Grateful Dead “Dick’s Picks Volume Six” Hartford Civic Center 10/14/83 3-CD’s www.RealGoneMusic.com
The first five Dick’s Picks were all taken from seventies concerts; this sixth Dick’s Picks installment was the first that yielded a live performance from the eighties. The two set show is delivered in its entirety on three discs with approximately three hours of music. By now the Dead had ample comfort time settling in with Brent Mydland who singlehandedly replaced (both) vocalist Donna-Jean and husband Keith Godchaux’s keyboards. Some might say this was a two for one score, but I wasn’t a big fan of Mydland’s high-pitched ladylike vocals though his keyboard work (especially on B3 organ) was solid. Additionally Garcia had started to employ more electronic guitar gimmickry that subtracted time from the gorgeous tone he emitted.
Disc one: Is the complete first set/segment that starts with “Alabama Getaway” where it’s immediately apparent that Garcia voice sounds ragged (and old) though he’s enthusiastic, plus there is a fair amount of off-key notes from his guitar. “Alabama Getaway” moves to “Greatest Story Ever Told” a tune that fit well for the band but not here. “They Love Each Other” is its usual snore, then things perk-up when they cover Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” that bounces into Johnny Cash’s “Big River.” Nearly nine minutes of “Althea” crawls but gets a lift when they swing into “C.C. Rider” Lesh’s walking bassline sparks Garcia bluesy guitar lines that are ruined when Weir turns up his amp and attempts playing slide guitar. The overused “Tennessee Jed” has road-weary and raspy Garcia vocals and his guitar solo isn’t memorable. Now it’s time to mop-up the first set with a snappy “Hell in a Bucket” that becomes “Keep Your Day Job” a tune that wasn’t often performed yet produces a good feel – concluding the set in a promising zone.
Disc two: It’s redemption time: Opening the second set is the road-tested “Scarlet Begonias” that’s quite propulsive especially during the heady transition jam (without Donna-Jean’s or anyone’s vocal howls) to the usual pairing of “Fire on the Mountain” with ample Garcia guitar bending notes that make for a powerful opening thirty-two minute segment. The usual loopy and druggy “Estimated Prophet” was another tune I wasn’t thrilled about but it takes a different breadth here especially since it doesn’t fall into the usual repetitive jam, and Weir doesn’t overdramatize his singing on this above-par rendition that magically evolves into a fascinating “Eyes of the World.” Like the opening two-song pairing tunes the Dead continue to display their mojo, their transition playing from one song to another is abundantly creative, untainted and cohesive. That being said “Eyes of the World” features Mydland’s tasteful electric piano that sets- up Garcia’s speedy ascent driving the band into unheard quadrants where everyone is firing, percolating and inventing spontaneously – for thirty-one innovative minutes.
Disc three: Kicks-off where disc two ended as the drums take over for a short and enjoyable percussive jaunt that becomes “Spanish Jam.” The duo of Mydland and Garcia interactively noodle notes – then the rest of the band joins the flight; Weir adds extremely sensitive and smart chords lifting the band and enticing Garcia’s landscape sculpturing where it’s obvious that everyone is raising their A-game. Out from this jam flows a short (6:10) “The Other One” that lands on a pretty and potent (another non favorite of mine) “Stella Blue” where Garcia’s vocals are shaky but his (non-gimmicked) clear guitar paint lush and powerful images. Just as Garcia heats-up “Stella Blue” Weir gently strums the intro of “Sugar Magnolia.” Everyone follows Weir, upshifting to the main body of the song, note Garcia ravaging the opening notes of the instrumental jam that includes Chuck Berry chords and more. High level playing indeed as the band seemingly doesn’t want to depart the bandstand, (evidenced) after the instrumental segment – the usual vocalized “Sunshine Daydream” portion becomes yet another opportunity for relentless jamming. Who’s happy? Everyone inside the Hartford Civic Center – including the entire band! There’s one more; an encore with “U.S. Blues” that’s somewhat obligatory but it’s undoubtedly punctuating and sheer fun.
In summary: Toss or giveaway disc one, but cherish disc two in its entirety as well as most of disc three. This recording captures almost all of Dead’s stylistic charms – performed at near the top of their game. Typically I am not a fan of this 1983 era. (At the time of this concert I had ceased attending Grateful Dead concerts.) But this ’83 show is a distinctive diamond in the rough, and a very welcomed surprise for me, and likely for you too. So there!
Musicians: Jerry Garcia – lead guitar, vocals, Mickey Hart – drums, Bill Kreutzmann – drums, Phil Lesh – bass, vocals, Brent Mydland – keyboards, vocals, Bob Weir – guitar, vocals
The rear cover of Dick’s Picks 6 carries the following message. Caveat Emptor: “This compact disc has been digitally remastered directly from the original metal cassette. It is a snapshot of history, not a modern professional recording, and may therefore exhibit some technical anomalies and the unavoidable effects of the ravages of time.”
For 16 years Bob Putignano has been pivotal at WFDU with his Sounds of Blue radio show (Wed. & Fri. 9am-1pm) www.SoundsofBlue.com – 2015’s most pledged to ($21,000+) radio program at http://wfdu.fm Previously a contributing editor at Blues Revue, Blueswax, and Goldmine magazines, currently the Music Editor for the Yonkers Tribune www.YonkersTribune.com – www.MakingAScene.org & www.wfdu.fm/Whats-Happening/Bob’s Music Reviews/bobs music reviews/ Bob was the 2003 recipient of the “Keeping the Blues Alive” award (given by the Blues Foundation in Memphis) for his achievements in radio broadcasting. Putignano can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org