviews on this site and elsewhere, and it’s inevitable that the redundancy
of both the music and the verbiage keeps accumulating. Suffice it to say
that yes, even though some may never believe it, these two sets do add still
more valuable information to the Dead catalog, and are both worthy of
There have been three Dick’s Picks from fall 1973, but DP28 is the
first from the front end of the year, presenting most of the music from the
final two Dead concerts of February. In that month, the Dead greeted the
new year with a bounty of new songs (the early arrangements of "Loose Lucy"
and "They Love Each Other" are here, though "Here Comes Sunshine" and "Wave
That Flag", regrettably, are not) and a jazzier orientation in their
playing. The jams from both nights include a few ideas which would reach
fruition two years later on the Blues for Allah album.
Once again, this is the Dead in their prime, youthful but seasoned.
Admittedly, they do falter in the two early versions of "Eyes Of The World,"
both of which wander into too-loosely-organized key-change jams full of
train wrecks. However, the "Playin’ In The Band", "Dark Star" and
"Truckin’" > "The Other One" all rank with the top versions, and the
remaining short songs are seldom less than solid.
The latest View From The Vaul presents the final two shows from the
Dead/Dylan summer 1987 tour, minus the Dylan sets. Listening to this, I
found myself questioning the instinct of many Deadheads, myself included, to
dismiss this era while lauding the period of DP28. There are some reasons
that are easy to pinpoint. Over the course of the 1980s, the instrumental
sounds of the Dead lost the warmth and depth that they had in 1973. As
well, a VFTV listener has to deal with Jerry Garcia’s vocal creakiness, Bob
Weir’s evident aspiration to find the essence of arena-rock singing by
melding Mark Knopler and Jimmy Buffett, and Brent Mydland’s energetic but
sometimes saccharine keyboard work. Finally, the band’s efforts at
exploratory playing tend to fall short of their past standard in both
quantity and quality (although keep an ear out for a haunting "Space"
segment on the last disc).
However, Garcia’s guitar work is on, as well as the rhythm section’s groove,
and Phil Lesh’s bass is a pleasure. And, even taking into account the above
shortcomings, we still have a substantial set of mostly great songs, mostly
very well-rendered, touching on just about every realm of popular music and
some points outside. Stadium rock has seldom had more to offer.
The scorecard in the end: for newbies, start with something more concise and
make your way to these two sets, especially DP28, eventually. The initiated
will know what to expect with these two, but can be sure that their more
optimistic expectations will be met.