Grateful Dead
" Dick's Picks 25: May 10 and 11, 1978 (4 CDs)n "
Real Gone Music

BluesWax Rating: 9 out of 10

"It takes a lot to wow an old Deadhead like Bob Putignano, but the two shows featured on "Dick's Picks 25 did just that. He says that these Grateful Dead shows in May, 1978, were "beyond belief."

New Haven's Second Set's Hot, Springfield is Beyond Belief

Dick's Picks 25 is two back-to-back shows from New England, the New Haven show takes a while to solidify, but the Springfield, Massachusetts, (second night) is nearly as good as it gets. Typically I am more interested in early seventies Dead shows, but these two performances changed my perspective as tape archivist David Lemieux selected two of the better shows from 1978. By the way, Owsley Stanley recorded the New Haven show, and Betty Cantor Jackson captured the second night that I thought sounded more detailed and clear, but that could have had a lot to do with the venue.

Highlights from New Haven's first set are few as the band sounds disinterested and doesn't seem wanting to bounce off each other with much interplay. But there had to have been some sort of prayer meeting between sets, and maybe some magic dust was sprinkled on the band as there's a surprisingly strong (not one of my favorite tunes) "Estimated Prophet" that nicely segues into a tantalizing "Eyes of the World," both tunes check in at nearly twenty-five minutes; the drums take over (not too long: eight-minutes) as Lesh leads the way into a not-too-spaced-out "The Other One" that morphs into a delectable "Wharf Rat," onto the closing "Sugar Magnolia" that rocks and rolls. This second set is one of those (somewhat rare) non-stop jams that had no breaks between all songs performed, but they also do it again on the next night, but on the second night there's not one but two encores.

On the very next night, just up the road from New Haven, the Dead brought their near-highest supernatural prowess to the Springfield, Massachusetts, Civic Center Arena that's mostly known as a hockey rink and not for it's superb acoustics, but the set shines sonically and on the musicianship and vocals, as all band members are on the same wavelength from the first notes to the end. Just about every song during their first set oozes with eloquent interplay, even their vocals standout. Donna Jean Godchaux sits back and vocally plays more the role of a background singer and never gets in the way. "Cold Rain and Snow" chugs along in a funky zone. "Beat It On Down the Line" is typically short and sweet, yet rocks solidly. "Friend of the Devil" is performed slowly but it's gorgeous. "Looks Like Rain," and a devilishly heavy "Loser" also burnish magnificently. The tempo rises with the bluesy "New Minglewood Blues" and a fun "Tennessee Jed." The set closes with a percolating "Lazy Lightning" into torrid "Supplication." Those not knowing that the Dead always performed (at least) two sets, would have been satisfied with this sixty-minute prelude of what was yet to come.

Set Two opens with a carefully executed "Scarlet Begonias" into a slightly more upbeat "Fire On the Mountain," as I felt the band hadn't yet wanted to unleash their "knowing" that they had plenty left in the tank for later. It's Disco-Dead time with their danceable take on "Dancing In the Streets" for fifteen minutes, into a very lengthy drum segment (almost twenty minutes). Thank goodness for the fast-forward function on the remote! Out of the drums comes a raucous "Not Fade Away" that sweetly flows into the hypnotic "Stella Blue," that rocks into "Around and Around" that would have made Chuck Berry smile, and perhaps be envious too, as Garcia's having a blast playing Berry's licks. The encores included a fun cover of Warren Zevon's "Werewolves Of London," a tune the Dead covered limitedly, and another tribute to the father of rock 'n' roll on Berry's "Johnny B. Goode." What a night! Were you there? If yes, you'd remember it.

As with any Dead sets, there are some quibbles such as Weir's ill-chosen overuse of his slide guitar playing (a stint that was later demanded by other bandmates to cease and desist). And the mostly MIA Keith Godchaux's piano, not sure if he was mixed down on purpose (his playing had been in rapid decline at this time) or if he just wasn't up to it that night. That being said, Keith is not missed as Lesh, Garcia, and Weir (when playing regular rhythm guitar) were functioning on all cylinders and beyond on this mystical evening.

Yeah again for the Real Gone Music people for keeping this Grateful Dead Dick's Picks collection alive, as I'm not certain about the length of time will keep this series of over thirty performances in print.

Note: Every volume of Dick's Picks has its own caveat emptor warning about the sound quality, but I thought (especially on the second night) these shows sounded pure, clean, and were mic'd perfectly as each instrument (other than Keith's piano) and all vocals were as detailed sounding as I could ever expect from a live recording. Last but not least and also noted in the liners: "Dick's Picks 25 was mastered from the original analog 2-track tapes, recorded live at 7.5 ips and 15 ips, and may exhibit some minor effects of the ravages of time. However, the music contained on these four discs is quite remarkable, and by far makes up for any slight anomalies in the recording. Enjoy." Sonically speaking this statement is very humble, but from a performance perspective, they are right-on as most of these two performances were remarkable indeed!

Bob Putignano