This is the band’s first show in 1976 and represents the start of a new tour after a year and a half hiatus (they did play several shows in 1975, but there was no tour) and they played several new songs for the first time in honor of the occasion – Might as Well, Lazy Lightning, Supplication, Samson & Delilah and The Wheel . Tonight was also the debut of the disco version of Dancin’ in the Streets, which hadn’t been played in any form since New Year’s Eve, 1971, and it’s also the first time that the band played the slower, crummier version of They Love Each Other, which was much more fun in its faster, pre-hiatus incarnation.
If you attended the last show at Winterland in 1974 and ended up in Portland on June 3, 1976, you would probably be shocked at the pace of the songs, which is considerably slower than the 1974 versions (or any other versions, for that matter). Yet given the length of the band’s break and the considerable amount of new material, this show is remarkably good.
All of the complaints about 1976 in general apply to this show specifically. It is slow. There is nothing remotely like the jams from 1972 through 1974 and the band’s tone has brightened and sharpened considerably. Also, for the haters, Mickey Hart is back to stay, which adds an additional element of risk to the rhythm section.
Yet to me, none of this is a negative. 1976 is its own year and the Dead played some fantastic music during this time. The quality and complexity of the playing has gone up considerably since 1974 as the songs have shortened and Donna Jean’s singing (to my ears) has also gotten better.
So despite some first show jitters, this show delivers in spades with good versions of Cassidy and The Music Never Stopped in the first set. Although the key change breaks down a little bit, it’s hard to believe that this is the first Samson & Delilah – it rocks opening the second set. Crazy Fingers>Wharf Rat is exceptional as is the jam at the end of Wharf Rat into Let it Grow with some crazy Phil bass lines that I haven’t heard the likes of before. The band then plays a very good (but very very slow) version of It Must Have Been the Roses and a spirited take on Around and Around. So at this point, you think the show’s probably over, but instead they come back with a 30+ minute version of Help on the Way>Slipknot!>Franklin’s Tower. The Slipknot! in particular is one of the jazziest versions I’ve ever heard and it goes way way out there, with a Stronger Than Dirt jam thrown in for good measure, before Franklin’s takes off. I was blown away. The show ends with One More Saturday Night and The Wheel as an unusual (and first time played) encore.
This show stands out as one of the best shows I’ve heard from 1976, especially the second set. Since ’76 soundboards tend to sound tinny, I’ve been listening to the Matrix: https://archive.org/details/gd1976-06-03.mtx.seamons.ht06.123898.flac16