Grateful Dead: Dick’s Picks Vol. 8: Harpur College, Binghamton, N.Y., May 2, 1970
Every Deadhead has a favorite era, and within each period, there are certain shows that are generally acknowledged to be as good as it got. For those who hold dear the beginning of the megaprolific 1970s, the Grateful Dead’s show on May 2, 1970, at Binghamton, N.Y.’s Harpur College, is one of those shows. Long before it was first released as Dick’s Picks Vol. 8 in 1997—the new reissue is an exact replica—Harpur was one of those Dead tapes that hardcore Heads handed over to the uninitiated to answer the question, “What’s so great about the Grateful Dead?” The Dead, at the time, were weeks away from releasing Workingman’s Dead, which, along with American Beauty later that year, would mark the definitive transformation from unrelenting psychedelicians into a band more attuned to structured song forms, particularly those written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter. At Harpur (and again 13 nights later at the Fillmore East), the Dead broke out their acoustic side for East Coasters in a big way, opening with a full first set of “wooden” music, songs like “Friend of the Devil,” “Black Peter” and “Uncle John’s Band,” that would never again leave them, even as they became electrified. But when they plugged in that May night, there was no holding back: The Dead raged harder and more sublimely than ever before, delivering the perfect electric set, stocked with keeper jams like “Good Lovin’,” “St. Stephen,” “The Other One,” “Dancing in the Streets” and a maniacal “Viola Lee Blues” that would leave the Upstate audience stunned. Four-and-a-half decades later, Harpur hasn’t lost any of its alchemic lure. It remains quintessential early GD.