Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Album Review: The Grateful Dead - Dave's Picks 48

The Grateful Dead
Dave's Picks 48
****and1/2 out of *****

2023 was a strong year for the Dave's Picks. As stated before, when reviewing the Dave's Picks series, and really any Grateful Dead release at this point, it needs to be noted that a lot of the truly great shows have already been professionally released. The selections are running thin when it comes to must own, professionally released shows.

That said, this series still exists for a reason, it continues to unearth rare gems like this release, which is the best of the four released this year. Dave's 48 contains the full show from November 20, 1971, at Pauley Pavilion UCLA in Los Angeles, California and a single disk from October 24, 1970, at Kiel Opera House in St. Louis, Missouri. 

The main chunk of Dave's 48 was recorded on the famed UCLA court and the linear notes were written by non-other than Bill Walton, who you can't help but enjoy. In late '71 the Dead were once again in transition, moving from the Pigpen lead 60's acid bluesmen, into the cosmic cowboys of '72, and this show finds them as a burning barroom rock band.  

Dave has released multiple shows from this era before (26 and 22) and the key component of this late '71 time frame is the arrival of Keith Godchaux on keyboards as Pigpen was off the road, sick. Being the new kid on the block, Godchaux wanted to prove his worth and played with more energy this run then he did at any other time in the band. This unique dynamic makes these shows outliers and worth hearing.

While Godchaux had reason to be excited, his enthusiasm must have been infectious on this night because the Grateful Dead play with more energy on the first two disks than you are libel to hear at any other time in the first ten years of the band. Jerry Garcia – guitar, vocals Keith Godchaux – keyboards Bill Kreutzmann – drums Phil Lesh – bass, vocals Bob Weir – guitar, vocals are all pumped up for the LA crowd.

That palpable sense of excitement hits with the first notes of "Bertha" as the groups energy is already sky high, not always the case with the Dead. One issue of note is with the sound of this release, the upfront and plinking piano of Godchaux is very high and may push some fans away (as might the slightly lacking low bass from Lesh) but overall it is worth sticking with as the band is on this evening and the sound evens out eventually. 

The whole first set cooks with joy as highlights roll out one after the other. "Sugaree" has powerful and engaged vocals from Garcia, "Big Railroad Blues" rips, "Beat It On Down The Line" finds Weir getting in on the act yelling with excitement, while Kreutzmann kicks it double time to end "Jack Straw". The band delivers a fairly tight version of the future warhorse "Playin' In The Band" that once again finds Godchaux driving the keys into the finale. The set then wraps up with two high octane outings as both "Casey Jones" and "One More Saturday Night" blow the roof off of the Pavilion as Garcia leads the charge, firing riffs while the band all joins behind, especially Kreutzmann who is blazing on the kit. 

The second set does not let the energy lag at all as the highlight of the whole release arrives right away with over forty minutes of straight up Grateful Dead goodness. "Truckin'" kicks things off and it is fairly contained, with the nice piano work from Keith, but here Garcia really gets to snaking his guitar around the sound, mixing it up with Phil as the group gets it rolling. A brief segue into "Drums" gives the band a short breather before they jump directly into a top notch version of "The Other One". 

While 1972 would find some otherworldly versions of the song, this night in late '71 found the band starting fluidly leading to the first verse with rocking ease, then things start shimmering and spacey around the seven minute mark, but that is not in the cards, as they go back into a rocky/funky/bluesy jam that reaches a halfway point where things could fall off the rails, but they manage to all solo while staying together; Grateful Dead magic. 

Billy and Phil drop out around the fifteen minute mark, but the spacey outings just don't stick as the rhythm returns for a full grooving adventure that melds directly into one of the best versions of "Ramble On Rose" the band ever delivered as they sang with energy and purpose. 

This passage alone makes Dave's 48 worth seeking out, but the band isn't done. After a false start "Sugar Magnolia" gets a pumped up workout, "You Win Again" is a dynamite country ballad from Garcia, and the classic combo of "Not Fade Away > Going Down The Road Feeling Bad > Not Fade Away" is cooking with a "China Cat Sunflower" tease dropped in the first section just for good measure. Far from your typical Dead show, yet great in it's own way.

Then there still is disk three, as we substitute Godchaux on keys for Ron "Pigpen" McKernan – organ, harmonica, vocals, transporting the listener to a fall night in 1970, and while it has some impressive moments, it is not as fully exciting as what came before. 

The best tune arrives first as this version of "Dancin' In The Streets" has a big bass sound from Phil as he leads the band into a very groovy outing. While Garcia and Weir are fine with Pigpen helping a bit on organ this is Phil and Billy's show as the two keep the groove moving, before Kreutzmann goes for a galloping drum section to wrap it up, worth checking out. 

Other highlights are the second half of "Good Lovin'" which starts with not one but two drum solos, dragging the energy down, but makes up for it with a hot jam to end that contains a full "St. Stephan" jam. The band then figured why not play it proper and go all out on this version with Garcia in particular shining with strong riffs. 

This is a fantastic entry into the Dave's Picks series, wrapping up a yet another strong year of releases from the Grateful Dead. 
Support the band, buy the album and peep some video below:

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