Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Album Review: Grateful Dead - Dave's Picks 42: 2/23/74 Winterland, San Francisco, CA

Grateful Dead
Dave's Picks 42 Winterland, San Francisco, CA 2/23/74
*** out of *****

As stated in past Dave's Picks reviews, the collection has already released lots of classic shows. Case in point, the following night (2/24) of Dave's Picks 42 was released earlier in this series as Dave's Picks 13. While that earlier release is a better show, Dave's 42 does offer a lot of good music on the three disks, plus a bonus disk of the previous night (2/22) for good measure.

Things take a while to truly kick into gear for the band (Jerry Garcia – guitar, vocals Donna Jean Godchaux – vocals Keith Godchaux – keyboards Bill Kreutzmann – drums Phil Lesh – bass, vocals Bob Weir – guitar, vocals) on this evening as a tepid version of "Around and Around" starts the show. This is only the second gig the band played in 1974, but already their slower, jazz based style, which would come to define the year is in place, just check out this almost too relaxed version of "Dire Wolf". 

While the sound from almost fifty years ago is impeccably presented by audio archivist David Lemieux, that is not to say the night didn't have it's issues as microphones cut out during both "Me and Bobby McGee" and "Sugaree". The almost complete Wall of Sound was working out the kinks and with the ability to skip these songs it is probably best to start the show with "Mexicali Blues" as the pirate ship (displayed on the cover art) gets righted and starts strongly sailing from here on out. 

"Here Comes Sunshine" is a show highlight and in the conversation of best ever version from the band as the interplay and blues jamming soars with the full group truly finding their way. The rest of the first set features solid (if slightly reserved in 1974 fashion) fan favorites "Jack Straw", "Deal" and a "Greatest Story Ever Told" set closer which features a smoking guitar solo from Garcia; after a shaky start, the band wraps up the first set confidently. 

The languid playing keeps babbling along as "Row Jimmy" begins set two but the other show highpoint arrives quickly as Garcia weepily weaves his way through the complete "Weather Report Suite" with fantastic playing behind Weirs vocals and strong bass lines from Lesh, leading into a funky/jazzy jam in the "Let It Grow" section before the band moves into a gorgeous "Stella Blue".  This half hour of music is restrained and fluid and very representative of the year to come.

Oddly they then move into a jarring "Big River" trying to kick up the tempo after the laid back jams, but the set never truly kicks back into gear until an upbeat "Truckin'". This leads into drums from Kreutzmann and a very spacey and dissonant version of "The Other One" which falls completely apart while also giving a preview of songs to come, jamming on "Slipknot!" which had yet to been played live. With both this exploratory jam and a solid version of "Eyes of The World" which follows, Garcia and Lesh seem to be leading the charge while speaking to each other through the music. 

The band seemed a bit off to wrap up this show ('74 in general is not known as the most rocking time for the band) as "One More Saturday Night" and "Casey Jones" are alright at best, but the encore cover of "Johnny B Goode" (put frustratingly on the second disk) features some fiery solo work from Garcia as the group wraps up the night at their home base Winterland.        

This Dave's Picks comes with a bonus disk of material from the previous night which was the first of the '74 tour. The band was finding their way with the sound of their almost complete wall and their footing as a band back on stage.  

There is not a lot worth seeking out, a passable version of  "Black Throated Wind" with rich bass textures, a very rickety "China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider" are both just OK at best, but the disk was clearly included because of the very cool version of "Playing in the Band". The group locks in and jams swimmingly with Garcia's guitar work blazing into a mid song twinkling that was actually the first teases of "Slipknot!" as he makes magic on the fretboard.   

Compared to other recent Dave's Picks releases, even others from 1974, this one comes up a bit short as a full show though the highlights ("Here Comes Sunshine", "Weather Report Suite" > "Stella Blue" the "Playing in the Band" from the bonus disk) should be heard by all fans. That said, almost any Grateful Dead is good Grateful Dead in RtBE's book, so give it a whirl.  
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