3-27-88 Hampton VA (Digital
Listening to this show is
sort of an object lesson in what it takes to *not quite* be a DICKS
PICK: in the first song, the mix changes, and the great audience
quotient disappears when the source morphs from a Matrix mix to a
straight soundboard. For the DP series, this would be too many marks
against release. None of this matters to the music, of course; this
is a highly charged show, and a solid reminder of that -- regardless
of your preferred era -- it could always be a joyful experience to
go to a Dead show. Yes, it would be nice if the Matrix mix held thru
the whole show; yes, they seem to be rushing after the drum / space
break. But why cry over milk that is yet unspilt?
"Iko" gets the
party rolling; "Rooster" throbs and soars. Brent once
again proves himself the best blues organist the band ever had.
"Stagger Lee" is third, and this show fades to soundboard
sterility; the drums especially seem more highly mixed. Brent throws
some back to Jerry during the "Stagger" outro jam, short
as it is. "Thin Man" follows, and features all the
enthusiasm we'd wanted in the Dead & Dylan shows; the band BURNS
IT -- exactly what a song like this needs. While Bobby sometimes
seems to be channeling The Bob himself, he's clearly comfortable
with it on his own terms, and Healy only improves this with a bit of
slapback echo. A true gem.
Jerry then dials up
"Cumberland" without pause, and the band falls in behind
him; we won't hear silence again until the set break. Now, you
guitarists out there will know that "Cumberland" isn't
exactly an easy picker, and Jerry seems to have taken on rather more
than he was ready for. Still, he finds ways to acquit himself for
taste if not speed. Brent, on the other hand, shows himself ready
from the first break. Good going, Brent! Bobby gives us the
"Uncle" inevitable, and Jerry seems to be getting his
fingers warmed up. Phil evidently appreciates this, and throws in a
bit of walking bass. Nailing the final chord, Jerry strums up
"To Lay Me Down" to follow. With nice touches of both
synth and piano, Brent makes this a pleasure; despite Bobby's view,
Mickey and Bill seem quite competent playing a ballad. The whole
band scores another notable track.
Quick as a wink, the sly
brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, and Bobby strums up "Let it
Grow" in turn. This is especially rewarding on headphones, as
it is more than clear which drummer is dong what, and the ongoing
dialog between them is absorbing just in itself. In general, Mickey
seems to be lord of the cymbals and snare, with Billy kicking in
more skins, but you'll have to decide for yourself.
Set two fades in with
random music and distant comments; again, the clarity is wonderful.
"Space" really is the best name for this two-minute
segment, until Jerry takes a suddenly introduces the "So
What" theme. Now, that's improvisation! The resulting
performance lasts only a minute; the band really isn't prepared to
undertake a solid exploration of Miles Davis. The ensuing
disintegration allows Bobby to start the set properly with
"Sugar Magnolia" as wide-smilin' as ever; special mention
must be made of Brent's piano, prominently mixed as it is.
Next is a
"Scarlet" transition they would undertake only three more
times (thanks, DEADBASE!). "Scarlet" is nicely played, and
the jam that follows probably sounds cataclysmic on Audience
recordings. Here, the nakedness of the soundboard reveals plenty of
interplay. Something about the mix seems to hold back some of the
energy (like the fact that we don't hear the audience?), but that's
not to call it a full serving. As usual, "Fire on the
Mountain" follows on its tail; ten minutes apiece for both
"Scarlet" and "Fire" and not a moment wasted
anywhere. Oh sure -- it ends faster than you'd like, but notice how
beautifully they wind down from Jerry's last solo -- Brent copying
Jerry's descending line (in harmony, no less!), the whole band
braking down to a near-whisper, gently tapping out the final notes.
If the band had become more efficient, we couldn't say they weren't
still dishing up the goods; a little less keyboards & drums, and
a little more Phil & Jerry, and old-guard fans might have to put
it up beside some their favorite 1977s.
Of course, that's not all:
like the begrudgingly appreciated middle disc of DICKS PICK #6, this
show features not just "Scarlet > Fire" but
"Estimated > Eyes" as well. Whoo! A little faster than
on DP #6, so they don't last quite as long, but there's still plenty
to like. Too bad there isn't video for this one; Bobby seems to be
enjoying himself above & beyond the usual. Again, as the song
proper stretches toward the jam, Brent alternately echoes Jerry's
lines in harmony or replies to them. While the jam seems like it
could go on indefinitely, Jerry makes the move to "Eyes"
-- twice, actually -- and the band moves accordingly, despite the
often-spoken dictum about there being no leader. As "Eyes"
go, this one works, evoking the usual images, and being neither
notably slow nor too fast. Not a Top Ten performance perhaps, but a
nice one all the same, and a perfectly good way to chew up eight
more minutes before going to the Drums.
