Grateful Dead: Dave's Picks 34 (Miami 1974)

Each May, the chatter among the Dead cognoscenti turns to the legendary run of East Coast shows from May 1977, the tour that birthed not just the May 8 Cornell show that served as the entry point to live Dead back in the days of tape trading, but equally great (if not better) shows at Yale, in Buffalo, in Lakeland, FL, and so on.

This May, though, we were also treated to the vault release of on my favorite Dead shows, the June 23, 1974 performance at Miami's Jai-Alai Fronton. It's been circulating as a soundboard for a long time, the official Dave's Picks release only a marginal improvement in sound quality, but still nice to have an official package to put up on the shelf.

And while it's a reliable solid show from start to finish (I actually prefer '74 to '77, more sprawling and a little less jazzy and slick, with that booming Wall of Sound giving the band unprecedented muscle on the low-end), for me it all comes down to a 30 minute segment deep in the second set.  The band offers a meandering (in a good way) "Dark Star," a rare instrumental version where Jerry seems too busy following his guitar muse to remember to launch into the vocals, followed by a "Spanish Jam" that is absolutely mind-blowing, which perfectly segues into a rousing "U.S. Blues," not one of my favorite Dead tunes but here sounding like the perfect conclusion of that sprawling jam session.

I've long thought this "Spanish Jam" stretched on for a half hour or so, but apparently it's barely five minutes long. Weird. My consciousness tells me it's much longer. It's just that intense and lovely.

The overall show is great, nothing flashy, some typically strong performances of "Row Jimmy" and "Uncle John's Band" and a nice "Weather Report Suite" into "China Doll." But that jam... for that reason alone, if I had to pick just a few examples of stellar live Dead to convert the newbie, this would make the shortlist.

Anyway, the Dave's Picks archive release is sold out, but you can stream a soundboard of the entire show over at the Internet Archive

Here's an audio rip of that "Dark Star > Spanish Jam > U.S. Blues" run; the "Spanish Jam" kicks in about 18:00 into the clip.
The same jam was previously included on the band's So Many Roads box set collection, which you can stream on Spotify: