Grateful Dead “Dave’s Picks Vol.20” Boulder, CO 12/9/81 (3CD’s)
This is the fourth and final 2016 edition of the “Dave’s Picks” series. Every year four separate box-sets are offered, a majority are sold to subscribers who sign-up for the annual series that also includes one edition that arrives with a (highly collectable) bonus-disc. “Dave’s Picks 20” doesn’t include a bonus-disc, it’s a 3CD set from the winter of’81 recorded at the University of Colorado. Unfortunately it’s an odd sounding recording by Dan Healy with dropouts and occasional sound shifts, giving the impression that more than one or more tapes were commingled. My initial summation is that this is both a sound and performance misstep from all involved with these typically fine “Dave’s Picks” concert releases. Long story short; combining poor audio sound with lackluster first and second concert sets – makes for one of the weakest releases from the entire “Dave’s Picks” series. Plus it’s no wonder why many Deadheads dislike these (1980’s) era of the band and believe keyboardist/vocalist Brent Mydland hampered the Dead because he didn’t add any creativity that could allow to Dead to evolve. Though I have to say; all of the culpability shouldn’t fall on Mydland. Many of the band-members had serious addiction issues, and there were other personality conflicts as well. Mydland died in 1990 from a speedball overdose, their previous keyboard player Keith Godchaux died in a car accident after being driven home from his own birthday party, and Jerry Garcia passed in ’95 after numerous attempts to try to get help – clean-up his addictions, and overall poor health lifestyle choices.
First Set: Starts off with a below average and sloppy “Cold Rain and Snow” followed by an train-wrecked “Jack Straw” with unremembered lyrics and an onslaught of missed vocal tradeoff miscues. I never look for Phil Lesh’s vocals, but love his bass playing – but either his bass wasn’t properly recorded, or he just wasn’t into this performance, I suspect the latter. Bob Weir seems to be transmitting from another galaxy especially during his “Looks Like Rain” that also features Weir dropping a few f-bombs. There are a few highlights; “Bird Song” is performed well with pretty instrumental passages, ditto for “Cassidy.” The set closing “China Cat Sunflower,” into their usual pairing of “I know you Rider” is also okay, but there are dozens if not hundreds of superior renditions.
Set Two: Opens in a deep (my pillow) snore “Scarlet Begonias,” into “Fire on the Mountain” has no fire. “Estimated Prophet” finds Weir and the entire band collectively unfocused, especially when they mindlessly shift to a dull “He’s Gone” into the (time to take a leak) “Drums” and the lost cause “Space” jam that (I think) continues on the third CD. After the lost in “Space” break the band strolls into “The Other One” where there’s another noticeable tape and audio sound alteration, that has me thinking; where is the quality control here? The comparatively brief (7:40) and uneventful “The Other One” segues to “Stella Blue,” another yawn that runs on for nearly ten minutes crying for the fast-forward button at quadruple (4X) speed. Furthermore; there’s isn’t any plan going from “Stella” to Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around.” The transition actually comes off rude as they simply decided to change gears without consideration for the mood. The Berry classic becomes “Good Lovin’” and even though the band is (somewhat) spirited – listening to Brent Mydland’s background vocals and B3 organ noodling was annoying, but at least the set is over! However; the night continues with a double encore of a marginal “U.S. Blues” that (sort of) flows into The Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” pretty rare for The Dead to cover and arguably the best song of the night, though this isn’t saying much.
So what do we have here? Inferior sound with dropouts mixed in with bootleg audience tapes, a subpar Grateful Dead performance – makes for a low-quality 3CD box-set titled “Dave’s Pick Vol. 20.” I believe if the deceased Dick Latvala (of “Dick’s Picks” fame) were alive – Latvala would have been annoyed with the audio sound, and the Dead’s shoddy performance. Which brings us to – how many additional shows can David Lemieux (of the more recent “Dave’s Picks” fame) unearth to try to peddle and sell to the still enthusiastic Deadhead’s? I don’t know, but judging from this 12/9/1981 concert from Colorado – I’d suspect that their once abundant deep well of archived concerts – might be bottoming out onto a dry and parched Californian desert. In other words; save your money for this set. But also stay tuned for subsequent recordings that are already scheduled for 2017. Details at: www.Dead.net and www.Rhino.com
For 18 years Bob Putignano has been pivotal with his Sounds of Blue radio shows.
On-demand Homegrown Sounds of Blue internet radio shows can always be found at: www.soundsofblue.com/radioshowsmp3.htm
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Previously a contributing editor at Blues Revue, Blueswax, and Goldmine magazines, currently the Music Editor for Yonkers Tribune
Bob was also the 2003 recipient of the “Keeping the Blues Alive” award (given by the Blues Foundation in Memphis) for his achievements in radio broadcasting.
Putignano can be contacted at: BobP@SoundsofBlue.com
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