The Grateful Dead – “Road Trips Vol. 3, No. 1: Oakland 2-13-1979” (2009)

August 19, 2012 at 9:29 am (Music, Reviews & Articles, The Grateful Dead)

The first of Vol. 3 in the Road Trips series (another complete show), Doug Collette’s review from All About Jazz, dated Feb. 13, 2010…

The Grateful Dead’s archive series Road Trips begins its third year somewhat, but not wholly, as it began. Like the first edition, Vol.3 No.1is another excerpt from the time of keyboardist Brent Mydland’s membership of the band. Steve Silberman, in his wide-ranging essay in the liner booklet, reaffirms the high level of inspiration Mydland brought to the group, more validation of which appears in any one of the Hammond B3 organ surges that sprinkle these three discs.

But contrary to the original concept of Road Trips—compilations of recordings spotlighting notable phases of the Grateful Dead’s career—this one represents an entire show, from the group’s year-end run at Oakland’s Arena. Archivists David Lemiuex and Blair Jackson, in conjunction with engineer non-pareil Jeffrey Norman, are past masters in sculpting releases with the flow of an actual performance. But fans’ demands for a return to the completist approach of the now-defunct Dick’s Picks series no doubt constitutes the reason for the shift in direction of this more recent archive series.

It’s an auspicious new beginning on its own terms, though it may be telling that, in contrast to previous editions in which the bonus disc represents an arguable highlight, this one, comprised of excerpts from the 12/30 show, doesn’t add to the cache of the package. It suffers simultaneously on the sound front—the audio not so clearly defined as that on the main discs—and in terms of the performance itself. While it’s true that the quality of the Dead’s live performances at this point did not depend fundamentally on guitarist/vocalist/composer Jerry Garcia, his full engagement on the closing “Wharf Rat” only makes his erratic presence on “Ramble on Rose” more obvious.

No such waxing and waning occurs during the course of the two discs recorded on December 28th, except for some purposeful pacing by the band. The sextet sounds, collectively and individually, secure in their instinctual sense of direction, as much when improvising as when sequencing the songs. The Dead were just beginning formally to stylize their approach to set lists, so the first disc contains emphasis on tunes, in a briskly dynamic mode: the quiet solemnity of “Row Jimmy” and “High Time” sounds all the more sublime when surrounding the punch of “It’s All Over Now” and preceding the upbeat “Alabama Getwaway” and “Greatest Story Ever Told.”

Yet the mid-tempo “The Music Never Stopped” is a precursor of markedly deeper explorations during the second half of the show. As on the preceding numbers, drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart are loose but in sync with each other and when they proceed to the “Rhythm Devils” portion in this extended string of segues, they erect a sonic portal of sorts through which the rest of the instrumentalists move through “Space,” before launching themselves into a series of upbeat tunes. “I Need a Miracle” and “Casey Jones” are just a couple during which the group ratchets up the momentum of its playing.

The high impact close, in the form of “One More Saturday Night,” only reminds of the extent to which a Grateful Dead concert was a state of mind unlike any other. The glossy graphics adorning Road Trips Vol. 3, No. 1 thus becomes a metaphor for the musicianship within: the list of titles looks superficially familiar, but the band transforms them here through its peculiar process of alchemy.

Doug Collette



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