Thursday, March 10, 2022

Album Review: Grateful Dead - Dave's Picks 41: May 26th 1977

Grateful Dead
Dave's Picks 41: May 26th 1977 
Baltimore Civic Center, Baltimore, Maryland
***and1/2 out of *****

May 1977 is the most famous month in Grateful Dead history. One of the bands most beloved shows happened then, box sets have been released from this month, multiple special releases have been spotlighted, along with multiple Dick's Picks, including the first Dave's Picks which was the show the night before this current release. Archivist David Lemieux stated that this show was almost his pick for the first release in his series, and feels it holds up to any shows from this historic month.

While it comes close and is well played, overall it ends up slightly lesser than most of those nights from that glorious time. One of the things about May '77 is that the band (Jerry Garcia – guitar, vocals Bob Weir – guitar, vocals Phil Lesh – bass Keith Godchaux – keyboards Donna Jean Godchaux – vocals Mickey Hart – drums Bill Kreutzmann – drums) is in peak, tight form, but things are not that experimental and do not shift that much from night to night. Sure the band is super in sync and playing strongly but is every night worth owning?  Maybe. 

Dave's Pick 41 first set is almost an inverse of a lot of '77 first sets with "The Music Never Stopped" opening the show, instead of closing the set and "Bertha" wrapping things up instead of kicking things off. The start is strong with Godchaux's piano and Garcia's guitar leading the charge before a mellow, drawn out "Sugaree". 

"Mama Tried" has pristine vocals from both Weir (and Garcia supporting) while the flow is a bit off with  mid-set "Deal" feeling out of place. Things improve with Lesh's sliding bass on the punchy "Passenger" and the rhythmic pumping "Brown-Eyed Women". "Looks Like Rain" finds Weir and Donna Jean trading vocals expertly and while Donna could be off some shows, this show proves when she was clicking with the band it could be glorious vocally.  

"Sunrise" along with all of her backing vocals make this show one of the best performances Donna was ever a part of live with the Grateful Dead. An upbeat and slightly groovy "Jack-a-Roe" has more energy than usual while "New Minglewood Blues" might just have the best solo work from Garcia in the whole first set. 

All of Dave's Picks have excellent production/sound and 41 is no exception, the opening notes of set two find "Samson and Delilah" ringing out gloriously as Lesh and Garcia have a musical conversation over the pounds of the Rhythm Devils.  One of the highlights of this whole show arrives with a beautiful version of "High Time" accented with great piano work from Godchaux, but things go off the rails with a disco beat version of "Big River". Archivist Lemieux also supplemented this show with the missing "US Blues" encore from Dave's Picks 40, breaking up the flow. 

The original show continues with a quicker than normal "Terrapin Station" and a syrupy "Estimated Prophet" which again finds Donna vocally on point. The most exploratory song of the whole evening arrives after some drum work with "Not Fade Away", this version is unique and wanders, but can be a bit aimless at points during the seventeen minute run time. Donna again sounds fantastic supporting the band during the set ending "Around and Around" while a sweet encore of "Uncle Johns Band" is always well received.   

Taken in a vacuum, Dave's Picks 41 is a fine example of the bands playing during one of the best months in their long and storied career. Positioned against other releases from that month, it is somewhere towards the back of the pack of May 77. That is not to say it is not worth hearing for fans and newcomers alike as anything from that glorious month is top notch stuff from the good old Grateful Dead.  
Support the band, buy the album and peep some video below:
(This is not the official audio from the release)

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