Today in Grateful Dead History: May 25, 1977 – The Mosque, Richmond, VA

stealieWay back in 2012, this show was the first installment in the ongoing Dave’s Picks series of official Grateful Dead live releases and for good reason.  This mellow, slow-jammed show from an incredible month of concerts is larded with nuggets that deserve to be heard time and time again.

Compared to some of its more high-intensity cousins from earlier in the month, this night’s performance is calm, almost resembling a 1976 show with its careful craftsmanship and tempos.  But just because it’s slower doesn’t mean that this show is sleepy.  Far from it.

For instance, the second set opens with a raging Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain.  In a month of incredible versions of these songs, including what might be the greatest ever on May 8th, tonight’s performance stands close to the top.  The transition between the two, in particular, is incredible, with peaks and valleys and blistering heat from both guitarists.  Fire on the Mountain settles into its groove and almost never lets go (Keith blows one part for a second but recovers nicely), transporting you smoothly into the outer limits.  After a very good Estimated Prophet, we get an awesome He’s Gone.  This song fits the mood of the night perfectly, and the Dead dig into it, playing back and forth between verses and nailing the bridge.  As the song ends we dive into Drums, which soon erupts into a very intense version of The Other One.  This is a fifteen minute tour de force that never lets you down until Wharf Rat takes over.  The end of this tune is laced with beauty and short, tinkly runs from Keith and Jerry before we’re back at The Other One again for another three minutes before sliding into a pitch perfect The Wheel with more wonderful keyboards.

The first set doesn’t possess the fireworks of the second set, but it’s filled with great songs.  After opening with an above-average Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo into a good Jack Straw, the middle of the set really does most of the work here, with stellar versions of Cassidy, Loser and Lazy Lightning>Supplication.  All of the songs here are good and it’s a fun listen throughout, even when it comes to the more “basic” tunes like the set-closing Promised Land.

Since Dave’s Picks has been sold out forever, we need to listen to the soundboard version.  I would love to get my hands on the official release, since the sound quality here is a B.  But it’s worth it!  Listen here:  https://archive.org/details/gd1977-05-25.sbd.miller.87591.sbeok.flac16

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Today in Grateful Dead History: September 29, 1977 – Paramount Theatre, Seattle, WA

dancing-bearThis is a very laid back Pacific Northwest performance that shows off a lot of Bob Weir’s guitar range but never really gels as a full-band experience, even though a couple of really fun songs manage to take flight.

Part of the problem is the recording.  Keith is completely MIA, Bob is very high in the mix and Phil comes and goes.  So there is a lot of missing space that sucks some of the life out of the performance in places.  But beyond that, it appears that the band’s attention comes and goes, which makes this show sound even more uneven.

Uneven does not mean that there aren’t a bunch of highlights – there are.  First, Bob plays really well tonight, which is good because you’re going to hear him a lot more than the other band members given the mix.  No one plays like Bob Weir, and even after all of these years of listening, he still manages to surprise me whenever I can really hear him on a recording.

Second, Let It Grow comes roaring out of nowhere (actually out of a low-key Sugaree) and takes over the room.  It’s as if the band suddenly “clicked” on – everyone is focused and Jerry just wails on the guitar.  This is a pure power version of Let It Grow, which is all the more shocking given how tentative everything else has sounded before it.  Truckin’ sounds like it wants to get to this same place, but other than a two minute burst near the end, the song never really gets there.

Third, after Let It Grow the band gives us a 17 minute Franklin’s Tower.  I’d argue that we’d be better served with a 10 minute version, but that’s nit-picking.  17 minutes of Franklin’s Tower is always a good thing, even if there are sloppy moments like there are in this version.

Fourth, although He’s Gone is nothing special, it’s great to hear Bob, Jerry and Phil play together in balance, with the drummers and Keith well in the background. This is one of those slow rollers that just makes you really focus on what the guitars are trying to do with one another and shows off Bob’s exceptional ability to run in between Jerry and Phil.

This show is not going to rank high on my list of 1977 performances, but it’s worth hearing, especially in the sweet spots, for Bob Weir’s contributions.  You can listen to the soundboard (with several significant cuts) here: https://archive.org/details/gd1977-09-29.sbd.cantor.gmb.96027.flac16

Today in Grateful Dead History: May 19, 1977 – Fox Theater, Hotlanta, GA

stealieNOTE: This material was originally published in 2015 on my previous site. It has been updated and edited, sometimes heavily, and was posted in several batches in August, 2016.

We’re back, yet again, in May, 1977, because the heart of this show’s second set is Terrapin Station>Playin’ In The Band>Uncle John’s Band>Drums>The Wheel>China Doll>Playin’ In The Band, which I’ll get to in a minute.

