Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Album Review: The Grateful Dead - Dave's Picks 43: Late 1969

Grateful Dead
Dave's Picks 43
November 2, 1969 Family Dog, SF CA and December 26, 1969 at McFarlin Memorial Auditorium  University Park, Texas
**** out of *****

The eye grabbing headline to this most recent Dave's Pick release is that this music comes straight from Owsley "Bear" Stanley personal stash. The tapes were found by archivist David Lemieux in the "banana boxes" that had sat untouched for years in the groups vault. The release covers two shows in late 1969 (November 2, 1969 at the Family Dog and December 26, 1969 at McFarlin Memorial Auditorium in University Park, Texas) as the band moved from their acid test phase of Live/Dead into the acoustic based, song focused, cosmic cowboy years of Workingman's Dead and American Beauty.  

The fact that these tapes exist and the recording is this high quality is a testament to Bear, Lemieux and the whole Dead team. While there are the expected glitches/wear and tear, the overall sonic quality is fantastic. The one complaint is the releases sequencing, with the time limit of CD's both shows are split and forced to be on each of the three discs. Once obtained, the sequencing can be adjusted when not listening to the CD's themselves. 

As for the playing, the band is clearly trying stuff out, but in good spirits. The electric Family Dog show starts the release and after the sound starts to settle down, the playing on "Cold Rain and Snow" is legit with organ work sounding bright. Pigpen clearly shines early, taking the vocal spotlight as once again organist Tom Constanten plays some wonderful fills. Constanten was a short lived member of the band, but this release (as well as many others from this period) proves his worth to the San Francisco based outfit. 

A rare cover of George Jones' "Seasons of My Heart" gets an airing but the vocals and interplay from Lesh's bass and Garcia's guitar are all better on the slower "Mamma Tried". Pigpen flexes his harmonica work and blues singing on the shuffling "Next Time You See Me" before a quickly paced delivery of "Good Lovin'" and a return to slow shuffling blues of "Big Boss Man" as Pigpen continues that front-man delivery. While Pigpen wasn't long for this world, this release is an early example of how the band was moving beyond their need to toss Pigpen out to play front man for hours, as their song writing, singing, and playing was evolving quickly.    

Dave's Picks 43 then moves to an acoustic arraignment with some fun banter about Phil not showing up on time, starting the Texas portion. The highlight of this section is a fantastic rendering of "Little Sadie" with great interplay between Weir and Garcia. "Long Black Limousine" and "I've Been All Around This World" stretch out the acoustic interlocking riffs and vocals while another lesser played tune by the band "Gathering Flowers for the Master's Bouquet" ends this disk on a pretty note. 

The second disk starts back in San Fran with a huge "Dark Star" which slowly rolls out, lasting over a half hour. After a slow, unhurried start with Pigpens percussion shaking, the first verse meanders in after ten minutes. A bit of creaky singing from Jerry arrives before the song falls completely apart, only to reconstitute around a Garcia and Constanten led jam that cooks. This is all before the sound morphs into the "Tighten Up" jam the band sometimes played these years. The second verse comes in and while the song isn't smooth sailing, it is very adventurous and version of "Dark Star" clearly worth checking out. 

The following "St. Stephan" is a bit disjointed but all players lock in for the William Tell Overture section and really kick it up for a super strong version of "The Eleven" with Lesh holding it together as Garcia reaches a soaring climax. The following "Death Don't Have No Mercy" is a gem and finds Garcia soulfully vocalizing, leaving it all out there; this four song run is the highlight of this release. The jarring shift is then back to the acoustic show with a very slow, long and drawn out "Black Peter" and a very rough vocalized "Uncle John's Band" to end the disk poorly after such creative electric playing.

Phil arrives in Texas in time for the third CD as the electric portion of 12/26 crackles with excellent sound and upfront, bright vocals during "Casey Jones". "Hard To Handle" is a bit disjointed with Pigpen urging them to get it together, which they do during a cool "China Cat Sunflower">"I Know You Rider" pairing. Lesh's bass sounds great but "High Time" drags too much while Constanten's organ again highlights a "Texas tune" this time, "Me and My Uncle".

The second "Dark Star" on this release is almost as eye opening as the first, while not being as far out or experimental. The band keeps this version smoother, but also drop into another gorgeous "Tighten Up" jam before closing on a strong note. Both versions are delightful and worth hearing, proving the band was constantly pushing boundaries and experimenting. The release closes with a very rough vocal take on "New Speedway Boogie" and a final Pigpen highlight to wrap up the late '69 collection, a pumping "Turn On Your Love Light".   

This is a Dave's Picks that should appease Dead Heads of all stripes as there are moments of psychedelic freak-out, gorgeous singing, acoustic intimacy, rare tunes, phenomenal interplay and more. While other shows from this era have been released before and may be held in higher regard, Dave's Picks 43 is a great snapshot of the band evolving during the formative shows of late 1969. 
Support the artists, buy the album and peep some video below: 
(This is not the official audio from Dave's 43)

No comments:

Post a Comment