From the Vault: Dick’s Final Pick
Lately, we’ve been revisiting classic tapes in an attempt to shed some light on this bygone era. Today, we turn our attention to one of the best known tape traders who provided us with so many great recordings bearing his own name—Dick Latvala.
Over the weekend, I read a great piece on Dick that pushed me to write this post that I have had on my list of ideas for some time now. While there are 36 Dick’s Picks in total, only 14 of those were chosen by Mr. Latvala himself. Before Dick passed away in 1999, he released one final Dick’s Pick—volume 14—that captured two of his favorite performances in pristine form, as was always his way. Afterwards, the reins were passed down to David Lemieux, who released the remaining 22 and serves as the Dead’s archivist to this day. In this special edition of From the Vault, we look back on the two performances captured on DP14 in an effort to share with people these shows that Dick held so dear to his heart.
The shows that I am speaking of are November 30th and December 2nd 1973—the year that Dick referred to as “the most prolific and exciting year in G.D. history.” I would tend to agree, with fall/December being, arguably, the best time of that year. These two performances bookended a three-night run at Boston Music Hall, and together capture some of the finest playing of the entire tour, and of the year for that matter.
Both performances have something in common, and something that Dick felt was the ultimate indicator of a good show—blistering versions of “Playin’ in the Band.” By this point in the year, the band had fully realized their transition toward a new sound that departed from the jazz-inspired playing that defines the summer of ’73. This style, that emerged early on during the fall tour, showed the band coming together with a tightness that allowed them to explore their jams with a greater depth. The band can be heard weaving in and out of themes, and variations of them, with more fluidity, thus making the greatness that is fall ’73.
Constantly riding a creative wave, the band delivered some of their peak performances during this period such as the must-hear shows from 10.19.73 and 10.25.73, along with several others. It’s no surprise that the first Dick’s Picks release (12.19.73) was taken from this period—as Dick has said “I could stay in the winter of ’73 forever.” Apparently, according to Dick, it was the version of “Here Comes Sunshine” that persuaded him to choose 12.19.73, over other shows from the period, for the first release. But before Dick was done, he made sure to revisit his favorite period in the Dead’s career one last time.
The first set on November 30th opens with a powerful version of “Morning Dew,” and closes with a long and unique version of “Playin’ in the Band.” During the entire second set the band is on fire, but highlights come in the form of the “Weather Report Suite” that flows into the “Dark Star” jam and then into “Eyes of the World.”
“WRS” > “Dark Star” > “Eyes of the World” (11.30.73)
For the show on December 2nd, we turn to a page from Dick’s handwritten notes. One of the comments reads:
“After hearing it, it ranks high on my all time favorite list of jams. I’m talking about the 2nd set, which is one of the Dead’s more finer moments. These mindblowing shows happen during every year and this was one of the heaviest for 1973.”
He continues to write:
“Every part of the closing jam is fantastic, but the “jam” section before “He’s Gone,” contains so many thrills that it is unbelievable…This show definitely deserves my highest award”
“Playin’ in the Band” > “Mind Left Body Jam” > “He’s Gone” > “Truckin’” > “Nobody’s Jam” (12.2.73)
One of the goals in writing these articles is to try and bring attention toward specific, individual shows. That was one of Dick’s goals in releasing the Dick’s Picks series, and was something he talked about in interviews. While the various online resources are great, they are somewhat of a mixed blessing in that the importance of a single show can often become lost. So, “take a step back,” and when you download these shows, give each one a full and honest listen. That’s the way Dick would have wanted it. As Dick’s son Rich Latvala said:
“He felt that online trading and exchanging digital files really removed the personal element in tape trading. That was the most appalling thing he could imagine happening. One of the major elements in tape trading for him was sharing the music personally, discussing it one on one, discovering new things together, and just talking to other people about it… He abhorred the idea that you would just download the music and never talk about anyone with it.”