Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Album Review: Grateful Dead - Dave's Picks 34 Jai-Alai Fronton Miami, FL 6-23-74

Grateful Dead
Dave's Picks 34:
Jai-Alai Fronton Miami, FL 6-23-74
**** out of *****

The 34th selection of the Dave's Picks series of Grateful Dead live releases has already seen the shows most famous part released previously, but there are other aspects of the full 6/23/74 show from Jai-Alai Fronton in Miami, FL that are certainly worth experiencing, starting with the dynamic cover art.

1974 saw the Dead break out the Oswley designed Wall of Sound speaker system and the fidelity of this release is amazing as each player can clearly be heard; audiophiles will swoon at the sound captured here. The Wall did occasionally deliver virtual bleeps and glitches (even outside of the "Seastones" experiments captured between sets) and that was evident during the opening "Ramble On Rose" but the crisp capturing can be astounding in different passages such as the skittering guitar, drums, bass and keys delivered throughout "Jack Straw".

The band was in it's one drummer, jazz rock phase with a lineup of: Jerry Garcia – lead guitar, vocals Bob Weir – rhythm guitar, vocals Phil Lesh – bass guitar, vocals Donna Godchaux – vocals Keith Godchaux – keyboards Bill Kreutzmann – drums. While certain tunes like "Cumberland Blues" is usually played with an upbeat folk country pacing, this version drifts more into much slower styling around Garcia's lines.

The first set contains a few rarities but the Garcia lead numbers like "Let It Rock", "To Lay Me Down" and "China Doll" are more sluggish than effective. The Weir sang efforts like "El Paso" and especially the experimental version of "The Weather Report Suite" allowed Garcia to focus on his enchanting playing, and throughout this set that is what he did best. The early highlight effort is an all-time version of "Black Throated Wind" as Kreutzman's drum work leads the band while Weir sings with restrained style over the sashaying lines from Garcia and Godchaux.
The second set starts with the band just noodling around (the way Lesh incorporated into his Phil and Friends shows in the 2000's) and the looseness here benefits the band as a cool version of "Ship of Fools" sails out of the jamming. Keith's electric keyboard work shines brightest on this version as the slow languid playing is a precursor to the 1976 style the band would move towards.

Unfortunately that slow pace kills "Black Peter" before Weir tries to energize things with a mid set "Around and Around". Garcia then opens the notes of a famous "Dark Star" whose transitions and free form flow were released on career spanning So Many Roads box set. The song threatens to drift off into the ether but Bill and Phil direct the band directly into a "Spanish Jam" based on Miles Davis Sketches of Spain's "Solea".

This is the jolt the players needed as they seamlessly work out one of the best versions of "U.S.Blues" the band ever played, ending an impressive half hour musical journey. Things aren't over though as a very sweet "Uncle John's Band" contains dynamite solos from Garcia, a joyous "One More Saturday Night" and a ragged encore of "Casey Jones" to wrap up a wide ranging night of tunes from the band.

Fans may have had copies of this popular show already, but a Bonus Disk was also included in the release from a lesser known show, the previous night. The selections here are a mixed bag but one thing that is constant is the excellent sound, with particular highlights on Bill's drumming and Keith's keyboard work.

The opening expansive "Playing In The Band" wanders and is long on jazz interplay for almost a half hour displaying an excellent group dynamic. That syncopation keeps flowing on the "China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider" combo which just may be the highlight of this whole release, an all-time version of this historic pairing that is adventurous, loose, and magical. 

Godchaux and Lesh work out a solid "Eyes Of The World" before "Wharf Rat" finds Weir clanging through the Wall of Sound with rhythm guitar slams before a transition to "Sugar Magnolia" wraps up the bonus effort. This bonus disk is a joy and a great addition to the already great full show, possibly even topping the focused release.  

Dave's Picks never disappoints and volume thirty four raises the quality of a much loved show from the bands Wall of Sound era. While not an unknown gem, 6/23/74 gives the listener the best seat in the house from a summer night exactly 46 years ago today. 
Support the band, buy the album and peep some video below:
(Not official audio)

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