Day 204: Sunrise, 5/22/77

Grateful Dead Dick's Picks 3 album cover artwork

Ok, I have to admit that the logic behind this pick is similar to the recent Me and My Uncle one. Sunrise has never been high on my radar but when I was looking at Dick’s Picks, Vol. 3 it jumped out at me that from all the potential source material for that release Dick hand picked Sunrise for inclusion.

[grooveshark width=300 height=40 id=27966827 autoplay=0][/grooveshark]

So I gave it a spin to see if I could find out why. It’s a wonderful showcase for both Donna and Keith. In fact it’s almost a duet of sorts between the two. There are some really powerful moments in the song, too. In general, it doesn’t move the needle for me very much though. The song conveys a mood very well, and perhaps that is part of the appeal, I don’t know. I wonder if Dick simply wanted to get a Donna-centric song out there at that point in time. This is the first straight up Donna song I’ve picked. While I may include here on the stats page on occasion those are usually instances when she’s doubling or dueting, so to speak, with someone else.

The Dead only played Sunrise 29 times. The last time they played it? 9/16/78 at the foot of the Giza pyramids in Egypt. That stands out as a neat time and place to play a song like this. As for this version? It was the 5th time the band ever played it.

A few booming drums accent what is otherwise a very sparse arrangement. Keith plays some very intricate lines, while Phil keeps it very simple. A few arpeggios are picked out on guitar, but nothing more than is necessary. Donna is clearly the star here. She must have been able to hear herself here because she nails every note. Keith leads the band through the changes in the chorus and Donna hits her high notes. Jerry gives Donna breather and plays some rapid descending lines. Just Donna and Keith are featured in the final coda, and the song ends even more quietly than it began. The crowd applauds in approval.

Complete Setlist 5/22/77

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  1. Lunchbox, don’t own this pick and hear you on this not being a favorite Dead tune, but being a Donna fan, I’ve always liked it. Kinda believe that it was a nod of thanks to Donna for being a background player and the band wanted to give a spot in the bright lights. I almost fell the band held back on the instruments and that Jerry could of added a tasty extended solo to it, as the melody seems that it might have worked here. But holding back was to allow Donna to have her highlight. Maybe that generosity is something that makes it enjoyable for me.

    • Definitely a solid release and worth owning, IMO, assuming you like 1977 of course. I hear you on the nod to Donna for this, as I had a similar thought rolling around in the back of my mind. It wouldn’t surprise me at all. The sparse arrangement probably made it easy for her to hear herself too, which was a well known contributing factor to the off-key wails in year prior. In some ways, this tune is a bit of a palate cleanser, helping prepare for the next cosmic journey.

  2. Great take lunchbox on being sparse for her benefit and a mood changer. Something that in many ways was the one of the best aspects of a dead show. They seemed to play songs or series of songs that kept you on your toes. Maybe you are like me where at times I would hear a song on the radio ( but probably before your time and think about a song that would be the next great Segway and be blown away that the next song was just that). The dead would sometimes do this ( naturally they played songs that fit a regular next, but really there trump was often throwing out something that blew up your perception of what was next). There was always the regular fits together, and I’m pretty sure a willingness to go off the roadmap was something that sustained their love of touring for their long run on the road.

  3. Okay. This could test the patience of some. For those of us less than enamored with Donna Jean’s vocal talents, it might be easy to hit the “skip” button on the CD player here. But take heed, ye naysayers. Donna gives this tune just the lilting subtlety it needs for the first two verses. When the bridge section hits, well, yes, she bellows a bit. Meanwhile, the rest of the band (especially Phil) really nail down the instrumental parts. The ending is pleasantly shaky, with now-late husband Keith providing an underpinning of piano that might evoke a little mistiness in the eyes.

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