This seems a good time to
mention the electronic drums, which had been prominent throughout. I
admit that, as a rule, it isn't the keyboards and drums I want
forefront in my mixes. Here, though, it hasn't been so bad as to
interfere with overall enjoyment (or I would have said so!).
Electronic drums would prove to be a signature of their 1988 sound
-- I especially enjoy the '88 Greek run (July 15 - 17), and the
electronic drum sounds are part of what make it so distinctive.
Here, we hear less than we might have; the drums fade out after only
a couple minutes, and fade back for natural skins -- but we
definitely get a few bonks before they go. A good blend, really, and
not at all dull.
Mickey gets in some Beam
noise, which (for me) always evokes memories of hearing it in
person; I'm afraid few stereos can reproduce it properly, and even
then the tape source probably loses a lot. The only thing close,
maybe, would be a serious earthquake -- the October 1989 Loma Prieta
comes to mind -- or possibly a train rolling by.
Sadly, this doesn't get its
own track; it's just a late segment of the Drums; as if any drums
normally sounded anything like that. A few minutes of otherworldly
humming, finally joined by El Garcia in some strange transmutation
we accept as being some form of guitar. As with the Beam, this is
all best heard on headphones, where the extreme stereo separation
could keep you very busy if you were in a special state of mind,
which by now you certainly should be :-) "Space" is not
what we generally look forward to in a show, but it's a high point
here: as yet, there is no hurry, no sense of time or when the show
might end. almost anything is yet possible, and Jerry and Bob set
out to investigate the parameters. Some sounds remind me of Star
Trek's whale adventure; some remind of video games not invented.
Oh, you say, perhaps that
is only something from my own state of mind? Perhaps; it only lasts
a few minutes of clock time, even if lasts an eternity of emotional
time. Bobby strums up something that sounds like it might be ... um,
something? Hard to say with Bobby. Fortunately, he shows little
doubt, and Jerry has no trouble following. Soon Phil does likewise,
though it is no song I could pin a name on. I have the feeling he
does a lot of this, only sometimes actually turning the results into
a song with a name.
Jerry, on the other hand,
knows too many songs not to turn anything into one, and he does:
"Going Down the Road", which soon has the whole band in
his wake. Brent throws on some Hammond organ, and sounds very glad
to sing the harmonies, which Jerry evidently appreciates. Only a
minute into the song, and it sounds fraught with all the
possibilities of every performance they've ever given it; it would
be a shame not to explode, and yet too cheap to simply do so.
"Let it ride", they seem to decide, and we are kept on
seat's edge. Another verse, and each note is clean and perfect, as
if rehearsed -- bluegrass-banjo rules dictate no extraneous notes,
and that's how Jerome Garcia's musical mind was smelted and shaped.
A third verse and chorus, and Brent throws in the extra line, to
all-too-faintly-heard audience delight. Jerry opts for the
"Goodnight" chorus, still saving what was built, and they
skew toward "Miracle" -- saving the snap for later, and
keeping Brent on the Hammond, though dimly heard. Ah, for a perfect
Bobby outs his lungs into
"Miracle", although he already shows a penchant for
letting the audience song the chorus. The lyric concluded, Jerry
quickly steers toward what was then a new transition: "Dear Mr
Fantasy". So THIS is what they had up their sleeve the whole
set -- that's why Jerry moved to conclude each song so quickly!
Brent appreciates the spotlight, and wails both vocally and on the
Hammond B-3 (though mixed rather low). Jerry shows himself fully
engaged on his solo, as devoted to a passionate exploration as Brent
is on the Hammond; the two, in combination, approach Stevie Ray
Vaughan and double Trouble in their intensity.
exclaim. "Really?" Unfortunately, you'll have to listen
carefully to get the same experience, as the organ is buried in the
mix. No doubt, though, to those present, the comparison would have
been easy. Such is the price of listening to rough-mixed
Bobby takes the conclusion
right back to "Sunshine Daydream", concluding that which
began the set, "Closing of Winterland" style. I confess
that it had my foot tapping, despite various disagreements (on where
to end) and mix problems (the piano is just too high). Geez, what
did you want, anyway? It's the Dead, fer chrissakes -- and late 80s
Dead, at that; they gave all they had to give, and they gave it the
best they could. On this night, that was pretty darn good, despite a
few technical anomalies that no DP would have. Dance your way to the
parking lot during "US Blues" (where Jerry even laughs at
his own lyrical blunder), and you just might say I'm right.
Review by Ramble On Joe
Grade A -
* please note that due to
technical issues on the master soundboard digital tapes, the first
two songs of Download Series Vol. 5 are from the
"Ultra-Matrix" soundboard/audience tape hybrid. The rest
of the concert, however, is from the soundboard master.