Doug Collette’s Sept. 17, 2011 All About Jazz review of this 1982 concert recording…
Throughout the entirety of the Grateful Dead’s archival series, Road Trips, the graphics have accurately mirrored the music enclosed and Vol.4, No. 4 is no exception. Lacking the plethora of detail in the cover art as well as the usual array of action photos, the plainness of the packaging reflects what’s inside. Five years removed from its hiatus, and having already recognized its fifteenth anniversary two years prior with acoustic/electric runs in its San Francisco birthplace and its adopted hometown of New York, the group was essentially marking time.
As the Grateful Dead was rediscovering its roots, its own canon of self-composed material remained static. As Blair Jackson relates in his liner essay, there was little new original material to be offered in 1982, which explains the appearance of covers like “C.C. Rider” and “Man Smart, Woman Smarter,” neither of which may hold any particular cachet for the band or its audience. (“It’s All Over Now,” on the other hand, might have been self-referential, given the group’s status in the culture at this period in time).
It’s clear that more focus would have benefited the group, as well as its audience at the time, and the same might also be said for this edition of Road Trips. It took two years for the original concept of the series to morph from offering highlights of various phases of the band’s career to delivering complete shows like its famed predecessor Dick’s Picks. The former approach of selected highlights would have markedly benefited this particular release.
Genuine surprise appears relegated to a truncated “The Other One,” where the band slides somewhat abruptly into “Morning Dew,” itself a precursor to the similarly melancholy likes of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Baby Blue.” The impact of the traditional “Jack-a-Roe” and “Deep Elem Blues” becomes diffuse when intermixed with “Shakedown Street” and “Terrapin Station.” Still, to hear Jerry Garcia clearly intone “Candyman,” or to note Bob Weir being genuinely caught up in the emotional moment that is “Looks Like Rain” sounds like an implicit proclamation of pride in their work.
Yet, as the Grateful Dead had no great innovations to display, such as the Wall of Sound, and their instrumental lineup had remained stable (keyboardist/vocalist Brent Mydland was now three years into his tenure with the group), the first set’s closing “Might as Well” just about sums up their zeitgeist of the time. “Ship of Fools” would punctuate that pronouncement, had some different logic been applied in sequencing of the two April nights of recordings from the Spectrum in Philadelphia.
At a time when the DIY/alternative musical culture was beginning to take hold, the deceptively laconic approach of rock’s greatest psychedelic warriors seemed a thing of the past. Yet this seemingly reasonable conclusion couldn’t foretell their massive connection with the mainstream five years later via “Touch of Grey.” So, like the Grateful Dead’s improvisations, in 1982 and at many other junctures of their career, Road Trips Vol. 4, No. 4 makes a statement by suggestion rather than declaration.