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Published: 2003/12/29
by Pat Buzby

Dick’s Picks, volume XXX – The Grateful DeadThe Closing of Winterland – The Grateful Dead

Grateful Dead Records 4050

Grateful Dead Records 4090

It's been ten years since the first Dick’s Picks, so

it's not surprising to see the GDM crew hauling out

the big guns for the occasion. And these are big guns

indeed: the CD/DVD release of the famous Winterland

closing show, and March 28, 1972, one of the very few shows

stimulating enough to prompt a hardened,

computer-equipped collector like this writer to fork

money over for a DP these days.

A bit of explanation about DP30: just before the

start of the Europe '72 tour, the Dead played seven

shows at New York's Academy of Music. One would have

to think that a long run in New York in March '72

would have yielded some strong playing, yet only poor

audience tapes circulated from these shows for many

years, and it seemed uncertain whether soundboard

recordings existed at all. However, the "Dark Star"

set of the run suddenly emerged a year ago, and now

the archivists have seen fit to fill in one of the

most intriguing missing chapters in Dead history.

After all of these DPs, it's not surprising that

most of these four CDs aren't that special. The first

half of disc one (from an informal Hell's Angels

benefit on March 25th) is skippable unless you're a Bo

Diddley fan, although the disc later offers some

worthwhile Pigpen jamming ("Smokestack Lightning") and

then jumps to March 27th for a howling "Playing in the

Band." Most of March 28th, which appears in complete

form on the next three discs, is simply the same set

that the Dead would spend the rest of the year

perfecting, with the expected pluses (more enthusiasm)

and minuses (less polish) compared to the later,

familiar shows.

However, set two of March 28th justifies the purchase

price. It starts with Garcia digging out the heavy

psychedelic artillery for another "Playing" (marred,

like the "Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad" later on, only by some truly
hideous

Donna-wails. I've always been a Donna sympathizer,

but this set, documenting some of her very first

performances with the band, will make no converts).

The peak, though, comes with an unusual "Sugar

Magnolia > The Other One" combo. The 28-minute "Other One" is

worthy of many paragraphs, but suffice it to say that

this may be the very performance where the Dead kicked

open the door to a new realm of improvisational depth

which they would spend the next few years exploring.

Hype justified.

The Closing of Winterland, from the other end of the Godchauxs'
tenure with the band in 1978, is a different affair.

Here "Sugar Magnolia" leads not to a lysergic jam but to

the Caribbean-tinged, arena-ready "Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain."

Older, wiser but wearier, the Dead were offering more

mainstream fare. Granted, watching parts of set one

on DVD on the same day as listening to it on CD, I

noticed how different details emerged each time,

making clear how much subtle interaction one can take

for granted even in these later performances.

There's plenty of worthwhile music in this long show

(note especially the wild ambient adventures of

"Rhythm Devils" and the way the third-set jam slips

between "Dark Star" and "The Other One" with uncommon

fluidity), but for this reviewer, the DVD is the way

to experience December 31st, 1978. It brings home more of the

event-ness of the occasion; seeing the band members

doing their best to guide their multiple onstage

guests, for instance, makes it easier to justify the

otherwise tedious 19 minutes of "Not Fade Away." It's

also worthwhile just to see the members, particularly

Phil, enjoying the perhaps-too-relaxed grooves of many

of the songs.

After more than a decade of exploring the vault, the

archivists once again give us some worthwhile new

information about the Dead. Only one nagging

question: are there any more aces left in the deck?

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