Saturday, November 21, 2009

Grateful Dead - Three From the Vault (Rhino, 2007)

Taken from the Dead's much loved run at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY in 1971, this dorm room staple was on regular rotation during my college years. Blasting from boom-boxes along with Phish and Blues Traveler while we played hacky sack and frisbee on the lawn. The Adams Family themed pinball machine at the student center was also prime entertainment in those pre-web days. But I digress... Rhino has done an excellent job with the remastering, every bootleg tape of this show I’ve heard always seemed off pitch, but this has a wonderful deep clear sound to it. At this point, Mickey Hart had taken leave from the band, leaving Bill Kreutzmann as the sole percussionist along with Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir on vocals and guitar, Rob “Pigpen” McKernan on keyboards, harmonica and vocals and Phil Lesh on bass. They were a tight, road tested unit at this point, arguably at the peak of their power. Pigpen owns the blues and R&B material with a rough-worn grace, growling out Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightnin’” with great authority and adding some thick, wheezy harp to boot. Elmore James’ classic “It Hurts Me Too” is wonderful, with Garcia’s stinging slide guitar and aching yet strong vocal. His final blowout on “Good Lovin” breaks down into his spoken-word rap, then ramps up to a fine rousing conclusion. Other Dead staples of the day are also included, blasting uptempo rockers like “Bertha” and Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” make the case for Garcia as one of rock's great unsung guitarists, while the moody and haunting “Loser” and “Warf Rat” are fine miniatures of supple storytelling. This is a very fine reissue of a legendary performance. Fans of the band will no doubt have this, but those curious about what the fuss was about will find this an ideal starting point as well.
Three from the Vault -

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