Grateful Dead
"Winterland 1973 Complete Recordings"

Blueswax 8
Rating 8

Still Truckin' On and On and On ....., (07/29/09)

Can you believe? Nine more CDs from The Dead after countless Dick's Picks, and other Arista Records box set releases, not to mention the WB sets, too! The Grateful Dead must be the most recorded band in the universe, as Rhino aka: has also been on a roll with a bunch of live performance releases as well. Will it ever stop? I doubt it, and I guess there's a strong market for these live shows.

This set was recorded over three consecutive nights near the Dead's hometown in the Bay Area, from November of '73, and the first thing that catches your eye is the excellent external packaging. The CDs enclosed are nicely arranged in a tri-fold cardboard case, three separate volumes each containing three CDs. The book is nearly thirty pages in length with lots of detail, and the narrative comes from the ex-Dead publicist Dennis McNally, whose scribes are (as always) well written and offer mega doses of tidbits about the on-stage and backstage goings on in the Dead family. For those who get turned on by such items, there's even a 'Good Ol' Grateful Dead' pin included.

This incarnation of the Dead featured their fearless leader Jerry Garcia, plus Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, and Bill Kreutzmann, all original founding fathers of the band, plus the husband and wife team Keith and Donna Godchaux. I've mostly enjoyed one drummer in the band as I found that the band is better focused and finds its way into better jams with the more open space. Thus, less clutter is better, all due respect to Mickey Hart.

As for the song selections, it's kind of odd and rare that they performed "Weather Report Suite" on all three nights, but as expected, each version is unique and every time they did it, stands alone without playing into another song. But from the first night there's a very brief break where Garcia strums the chords of "Eyes of the World" which works beautifully. Another fine extended workout is from the middle night where "Playing in the Band" blends into "Uncle John's Band," then "Morning Dew" back to "Uncle John's Band," and they wrap up this sixty-minute extravaganza with "Playing in the Band" all over again.

The high energy "Bertha" also appears on all three nights, twice all by itself, and on the last eve there's a fabulous trifecta of "Promised Land" that almost invisibly melds into "Bertha," into the bass thumping intro. on the rarely performed "Greatest Story Ever Told" which shows Garcia's excellent use and control of the good old wah-wah pedal. Of course you would expect "Dark Star" to appear on at least one of the three nights. It does, but just once, weighing in at a very chunky thirty minutes plus." It's a stellar version as some of the away from the "Dark Star" theme jams are quite tasty and immensely creative and imaginative.

The sound on all of these discs is well above par as live recordings go, and the performances capture the band at arguably their near best, especially Garcia whose guitar tone is incredibly pristine and is clear as ringing a bell. 1972 was my favorite Grateful Dead year, especially every show I heard from Europe of 1972, as their improvisation skills really peaked and their jams had a magical flow. This '73 Winterland run is the same configuration as the 1972 band, sans Ron "Pigpen" McKernan who I always felt added that "dirty" R&B/Blues edge that the Dead once had, and subsequently lost when Pigpen left us in 1973.

So the question is; do you or I need an additional nine CDs of Dead jams and tunes? Perhaps you do or don't. Whether you love or hate the Grateful Dead, there should be no denying that they were one of the most creative bands of their time who managed to successfully blend Blues, Soul, Rock, experimental Jazz, and Bluegrass into their music. By the mere fact of the never ending amount of CD releases, the 2009 Dead tour, endless Lesh and Weir tours, and an undying admiration from their old and new fans, they've must have made some good music, right? Just think a little outside the box, as there should be a good amount of tunes on this box set that will appeal to plenty of roots music fans!

Bob Putignano: