20 & 21
"When we're done with it, you can have it." Jerry Garcia couldn't have addressed the practice of Deadheads taping shows and freely trading their recordings with other like-minded individuals more concisely. In these days of Napster, rampant piracy and finger-pointing by the RIAA and certain high-browed artists, Garcia's words cut through all the semantics and accusations with the precision of a sharp saw blade. The bottom line for the Dead was that as long as tapers were not financially profiting from their efforts, they didn't care if fans recorded and shared their performances. Ironically, members of the Dead camp are presently divided on how they want their music distributed. But through thick and thin, the Dick's Picks Series has continued to no abatement with numbers 20 and 21.
Since 1993, the Dick's Picks Series has consistently delivered top Grateful Dead performances, mastered from two- and four-track recordings, selected by the Dead's late vault archivist Dick Latvala. Since Latvala's passing in 1999, the series has continued, even increased, its output. Without any studio overdubbing and additional patchwork, the overall quality and historical significance of these releases has enriched the Grateful Dead's already extensive catalogue. And while trading continues to be a popular activity among Deadheads, the steady flow of official live recordings has made the practice less of a threat, and more of a novelty. The RIAA could learn a thing or two from these guys.
Released within the first three months of 2001, Dick's Picks 20 and 21 cover extremely momentous periods of the band: 1976 and 1985, respectively. Dicks Picks 20 is a four-CD set covering two shows from September 1976 - the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland on 9/25/76 and the Onondaga County War Memorial in Syracuse, New York on 9/28/76. This is the 15th Dick's Picks release from the 70s, and by all accounts, an extremely compelling run which debuted plenty of new material and reunited the drumming team of Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann. While one song from each show is missing (coincidentally, two songs that happened to be played at both shows), the essence of the two performances is effectively represented. Highlights include the debut of Bob Weir's "Lazy Lightenin'/Supplication" and the final performance of "Cosmic Charlie" from the Capital Centre show. A thoroughly engrossing medley with "Playing In The Band" book-ending the arrangement underscores the tone of Syracuse show. As with all of the shows from the mid 70s that have been immortalized by the "Dick's Picks" collection, the interplay between the members of the Dead is nothing less than spectacular.
Fast forward nine years later. Through the excess of drugs, bad recording deals and constant touring, the Dead celebrated their twentieth year together in 1985. Lots of fans consider their run in Berkeley that year as one of their best. The performance on Dick's Picks 21 - recorded on November 1st, was the first night of a two-night run at the Richmond Coliseum in Richmond, Virginia. A meaty selection of standards like "Dancing In The Streets," "Little Red Rooster," and "Stagger Lee" make up the first disc, while the second disc shifts rapidly forward with an incredible "He's Gone," "Spoonful," "Comes A Time" and "Lost Sailor" medley that casually flows into a "Drums/Space" break. The third disc includes funky covers like "Gimme Some Lovin'," Dylan's "She Belongs To Me" and Van Morrison's "Gloria." With time to spare, the disc steps five years back and finishes off with a 35-minute slice of a September 2, 1980 show from Rochester, New York. Any taper or collector will tell you that a chunk of bonus material, regardless of where it's from, is always a special treat. As the only salvageable portion of this show in the vaults, it's a nice addition that gives this particular Dick's Picks a personal touch.
~ Shawn Perry