But first, a brief discussion of the 16 minute Sugaree from the first set. Yes, it’s pretty good, but I won’t say that it’s a great version because there are several places where Jerry speeds up and the drummers slow down and the pace gets all garbled. I understand that it’s not easy to keep everything moving perfectly when you’re playing the same song for 16 minutes, but this fluctuating tempo takes away some of the magic for me. Jerry does do some serious shredding here, especially on the penultimate solo, and Bob’s rhythm guitar is high in the mix and very interesting to hear, but I can’t get away from the pacing issues. Also, lots of commentators on the Archive seem to think that this Peggy-O is incredible, but to me the versions from Boston and Buffalo earlier in the month easily outshine it.

Now, about the second set. This song sequence is pretty amazing, with a swirling lead into Uncle John’s Band and a great solo at the end of China Doll. The songs don’t get ahead of themselves and the band stays tight and in control without any “difficult” passages, making for a pretty darn great ride. There is no encore.

This show was released as Dick’s Picks Vol. 29, but here’s the soundboard: https://archive.org/details/gd77-05-19.sbd.direwolf.3120.sbeok.shnf

Today in Grateful Dead History: May 8, 1977 – Barton Hall, Ithaca, NY

stealie NOTE: This material was originally published in 2015 on my previous site. It has been updated and edited, sometimes heavily, and was posted in several batches in August, 2016.

The Grateful Dead’s May 8th, 1977 Cornell University show is a source of great contention among deadheads.  Overrated?  Maybe.  Often criticized?  Definitely.  But regardless of whether 5/8/77 is truly the best Grateful Dead concert of them all, as many people believe it is, this show’s impact on several generations of listeners is beyond debate.

I think my personal history with this show is probably pretty typical and illustrates why 5/8/77 holds such a high station in the pantheon.  In the summer of 1996, I was working at a day camp with a woman who was much more into the Dead than I was.  Up to that point, I had listened to a bunch of the band’s studio albums as well as Europe ’72 and Without a Net, and while I liked those live albums in particular, I wasn’t anything like a “fan” of the band.  But I knew a bunch of songs from a variety of eras, so I wasn’t totally green either.

I was getting ready to start my freshman year at, you guessed it, Cornell University, and when camp ended, my co-counselor gave me a tape with the second set from this show on it.  (It was missing the encore).  She told me that 5/8/77 was special, and that I was lucky to be going to school at the place where the Dead created such a magical moment.  Keep in mind that, up to this point, I had never heard a non-official recording of a Grateful Dead show.  So when I put this tape into the stereo and heard Take a Step Back for the first time, I was a little perplexed.  Why was this stage announcement on the tape?  I didn’t think that I was going to have to suffer through talking before getting to the music.  But oh boy, when that music started, I understood, for the first time, what the big deal was.  It was like a light bulb suddenly turned on and I could see, immediately, the power and glory of the Grateful Dead.

The funny thing about this whole situation is that, despite my “epiphany”, I didn’t immediately go out and try to grab every Dead tape that I could get my hands on.  (Remember, there was no Archive in 1996).  In fact, it would be years before I got my hands on my second show on tape.  During those next five to six years, I was much more into other music, and still would never have called myself a fan of the Dead.  But I played the holy hell out of that one tape.

I suppose that there are a lot of people out there like me who were exposed to this show in a somewhat similar manner, because it was ubiquitous on every college campus in America and was of very high sonic quality (to say nothing of the actual playing).  And most of the people who got their hands on this tape probably never took the next step into full-fledged fandom, but if asked about the Dead, they would probably say, “Oh yeah, I had this one tape and they kicked ass.  But I never really got into the rest of their music”.  And that is what, in my opinion, probably accounts for a lot of the lore surrounding this show.

But what about the music?  Well, as I said, for the longest time I only owned the second set of this show, so getting my hands on the first set was like Christmas all over again.  But I don’t think that the first set is on the same level as the second.  Sure, it’s good, but it really sounds very similar to a lot of the Dead’s other 1977 output. . . Except for the set-ending Dancin’ in the Streets.  This song is outrageous in the best sense of the word, with an absolutely locked-in Phil Lesh and two drummers at the top of their games.

Too much has been written about the musical content of the second set, so I’m not going to take up a lot of space describing it.  What I will say is that after a lot of listening to Dead shows, I still think that this is one of the best Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain I’ve ever heard and it’s a top-five Morning Dew.  The St. Stephen>Not Fade Away>St. Stephen portion is scorching.  The one song that I never really enjoyed that much when I first got the tape, Estimated Prophet, sounds fresher and fresher every time you listen to it, especially once you come around to the fact that Bob Weir was an idiosyncratic wizard on the guitar.

