This next release looks back to the “Wall of Sound” live shows of 1974. Once again the review comes from Doug Collette from the All About Jazz website, dated July 22, 2009…
Recorded in the summer of 1974, marking the initial use of the famed “Wall of Sound” system, this latest edition of the Grateful Dead archive series finds the band scaling what may be the pinnacle of its performing powers. At the same time, the group was devoting its organization’s resources of time, money and expertise to the massive sound system that offered them and their audiences the most realistic sound imaginable.
Secure in the knowledge that one of their primary concerns as musicians was being successfully addressed—at least technically speaking)—it only makes sense, then, that the group, at this point an instrumental quintet plus Donna Jean Godchaux on vocals, would play with such a relaxed confidence. That mindset allows for some minor loose ends, as on the tempo shifts of “I Know You Rider,” but such sloppiness has always been a part of Grateful Dead live.
And perhaps it’s the acceptable margin of human error allowing for true brilliance, such as the angular approach to the improvisation at the heart of “Eyes of the World,” where Phil Lesh’s bass flutters, but decisively so, as the first round of vocals ends and it sound like he and Bill Kreutzmann—on his own as drummer, with Mickey Hart temporarily out of the fold—are, for all intents and purposes, almost literally picking up the rest of the group—guitarists Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir plus keyboardist Keith Godchaux—to proceed into the jam.
Rhythm guitarist and vocalist Weir often lauds how nimble was the Grateful Dead in the more compact configurations, and such collective ease of motion is apparent throughout this set. The interplay between Weir and leader Garcia is lightning quick, and while Godchaux, alternating between electric piano and organ, tends to take a back seat, his intuitive sense remains impeccable and only furthers the harmonic development.
At any given time in the five-way conversations at the heart of this three-disc set, taken from two different locales, everyone’s being heard: by themselves, their peers and presumably everyone in the audience. As one time publicist Dennis McNally so gleefully relates in his essay , next to multiple photos of the massive structure, the beauty of the “Wall of Sound” was its distortion-free efficiency, corresponding to the nightmarish impracticality of setup and breakdown. It only stands to reason that the Grateful Dead’s musicianship evinced an almost feather-light touch when it was in use.
So it is that with the overall familiarity of the material (seasoned with the relative novelty of “It’s a Sin” and “The Race Is On,”), plus the well-established style of playing individually and collectively, Road Trips Volume, Number 3 becomes an immediate standout in this series of Grateful Dead live recordings that began seeing release in 2007.