Dick’s Picks XXXIV – the Grateful Dead
Grateful Dead Records 278
The time has come for another installment of Dick's coveted Picks. What is it about this show recorded in Rochester. New York on November 5th, 1977 that has led it to achieve immortal status as Dick (or his earthly representatives') 34th pick? Answers lie all over the map, from Jerry Garcia's almost unbridled raw energy, to the last great — or at least sustained — creative presence of Keith and Donna Godchaux. Nestled inside a week of touring that is touted by many a loyal listener to be one of the best in the Dead's storied career, this show — and the filler material from the Toronto show three days prior — display the band as spirited to the point of near (or full blown) playfulness.
The first set is a wall-to-wall, up-tempo get down. The steam of the "New Minglewood Blues" and "Mississippi Half-Step" opening sequence can't really help but continue on through a more-R&B-than-usual "Looks Like Rain." Here's where we first really get a sense of the evening's Phil Lesh factor. Possibly encouraged by the double-time of the kick drum, Phil pulls his basslines up high, and Jerry can't help but follow, leaving the song anything but high and dry. The momentum continues effortlessly through the "Mama Tried > Big River" roots interlude, until it's converted into passion in order to accommodate the "Candyman" slowdown. The set closes with its opening intensity and for set two, back to Phil.
The second set of this show actually opens with a Phil solo, and the subsequent Phil-related highlights are neither few nor far between. Beyond said solo and the obligatory march-like "Take a Step Back," the Phil mini-coup builds up steam as he leads the already on-top-of-things band into "Eyes of the World." Jerry's airy and intricate finger work plays balance to the bass, and the whole thing becomes so excitable that it'd be jumpy if it weren't so damn beautiful. Just as "Eyes" began with a standout Phil intro, it ends with an encouraged, Phil-led outtro. This surging raw energy is sustained through the subsequent "Samson and Delilah," then given a rest as they squeeze out the set's snoozer of a midsection.
The responsibility of raising the spirit of the set by this point usually belongs to the drummers and this night is no different. Albeit a short "Rhythm Devils," it's not short on Phil activity — the perfect setup for "The Other One." The show ends with strength and it's not until after one has listened to the November 5th show in its entirety should he proceed to the filler.
Not even a long day of being detained at the border for what turned out to be Bobby Weir's vial of bee pollen put a damper on these segments pulled from November 2nd at the Seneca College Field House in Toronto. The "Estimated Prophet" has a lot more pickup than its November 5th counterpart, and it leads into an exemplary "St. Stephen." Then, through an equally hopped-up "Truckin'," to make light of the day's events, after the band sings "Busted, down on Bourbon Street," Phil interjects "And elsewhere!"
The show is standout, even though it's Dick's number 34. Considering the Phil concentration, one can't help but wonder if its release is to act as a subliminal supplement to the new Phil chronicle, Searching for the Sound. An interesting choice of search for something so inherently found and beautifully displayed — of course with a little help from his friends.
Many thanks to Gary Lambert for filling in a little bit of the story on this one.