Having spent longer than anticipated discussing this show that has already been discussed to death, I’ll just say that if 5/8/77 is going to be your first true listen to the Grateful Dead, you’re in good company – wherever the music takes you.

Here’s a link to the soundboard: https://archive.org/details/gd77-05-08.sbd.hicks.4982.sbeok.shnf

Today in Grateful Dead History: May 7, 1977 – Boston Garden, Boston, MA

stealie

NOTE: This material was originally published in 2015 on my previous site. It has been updated and edited, sometimes heavily, and was posted in several batches in August, 2016.

This show is the first in a run of three shows that some consider to be the best three days of music that the band ever played. I can’t agree with that but I do think that if you take the first set from this show and couple it with the second set from the Cornell show on the 8th and add in the Help>Slipknot>Franklin’s from Buffalo on the 9th as an encore, you can make an argument for that being an all-time best show.

What makes this first set so great? The Bertha to start is great despite the PA blowing out in the middle of the song and Peggy-O is a slow-burning masterpiece. The Music Never Stopped is a ripping set closer and I think it equals or betters the much-lauded Buffalo version from the 9th. But what seals the deal for me is the Mississippi Half-Step>Big River which, as far as I’m concerned, is the best version of Half-Step I’ve ever heard, even though Jerry forgets the words to the easiest chorus ever written.  The soloing before the chorus is tremendous, but that’s not the whole story.  Listen to Bob Weir’s fills throughout that passage – he’s doing some amazing things back there that will change the way you listen to this song forever.

Unfortunately, the second set is not equal to the first.  This doesn’t mean that the second set isn’t awesome, it’s just lacking the first set’s punch.  Part of the problem is the decision to start off with Terrapin Station, which brings the mood down a notch and they never seem to catch fire again, despite a bunch of up-temp numbers like Samson and Delilah and Eyes of the World. The jam out of Eyes/Drums into The Wheel is wonderful and Wharf Rat is also well-done, but, over all, the song selection coupled with the missing energy doesn’t help this show to rise into the pantheon.

Also, an important caveat: the band is plagued by equipment problems throughout this show, especially in the first set, so the breaks between songs are frustratingly long.

Here’s a link to the Charlie Miller soundboard: https://archive.org/details/gd1977-05-07.sbd.miller.88525.flac16

Today in Grateful Dead History: April 30, 1977 – The Palladium, New York, NY

stealie NOTE: This material was originally published in 2015 on my previous site. It has been updated and edited, sometimes heavily, and was posted in several batches in August, 2016.

This is another good show from 1977, but the audience recording quality is not the best and things are muddy throughout. Luckily, the show has been commercially released as the first volume of the Grateful Dead Download Series if you want to hear the crisper soundboard recording.

Highlights from this show are the first set Mississippi Half Step and, dare I say it, Looks Like Rain. In the second set, we have a Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain (pretty good) AND a St. Stephen>Not Fade Away>Stella Blue>St. Stephen (great).  It’s pretty awesome to hear Stella Blue transition back into the St. Stephen, an unusual pairing to say the least. On top of that, Terrapin Station is the encore.

This show exists on the archive only as an audience recording: https://archive.org/details/gd1977-04-30.sonyECM33p.moore.vernon.4949.sbeok.shnf

Today In Grateful Dead History: November 4, 1977 – Cotterrell Gym, Colgate University, Hamilton, NY

dancing-bearI don’t have a lot of time to discuss this show, which is a shame because it’s a good one that has been released as Dave’s Picks Vol. 12.  So to paraphrase Warner Wolf, let’s go to the tape.

The first set is a standard high-quality 1977 list with a rare version of Dupree’s Diamond Blues coming right before the highlight of the night, an absolutely phenomenal set-ending version of Let It Grow.   The Dead keep digging into this tune – just when you think they’re going to let up, Jerry roars back with more.  This is an exceptional example of the Dead’s 1977 sonic assault, a full barreled blast that should be played loudly.

Tonight is rarity night in central New York, with the band playing an unusual (for 1977) Cold Rain and Snow to build on the frolicing Samson & Delilah that opens the second set.  After a short tuning break, we get to the absolute heart of this show, Playin’ In The Band-> Eyes Of The World-> Estimated Prophet-> The Other One.  This sequence is fantastic and really gets out there during Playin’ and Estimated Prophet, showing that the Dead still had their psychedelic chops, even in the less adventurous late 70’s.

I’m linking to the Jerry Moore audience recording of this show.  The Grateful Dead Listening Guide will tell you why you need to listen to this particular version and once you’ve read that, listen to the show here:  https://archive.org/details/gd77-11-04.moore.jupile-weiner.15208.sbeok.shnf