This was the last show that the Grateful Dead played before their year and a half hiatus and it’s a smoker from beginning to end. However, listener beware. This show (like all of the shows from this Winterland run) is notorious for the terrible sound of the recordings. This problem is not limited to the Archive selections, but includes the actual live album that was generated from these shows and released in 1976, Steal Your Face, which is consistently considered one of the worst albums the Grateful Dead ever put out. In an attempt to rectify the problems with that album, the Dead have since released a box set documenting this run, called The Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack, with slightly better sound. (Yup, these shows were also filmed for the eventual Grateful Dead Movie). So when it comes to the recordings on the Archive, nothing is going to sound very good if you are interested in well-mixed shows. On the other hand, Phil and Bill are incredibly high (in the mix) throughout this performance, and it’s a great chance to hear them in their glory. There is also something really funky about the sound tonight, probably due to all of the fuzz and the huge bass tone, that just makes everything sound like a party.
And what a party it is. Remember, when this show took place, it was being billed as the potential final performance by the Grateful Dead, so everyone was in a nostalgic mood. Hell, Mickey Hart even showed up and played with the Dead from the start of the second set through the end, marking his official return to the band. To add to the atmosphere, Ned Lagin also sat in throughout most of the second half, although it’s nearly impossible to hear him on the recordings.
The shows begins with the first Cold Rain and Snow since December 1973 and we’re off from there, with thrilling versions of the typical canonical songs. Tennessee Jed and El Paso, in particular, shine here, along with a smoking hot China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider. The second set (of three) is where the most intense jamming takes place – it’s one huge Playin’ in the Band sandwich with a ridiculous The Other One>Wharf Rat in the middle along with Not Fade Away for good measure. The band is just on fire here, playing their jazzy 1974 best. If I were there, I would have been pissed to think that a band that was playing this well could potentially be calling it quits after tonight.
The third set begins with the first Good Lovin’ since Pigpen last sang it on May 25, 1972, and it’s like no other Good Lovin’ you’ve heard, with a fascinating jam in the middle and some bizarre rhythmic passages that are probably due to Mickey’s un-rehearsed return, but they sound great. This version is a unique keeper. The rest of the third set is basically good, especially It Must Have Been the Roses, but it serves as kind of a denouemont after the second set fireworks. In honor of the occasion we do get a three song encore with Johnny B. Goode, Mississippi Half-Step (maybe the only time it was ever played as an encore?) and a rushed And We Bid You Goodnight to end things.
And just like that, the Grateful Dead called it quits, walking away at the height of their powers. The Dead only played four shows in 1975 before coming back in the middle of 1976, tanned, rested and raring to go. Savor this show – they’ll never sound quite this jazzy again.
Here’s one version on the Archive – remember, they’re all pretty bad: https://archive.org/details/gd1974-10-20.sbd.smith-lee.GEMS.97193.flac16