The Grateful Dead – Dave’s Picks Volume Two – 7-31-1974 ‘Lay Em Down’

by | Jun 24, 2018 | 0 comments

Jamming aggressively in the ‘rock room’ today is an early offering from the Dave’s Picks vault release series. In preparation for
the upcoming 1973/1974 Pacific Northwest box release from the Grateful Dead’s bulging
musical vaults  Dave’s Picks Volume
finds the band lugging the famed Wall of Sound to Dillon Stadium in Hartford,
Connecticut, on July 31, 1974 , smack dab in the middle of their summer
excursion. The recording offers a generous three-set classic marathon show,
similar to others of the same ilk such as 5/12/74 and 6/16/74 that feature
multifaceted improv and extended performances. An assembled crowd of 20,000 filled the ample arena to which the band had
recently graduated, after years of previously playing theaters.

The three disc,
spring-water clear soundboard recording — lovingly curated by David Lemieux and
mastered by sonic mater Jeffry Norman — offers more than three hours of music
from when the Grateful Dead couldn’t get enough of ‘Playin’ in the Band. What is unique about this 1974 performance, other than its length, is that
“Dark Star,” “The Other One” and even the aforementioned “Playin in the Band”
do not make an appearance on this particular evening. But then there’s the
hearty improvisation that takes place late in set three, emerging out of a
raucous ‘Truckin’’ — just another reason, if one was needed, as to why this
particular evening found its way into the Dave’s Picks series.

A simmering 12-song first set kicks things off, fitting snugly on disc one
of the set. The Grateful Dead pull the ripcord on a perfectly paced concert
with the still-youthful ‘Scarlet Begonias,’ represented here in a crisply
executed, compact package. Elsewhere, highlights include the unique pairing of ‘Mississippi
Half Step Uptown Toodeloo’ with a freshly picked ‘It Must Have Been the Roses’,
to great success. As well as a huge “China/Rider” — one rivaling that of the
legendary 6/16/1974 as it rattles the windows while riding the rails at a high
velocity. This version exposes the Grateful Dead at their best, while the gray
area between the songs reveals numerous beautiful musical secrets. The central
jam finds Jerry Garcia at his most expressive piloting the band through diverse

The second set opens breathlessly, as the Dead offer rolling versions of ‘Bertha’ and
‘Big River.’ The real magic, however, occurs with their pairing of “Eyes of the
World/China Doll,” which spans 23 minutes. A beardless Garcia spars with a
bearded Phil Lesh over control of the ship, with dual lead lines that wrap
around one another like the arms of lost lovers. This version; which is one of
the best from a year brimming with them, features a loose, airy groove pushed
by Bill Kreutzmann to greater heights, even as the group threatens to drift
away like a misplaced newspaper on the wind.

The outro jam becomes disorienting, with the band breaking into differing
combinations, the improvisational balloon ascending , then becoming still for a
moment before falling directly into the ‘Stronger than Dirt’ theme. Garcia
peels the musical fruit like a ravaged animal hungry for more, while leading
the band through an abundant series of dynamic funk themes. These themes become
burned at the edges before deconstructing into a swirling particle space that
slowly fades into the delicate sparseness of “China Doll.” In spite of some initial tempo concerns, the song transforms into an enjoyable version.

A typically wonderful 1974 version of the “Weather Report Suite” concludes
the second set in a dramatic, hold-your-breath fashion. While not the usual
springboard for improve, the jamming is fast and furious. The third and final set then gets underway with an oddly placed ‘El Paso’,
then continuing through a vintage run of well-played songs that culminates with
a back-country porch version of ‘To Lay Me Down.’ One of only seven versions
from 1974, the song would make only two more concert appearances before
disappearing completely until its resurrection in 1980. This ornate reading is
a highlight of Dave’s Pick’s Volume 2 and a fitting prelude to the
rubber-burning exploration of ‘Truckin’ that follows.

‘Truckin’ had been
overhauled and retooled in 1974, often becoming the main source for an
evening’s improvisations. There is a laundry list of 1974 versions where the
band takes off of  down the highway and
into unknown destinations (5-19, 6/16, tc) yet this version may be the finest …hence
its inclusion on this set. After disposing with the usual verses Lesh starts to immediately get frisky
on the outro jam. The band locks into a chooglin’ rhythm, while Garcia squeezes
rich, clean tone droplets from his axe. He then signals the ‘Truckin’’ siren,
with a beautiful reading of the climatic jam that would somewhat lose its
effectiveness in later and leaner years. ‘The Other One’ is brushed up against,
before Garcia spaces out at about ten minutes, with the group circling around
him in a psychedelic standoff. The Grateful Dead searches for and finds the
sweet spot, traversing strange tones, basking the warm rays of free
improvisation then moving confidently through numerous and diverse changes in sympathetic gestalt linkage.

As the music gets lodged between clouds, Lesh becomes ornery and Keith Godchaux answers in glistening erratic piano runs.
Lesh trills his ropy strings like some monstrous fluttering moth, initiating
one of the finest band instrumentals created in the summer 1974. Everyone is
playing at their absolute peak abilities. From this formlessness the Grateful
Dead  search out the ‘Mind Left Body’
theme, while still dynamically freewheeling their way into a poly-rhythmic
syrup that tumbles over endless precipices.

A slick but distorted blues jam soon develops, intermingled with pinches of
the Spanish theme that eventually — through Kreutzmann’s and Lesh’s inference–
becomes a full-on ‘Spanish Jam.’ The band deftly sneaks in and out of mirrored
rooms, before brightening the vibe and slipping back into ‘Mind Left Body,’ as
a portal into a shady docking with ‘Wharf Rat.’ Unbelievably, the Grateful Dead follow this explosive display with three
more songs but, at this point in Dave’s Pick’s Volume 2, I am still
digesting the previous musical triumph. I’m sure the attendants of the concert
appreciated the warm send off by the band, and appreciated the rock and roll
finish being smoothly frosted over by a sweet Uncle John’s Band.’

In the end, Dave’s Pick’s Volume 2 is a massive concert capture and a
classic representation of everything that made a Grateful Dead show the place
to be in 1974. Thankfully preserved by the band on tape and posthumously shared
by their vault, it just goes to show that there are certain years in the band’s
history that will continue to harvest sonic rewards, no matter how over
represented or discussed. This is a good un.

7-31-1974 Truckin’ Jam


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