Dick’s Picks Volume Eight

Grateful Dead

Grateful Dead, 1997


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


To Deadheads there was something magical about the concert that the Grateful Dead played at Harpur College on May 2, 1970. It consistently ranked high among those who traded tapes of shows, and fans have waxed poetic about the performances.

In 1997, as part of the Dick’s Picks series, tape archivist Dick Latvala unearthed this particular show, and released it almost in its entirety as Dick’s Picks Volume Eight. (One song, “Cold Rain And Snow,” is not included, though no reason for its absence is given; also, the opening half of “St. Stephen” is missing.)

Listening to this show nearly 53 years after it was performed, I have to say it’s sometimes hard to capture what was so magical about this particular evening (though, as a teetotaler, I admit this could be a limitation on my side). It certainly has some great moments, but often comes off as a fairly typical Pigpen-era show.

The first disc of this set captures the acoustic first set of the evening, which features Jerry Garcia and crew essentially going with the flow of technical glitches, constant tuning, next song discussion and interplay with what seemed like an energetic audience. That said, while the Dead could be absolutely captivating in an acoustic setting, this set does precious little to inspire the listener. Yes, it’s interesting to hear “Friend Of The Devil” prior to it being released on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 American Beauty, and tracks that never found their way onto albums like “Cold Jordan” and “Deep Elem Blues” are interesting to hear. But it’s hard to say that the first set inspires a lot of excitement for the listener.

The bulk of the second set—which makes up disc two—does raise the bar a bit for the band. Fading into the middle of “St. Stephen,” the Dead quickly turn it into one of their legendary free-form jams, all centered around “Cryptical Envelopment,” “Drums” and “The Other One.” For about 25 minutes, the long-time fans are catapulted back into that particular time, and the music takes the listener into places unknown.

Things do come crashing down a bit with “Good Lovin’”—a cover I never really got into, be it from the Pigpen or the Godchaux eras—through the end of the second set that kicks off disc three. “It’s A Man’s World” just doesn’t feel like a song that fits the admittedly wide berth of music that the Dead covered, and “Dancing In The Streets” might have been an old standby for them, but likewise never felt like a great fit.

The third set of Dick’s Picks Volume Eight is what seals the deal for this listener, though. “Morning Dew” might be a strange choice to kick off a late-in-the-show set, but it does set the mood for an amazing jam on “Viola Lee Blues” that just seems to fly by, despite being over 16 minutes long.

While not capturing the magic of the Grateful Dead as well as other live efforts, such as Live/Dead did, Dick’s Picks Volume Eight is a fairly interesting snapshot of Garcia and crew at this stage in their careers, just before the one-two punch of Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty solidified their position as modern-day crafters of Americana. It’s not a perfect picture, but still one you’ll be glad you studied for some time.

Rating: B-

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