On one level 1974 China/Riders are a no-brainer, and it would have been better to have a bit broader representation. At the same time have the cream of the crop included isn’t a bad thing.
This is an interesting version because the China Cat is much longer than usual. It seems China Cat is usually in the 6-8 minute range, and Rider is around 5-6 minutes. This China Cat clocks in at 10 minutes and a mere four and change for Rider. If China Cat Sunflower is your favorite section of this combo than this is definitely a version worth hearing.
As far as the signature song combos China Cat Sunflower/I Know You Rider may be the most accessible to a broad audience. China Cat is catchy, upbeat, and fun, and I Know You Rider is an instant singalong. If you were introducing someone to the Grateful Dead would you start with China/Rider? Or be a bit more brave and go for the Scarlet/Fire, Estimated/Eyes, or Help/Slip/Frank? Are there any other consistent combos that I’m missing? Those are the biggies as far as I’m concerned. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of them, but China/Rider might be the best for introductory purposes. Of course you can always just go with Without A Net as well since it’s got very nice versions of China/Rider and Help/Slip/Frank, not to mention the epic Branford Eyes. I probably should have included the China/Rider from that set at some point, but oh well. These 1974 gems will have to suffice.
Phil’s high tenor is quite discernible here. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. Depends on the day for me. The playing is solid, although after the epic China Cat Sunflower, the first instrumental passage in Rider isn’t as inspiring and there sounds like a bit of a flub in there. The electric piano sounds cool here though. The last verse is mainly just drums and vocals. In general Rider seems a bit rushed, but that doesn’t diminish the fun.