Dick's Picks Volume Seven

Grateful Dead

Grateful Dead Records, 1997


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


It's 1974, one month before the Grateful Dead are to take their self-imposed hiatus from touring, and they sound tired.

Sure, it's probably because they're thousands of miles from home, playing at Alexandra Palace in London. But these shows - at least the portions captured on Dick's Picks Volume Seven - make it sound like Jerry Garcia and crew weren't always totally into these performances.

The phrase I've used time and time again for many groups is "going through the motions" - and while there is no doubt that the Dead could light things up even when they could play the material in their sleep, overall the sound is a bit lazy. It doesn't sound quite like Garcia is into "Scarlet Begonias" - which was on their latest album at the time, though there are some occasional squawks from the "Wall Of Sound" which make one wonder how much the overall audio may have contributed to this. This weak sound quality almost totally derails an otherwise charmingly spacy "Dark Star" - I almost blew out my speakers turning my stereo up just to hear the first (and only) verse!my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Now, I'll admit that the choice of tracks for this three-CD set doesn't always reflect what I thought was their best material. I've never been a fan of "Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo" or "Weather Report Suite" -- for that matter, I've written off Wake Of The Flood for the most part. But even some of the classic material takes a bit of a hit on this set. Bob Weir seems to speed through "Mexicali Blues," while "Black Throated Wind" never really gets any air blown into its sails. The extended "Playing In The Band" does shine, even though Donna Godchaux shows again that she really didn't add much to the Dead.

Even in the worst cases, the Dead can find diamonds in the rough, and Dick's Picks Volume Seven has enough of those to make plowing through over three hours' worth of music worthwhile. "Brown-Eyed Women" still has the snap that it did when it first came to people's attention on Europe '72, while the suite of "Truckin'," "Wood Green Jam" and "Wharf Rat" -- the last surprising me, since it's also not one of my favorites -- nearly causing the speakers to self-ignite. The "Not Fade Away" rhythm line also crackles with electricity, as does the encore performance of "U.S. Blues."

So what makes this compilation a must-own for the Deadheads? Truth is, I don't know -- though I'd venture that the 24-minute "Dark Star" will have people tripping out in ecstasy. Dick's Picks Volume Seven reminds me a lot of Steal Your Face, which captured the last shows in this 1974 run -- and it makes me think that this release is somewhat incorrectly seen as being poor. The London shows seem to match Steal Your Face in sound and energy quality -- stoking the fire of belief that the Dead, indeed, needed a breather.

Rating: C+

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