Friday, August 05, 2005

Aspen Times reviews the Houseboat Tapes & Trucking Up to Buffalo

From the Aspen Times:

Grateful Dead, "Dick's Picks 35: 8/7 & 24/'71"(Grateful Dead Records)"Truckin' Up to Buffalo: July 4, 1989"(Rhino)The common wisdom holds that the Grateful Dead of the early '70s was far superior than the late-'80s version. There's loads of truth there. But the Dead were good at upending conventional intelligence, as proved by this recent pair of archival releases.The Dead of early '71 was a band in transition. Ron "Pigpen" McKernan barely contributed on keyboards, but hadn't been replaced yet. Drummer Mickey Hart had started his hiatus not long before. So the Dead were adjusting to having fewer moving parts; instrumentally, they were essentially a quartet.The story behind "Dick's Picks 35" is a good one. In late summer of '71, Jerry Garcia had given a box of concert tapes to keyboardist Keith Godchaux, who would join the band that fall. He left the tapes on his parents' houseboat - where they remained for some 35 years, until relatives cleaned out the boat and forwarded the missing links to Deadworld.The music isn't quite as memorable. The Dead just didn't have their unpredictable dynamism here. The songs didn't crackle; the jams neither snapped nor popped. On the positive side, the four discs here - from three shows in Aug. of '71 - comprise virtually all of the repertoire from this era and then some: "Empty Pages," the rarely played Pig-penned ballad. And Pigpen is in fine shape vocally."Truckin' Up to Buffalo," from July 4 of 1989, proves the Dead were still capable of some latter-day fireworks. They stumble through a few tunes, but then find their stride mid-way through the first set, with crisp versions of "Row Jimmy," the ancient New Orleans tale "Stagger Lee" and a cover of Bob Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece."The trot becomes a gallop in the second set. The band blazes through the often dull "Man Smart, Woman Smarter," and Garcia follows with a touching "Ship of Fools," barely marred by the repeating of verse two. Garcia lights up another Dylan tune, "All Along the Watchtower," with his guitar lines, and shines once again on the stirring "Morning Dew." The finale is a bit of a letdown: an ordinary "Not Fade Away," and a predictable Independence Day encore of "U.S. Blues." Stewart Oksenhorn's e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com

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