The Dave’s Picks series started in 2012 and the first seven releases all were 70s shows (well vol. 6 had some from ’69 AND ’70, but I digress). The vocal contingent of 80s Dead supporters over at dead.net were chomping at the bit for a release from their preferred decade. They finally got their wish with Dave’s Picks, Vol. 8. Recorded at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia, this show was actually featured in a great story on the Dead by Nick Paumgarten of the New Yorker. David Lemieux must have bought Mr. Paumgarten’s argument about the virtues of 11/30/80, going so far as to commission Nick to write the liner notes. A lot of people were surprised, I think, with the pick because one of the features of the previous volume in the series was a monster Scarlet/Fire. Surely back-to-back shows wouldn’t have the same highlight sequence?! After giving this Scar/Fire a whirl any doubt seems to have been cast aside.
The band kicks off the second set and takes their time getting into Scarlet Begonias. You can hear the crowd’s appreciation throughout these tracks, as the folks at dead.net blended the soundboard with an audience recording in what is commonly referred to as a “matrix” mix. There is a lot of energy in throughout Scarlet and Jerry sounds very good vocally. Brent works his magic on the B3 and it’s wonderful. Jerry’s first solo is pretty laid back, but it’s clear he knows where he wants to go. No notes are wasted. As they work through the song’s form Jerry starts to pick up steam and by the time they jump in for the next verse he’s moving at a brisker pace. The outro riff to Scarlet Begonias is one of my favorite in the entire Dead catalog. They jump into it around 6 minute mark, signaling the end of Scarlet and the beginning of the segue into Fire. There’s just something very catchy and appealing about the riff. I don’t think I can hear it too much. Brent keeps that melody riff going and Jerry starts to weave his web like the crafty spider he was, connecting intricate strings of notes across the fretboard. Brent moves on from the melody and the whole band just starts to jam. There is nothing but pleasantness here. The drummers start to assert themselves toward the end of the track and the dynamics pick up steam. You can start to hear a rhythmic shift in Phil’s playing; Fire On The Mountain is not far away.
Finally they launch full force into Fire. The rhythm section just pulsates. Jerry switches on his envelope filter (at least I think that’s the pedal he’s using) gets that trademark sound of his. Bobby throws in a few rhythmic curve balls of his own and Jerry goes on an exploration during his first solo, calm, collected, and confident. Again, there are no wasted notes here. Phil continues to exert himself, helping to steer the ship. Fire On The Mountain is a song that can get a bit repetitive, in my opinion, and simply drone between two chords. That does not happen in this version. The second verse goes off without a hitch and paves the way for another Garcia solo. He switches up the effects here for a new tone palette to work with and instantly goes to work. This new tone has much more bite to it compared to the warmth of the envelope filter and offers a unique contrast. After that tone experiment Brent asserts himself for a few measures before everyone agrees that it’s time to go back for another verse. Bobby and Brent blend well on backing vocals in chorus throughout this one. Everyone seems to be on their A game. Jerry takes another spin around solo town, starting with that biting tone but he seems to add something else to it to smooth out the sound a bit. As they near the end Jerry unleashes one last salvo of notes before settling back down and hitting up the Scarlet Begonias coda. Ahh… the riff of which I never tire. I can’t think of a better ending and the crowd agrees as they voice their approval.