Today in Grateful Dead History: June 12, 1976 – Boston Music Hall, Boston, MA

stealie If you like Jerry ballads, then you’re going to love this show, which features not one, not two, but three stellar slow dancers.  First up is Mission in the Rain, the least ballady of the three, and a treat that the Grateful Dead only played during June, 1976, leaving the tune for the Jerry band to hone over time.  This is a nice version, with plenty of Phil-fills to keep everyone honest.

The second great ballad tonight is High Time, a wonderful song that the Dead put on hiatus back in 1970, only to resurrect it six years later at the June 9th Boston show.  This is a perfect version, mournful, with beautiful harmonies and real intricate playing that has the hall rapt with attention.

Third on the list is Comes a Time, which flows out of a memorizing Wharf Rat in the middle of the second set.  This one is also gorgeous, with Keith’s playing shimmering throughout and Donna’s vocals dialed in perfectly before a classic Jerry solo to play us out.

While we’re on the topic, let’s take two minutes to discuss Donna’s contributions here.  1976 is, for me, Donna’s best year.  The smaller venues suited her and the calmer tone of the playing allowed her to relax and sing some really beautiful harmonies throughout the course of the year.  Her contributions tonight really improve all three of these songs.  Likewise, the space in the music gives Keith plenty of room to show off what he brings to the table, and this show is a classic example of how his little fills and improvisations can elevate even the most straightforward tunes into magical things.

Leaving the ballads aside, the rest of this show really sparkles with energy, be it during the show opening Samson and Delilah, Jerry’s attack on Big River or the Dancin’ in the Streets rave up (more really cool Keith licks reside here, too).  There is a ton of intricate playing as well, especially on Lazy Lightening>Supplication and Let It Grow, which devolves at the end into the theme from A Love Supreme before the transition into Wharf Rat.    Even the encore is on point, with U.S. Blues sandwiched in the middle of Sugar Magnolia / Sunshine Daydream.

Lastly, a note on the recording.  The primary non-audience recording comes from the FM broadcast of this show, and it has been merged into a pretty cool Matrix that retains the radio interruptions.  Listen to this something-for-everyone (but especially the ballads fans) show here:

(Some of the material from this show made it onto Road Trips Volume 4, No. 5 as filler: Mission in the Rain, The Wheel, Comes a Time and the encore).

Today in Grateful Dead History: September 30, 1976 – Mershon Auditorium – Ohio State University, Columbus, OH

stealieLet’s cap a week of nothing but shows from the 70’s with this hidden gem from Columbus, 1976.

The Dead start off the night with The Music Never Stopped, a relatively new song that attains full flight in 1977.  But tonight the boys launch into a closing jam that differs from most of the usual Music Never Stopped jams.  This little sequence, call the Mind Left Body Jam, was usually played around Truckin’ or The Other One in 1973 and 1974.  So it’s really cool to hear it pop up here, in the opening tune.  This won’t be the last time tonight that the Dead produce amazing results in unexpected places.

Next up on the highlight reel is Crazy Fingers.  In my opinion, 1976 was THE year for Crazy Fingers.  The band was well-rehearsed, the tempos were a little slower, the venues were smaller and the whole group could really dig into this intricate number.  And oh boy do they rip into it tonight.  This song is a whirling dervish culminating in that beautiful, sensuous, feel-good exit jam that just makes you think of summertime.

We were talking earlier about unexpected jams – another one pops up in Scarlet Begonias.  This song starts off a little ragged, but by the time the Dead get halfway through, you know they’ve got trouble on their minds.  The second half of this song swings with an unusual rhythm and the playing follows.  It’s not like the Scarlet Begonias you’re used to.  And all of this, remember, is still in the first set.

The second set opens with a very nice Lazy Lightning>Supplication and then moves into It Must Have Been the Roses and Samson and Delilah.  This is all well and good, but the really cool part gets going with St. Stephen>Not Fade Away>Drums>Wharf Rat>Not Fade Away>St. Stephen>Around and Around. Talk about unusual passages – the last three minutes of St. Stephen almost sound like island music, as does the very cool intro into Not Fade Away.  The band is drawn into the typical Not Fade Away rhythm pattern, only to pull back out into a looser beat before finally deciding to start the song.  The transition into Wharf Rat doesn’t reveal itself for a while – I thought they were going into The Wheel until right before the song began.  This hide and seek musical exploration typifies the entire evening.  From there we run back into Not Fade Away before St. Stephen ties everything together again. (Unfortunately, it’s cut on this recording).

But wait, we’re not done with the mysterious.  After Around and Around, it’s encore time.  And tonight’s encore is . . . Morning Dew, a song the Grateful Dead only played as an encore seven times.  (Tonight’s show was the last of the bunch).  So – crazy, unique music all night and an amazing, emotional encore to top things off.  Why isn’t this show more popular?

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that one of my friends who was instrumental in getting me really into the Grateful Dead was born, in Columbus, on this very day.  Happy Birthday – you got the show you deserve!

