Today in Grateful Dead History: August 2, 1976 – Colt Park, Hartford, CT

stealieI apologize for the puny length of this post – time marched on quickly today.

But honestly, there’s not a whole lot to say about this show other than to praise the first-set-ending Lazy Lightning>Supplication, which is great, and to talk briefly about the sweet Playin’ In The Band>Wharf Rat>Jam>Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad> Playin’ In The Band that represents the heart of the second set.

Like many 1976 shows, this sequence ties together a bunch of unrelated songs with some incredible, thematic jamming running through the entire piece.  For me, the best parts are the transition into Wharf Rat and the movement from there into Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad, but the whole thing is a good listen.  If you’re in a rush, just do this part and skip the rest, which is good but nothing to write home about.

Listen to the AUD here (the encores are missing, but do you really need another U.S. Blues or Sugar Magnolia?):


Today in Grateful Dead History: July 17, 1976 – Orpheum Theatre, San Francisco, CA

stealieTo me, this entire run of shows at the Orpheum Theatre encapsulates the best of the Grateful Dead in 1976 – rested, rehearsed, but still ready to take things really far out there when the occasion calls for it.  And this show is, in my opinion, the best of the bunch – a beautiful, compelling performance punctuated by an unforgettable, web-like second set so good that it required a two song encore.

Let’s quickly set the stage for these shows.  The Dead had not toured during 1975 and the first half of 1976, so they had only been on the road for about a month and a half before this run at the Orpheum.  In response to some of the problems the band had experienced dragging around an enormous sound system and playing for the enormous crowds who came to hear it, the Dead, for the most part, chose to book these opening 1976 dates in small halls over multiple nights, which gave them a forgiving environment in which to experiment with new arrangements of old tunes and to work out the kinks in the new material they had recorded during their time off.  The results were amazing.  The band slowed things down dramatically and the nuances in the music could really shine through.  While the Dead could still rear back and fire off smokers when necessary, these summer 1976 shows were dialed down and intricate (some would say to a fault).

Which brings us to tonight’s show.  The first few songs of the night are tentative but bright and you can sense everyone stretching their legs a little after four shows in five days.  But once we get to Peggy-O, things begin to click, starting with the two gorgeous solos Jerry rips off midway and two-thirds of the way through the tune.  Big River keeps rolling along, straight into a long, jammy Sugaree.  This is nothing like the cocaine cowboy Sugarees of the early 80’s when Jerry would slam off note after note after note for ten minutes with no regard for what the rest of the band was doing.  Here, the music plays the band as they weave an intricate tapestry, highlighted by beautiful piano work from Keith (more on this in a minute) and some never-over-the-top guitar from Jerry.  This song just works perfectly.  This is followed by the set-ending Johnny B. Goode, an eclectic choice that gets the crowd extra fired up for the second set.

And what a set this is.  One of the hallmarks of the summer of ’76, and this run of shows in particular, is the second set jams that weave between songs, often with common musical themes that the band keeps coming back to, much like a classical symphony.  You’ll hear that theme come up for the first time tonight during the opening Samson and Delilah, and it’s going to be Keith who is generating the ideas and moving the band forward.  Now, if you recall your Grateful Dead history, you’ll note that Keith basically pushed himself out of the band two and a half years later by barely playing at all (or aping Jerry’s licks note for note) during significant portions of songs, so it’s amazing to hear him take charge here, something that he did often during 1976 and never really returned to again.  Once Samson concludes, we begin Comes a Time, not normally a vehicle for strenuous lifting.  This version starts out sounding like the Jerry Garcia band (they never played it), with strong work from Keith complimenting Jerry.  But once the main portion of the song ends, everyone kicks in and we’re off into a gorgeous jam for the next five minutes.  My best description of this piece of music is that it sounds like it comes from the soundtrack of a late 60’s / early 70’s action/romance movie (think Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid) in the best possible way.  It also sounds like nothing else the Grateful Dead have ever played.

After playing with this idea for a while, you’ll hear the group struggle a little bit with where to go next – The Wheel seems like a possibility, but then we dive deep into The Other One instead.  After smashing out of the gate, things cool off dramatically, and the Dead treat us to a long passage of sparse, almost Space-like music before they enter another musical debate that is resolved by moving into Eyes of the World.  This is a smooth, sexy version of Eyes that never gets lost, winding through that same theme from Samson and eventually signaling the possibility of Going Down the Road Feeling Bad.  But the Dead don’t seem to want to let The Other One go, so they turn the corner and blast right back into it, along with some purposefully atonal clashes between Keith and Jerry and the second verse Bob never sang before the jam turned towards Eyes of the World twenty minutes before.  Once the song ends the band actually does play Going Down the Road Feeling Bad to take us all home happily.

But of course, that’s not it.  One More Saturday Night ends the show proper, and then U.S. Blues comes out for an encore.  But the audience doesn’t want to leave, so the band comes back out for encore number two – a fourteen minute Not Fade Away that burns off the rest of the gas in the tank with some really open, exploratory playing that you won’t often hear the band pull off during an encore.  And that, friends, is that.

This is a really good show, but none of the recordings of it match its power.  Here’s the Matrix, but the Soundboard and the AUD both have the pluses too:

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: