Grateful Dead – 7/31/74 Hartford, CT (Dave’s Picks 2)

Like the debut of Dave’s Picks, the second installment plays to the band’s strengths — hard for even the pickiest Deadhead to complain about a three-set show from the summer of ’74. I’m a sucker for that year because the relatively brief tour of duty of Keith’s Fender Rhodes represents my favorite stage in the band’s sonic evolution. There’s nothing better to my ears than a good Eyes or Scarlet textured by that electric piano. And, sure, the rest of the band sounded pretty good that year, too.

Consider that June is the more famous acclaimed month from this classic summer, and you have a pick that combines the pedigree of a Very Good Year with some underexplored territory. So how’s the show?

Beginning Begonias

I’m also a fan of the standalone Scarlet Begonias, and it earns a rare turn as opener. A little shorter than some, but the guys sound strong right out of the gate for the Hartford crowd. The next highlight came in the form of a muscular Half-Step with a solid coda. From there, the set pivots nicely into It Must Have Been The Roses, worth mentioning because it’s not a favorite of mine but excels because (for once) it’s not too slow.

Similarly, the key to Row Jimmy is the rhythm section, keeping it moving steadily if gently down the stream. That plus some electric piano accents make this one a highlight, followed by a sharp Jack Straw.

After a typical ’74 China>Rider (i.e., as good as it gets, YouTube below), Bob wraps the set and the disc with Around & Around, a mainstay on my “skip” list.

Weather Report: Sweet

Bertha could get a bit leaden over the years, depending on the night, but this one is bouncy. Chief credit goes to Bill’s intangible swing at its apex throughout ’74, alongside Phil’s sparse punctuation and some strategic color from the others as they expertly picked their spots. Similarly, “Big River” was always more or less the same tempo, but the best ones percolate, and this one percolates.

Piano vs. electric piano was a coin flip for Big River, but it was no preparation for the rude surprise of acoustic piano on Eyes Of The World. C’est la vie. Phil riffs through the intro. Jerry’s first solo isn’t bad, exactly, but it’s not as fluid or organized as a good Big River break. The group has a harder time than usual staying off each others’ toes. They pick it up some later but the classic key-change riff of this era sounds tentative, too. Pin your hopes on certain tracks in a setlist, and sometimes you get let down.

They segue into a China Doll that was also fine, but basically I wonder if they may have just hit a lull in energy in this middle set. They eventually snap out of it to close the set with a Weather Report Suite that fires on all cylinders. A very nice jam, a Spanish duel between Jerry and Keith, and an even better second jam make this a winner.

Shake The Hand That Shook The Hand …

El Paso is a weird opener, but Jerry’s on a roll with the lead runs, so if you can ignore the fact that it’s yet another El Paso, you’re all set.

Let’s skip to the core jam. Truckin’ bubbles from the first solo and everyone is in their right place. Garcia goes climbs the ladder to arrive at a repeated high note that I don’t recall elsewhere, then things settle down with other members taking brief turns in front. Bill eventually brings things to a near-halt, and Jerry begins another series of off-the-cuff runs including a hint at Wharf Rat. it’d be about 15 minutes before they get back to that.

Like the China>Rider, U.S. Blues can make the case for being as good this year as it would ever get. That Billy K swing and the literal and figurative heat of that Vietnam/Watergate-drenched summer bring it to the perfect rolling boil.

Keith joins in an atonal passage with some nice counterruns brefore taking the lead in a staccato, pointillist jam. All in all, the work through here is fine but often a little listless. It works within the whole show but wouldn’t make a case for itself as, say, bonus disc material.

From there, the guys disagree agreeably for a bit on what to do next before settling into that “Wharf Rat” at last to end the 40-minute excursion.

Like the China>Rider, U.S. Blues can make the case for being as good this year as it would ever get. That Billy K swing and the literal and figurative heat of that Vietnam/Watergate-drenched summer bring it to the perfect rolling boil.

Some unusual confusion ensues regarding the chords in the first solo of One More Saturday Night, but everything comes together in the encore for a nice Uncle John’s Band to send the crowd home.

Grateful Dead
7/31/74 @ Dillon Coliseum / Hartford, CT

Set 1: scarlet begonias / me and my uncle / brown-eyed women / BIODTL / MS half-step / it must have been the roses / mexicali blues / row jimmy / jack straw / china cat sunflower > i know you rider / around and around
Set 2: bertha / big river / eyes of the world > china doll / promised land / ship of fools / weather report suite
Set 3: seastones (not included)
Set 4: el paso / ramble on rose / greatest story ever told / to lay me down / truckin’ > spanish jam > MLB jam > wharf rat / u.s. blues / one more saturday night
E: uncle john’s band

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