I listened to the audience recording of this show – the soundboard recordings need to be stitched together in order to work, and frankly, after some playing around I like the sound here better anyway:

Today in Grateful Dead History: September 27, 1976 – Community War Memorial Auditorium, Rochester, NY

stealieI wish I had more time to talk about this incredible show from 1976, especially since it’s the first one from 1976 that I’ve reviewed this year.  But I don’t have time.  So here’s the most important part:

Slipknot!>Drums>The Other One>Wharf Rat>Slipknot!>Franklin’s Tower

Yup, you read that right.  Drums, The Other One and Wharf Rat in the middle of Slipknot!  Splitting up this combination of songs only happened (by my limited count) two other times in Grateful Dead history, and one of those times was just Drums in the middle, not two epic songs like The Other One and Wharf Rat.  Oh, and did I mention that Franklin’s Tower is 18 minutes long?  Yeah, it’s as cool as it sounds.

The rest of this show is pretty darn good too.  First set highlights include Looks Like Rain (1976 was a good year for this song) and Lazy Lightning>Supplication.  This is prime 1976, folks.  Dig in.

I like Matrix recordings in 1976 – this one is really pretty light on the soundboard.  But it’s still more dynamic than the board:

Today In Grateful Dead History: September 23, 1976 – Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, NC

stealie Listen to the Grateful Dead open this show at Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke University with Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.  Ok?  We’re good?  Great.  Now, if there is a slower version of Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo out there, I would like one of my two regular readers to point it out for me.  Otherwise, I am going to assert that this performance features the absolute slowest version of Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo that I’ve ever heard.

There.  That’s out of the way.

This is another one of those pretty darn good shows that gets lost in the shuffle, and I’m going to blame the recording quality, which is “muddy” to say the least.  But put that aside and there are a bunch of great things going on here.

For instance, all of my kidding about the speed aside, the aforementioned Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo is really good.  Crazy Fingers, marred by even worse sound than most of this show, is another first set highlight.   UPDATE:  Upon 2nd listen, this might be one of the greatest Crazy Fingers of all time – it’s a monster, with an 8 minute closing jam.  Holy crap!  But the real goods come during Slipknot!, a nine minute fusion experience that will knock your socks off.  The band is so fired up after this that the Franklin’s Tower actually sounds like it’s picking up speed.

After Franklin’s Tower, we’ve got a few take it or leave it songs, and then the Dead shift it to another level for a masterful and unusual sequence to close the show:  Dancin’ In The Streets>Wharf Rat>Drums>The Other One>Morning Dew.  NO ENCORE.  And who needs it with this tour de force at the end?  Morning Dew is the perfect punctuation mark here – a solid, thrashing version with everyone just wailing away . . . slowly.  Seriously, this one is worth your while.  And it proves that, in 1976, when the Dead wanted to, they could really turn on the jets, even if they were moving slowly.

Here is the soundboard, in all its ragged glory:

Today In Grateful Dead History: June 29, 1976 – Auditorium Theater, Chicago, IL

stealie This show is basically a cross between the almost-too-laid-back Beacon Theater show on June 15th and the pulsating experimental masterpiece from Portland on June 3rd.  The first set strangely opens with Tennessee Jed and also contains one of the better (and one of the only) Grateful Dead versions of the Jerry Band staple Mission in the Rain.  The definite highlight of the first set, and I say this with a gulp because they’re not favorite songs by a long shot, is Lazy Lightning / Supplication.  I think the slower ’76 pace helps this song, which can get a little unwieldy in ’77 – ’79, and the band takes full advantage of the space to throw down a jazzy exploration that doesn’t run out of gas before the end.

The Samson & Delilah and Candyman that start the second set never really get going and the band takes an almost four minute pause to collect itself before launching into a truly psychedelic 35 minute Playin’ in the Band>The Wheel>Playin’ in the Band.  The playing on The Wheel is particularly fierce and shows off everything that the Dead are capable of at this point in their career – intricate back and forth musical conversations with nary a false note.  This exploration is followed by a pretty sloppy St. Stephen>Not Fade Away>St. Stephen.  However, there is a passage of bliss midway through Not Fade Away where Jerry and Keith coordinate their runs and the drummers quiet down behind them, making the tune much more subtle and therefore more powerful.

I think that this is a pretty average show from 1976, but the highlights are interesting and worth a listen.  You can hear the soundboard here:

Today In Grateful Dead History: June 15, 1976 – Beacon Theater, New York, NY

stealie Some 1976 shows work really well (see 6/3/76) and some just seem to plod along, slowly, steadily, until they end and you are left scratching your head to come up with the highlights.  This is one of those shows.

The best I can offer here is the 2nd set opening St. Stephen>Not Fade Away>Stella BlueSt. Stephen returned in 1976 after a fairly long absence and this is one of those developing, jazzy versions that’s interesting to hear.  I’m not a huge fan of Not Fade Away, but this particular version features some thrashing interplay between Bobby and Jerry and crashes into a nice Stella Blue that ends with a trilling Jerry finale.  It’s a fun half an hour of music.

Beyond that, as I said, the rest of this show is pretty basic, although it is cool to hear Scarlet Begonias so close to the end – it’s a little surprise before the typical Sunshine Daydream.

Check out the soundboard here:

Today In Grateful Dead History: June 3, 1976 – Paramount Theater, Portland, OR

stealie 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: