Today in Grateful Dead History: April 23, 1977 – Springfield Civic Center Arena, Springfield, MA

dancing-bearYou know what the “problem” is with Grateful Dead shows in 1977?  They’re almost all pretty good and the song selection tends to be fairly standard, so in order to give any sort of a useful review of a show, you start focusing on hyper-specific issues with recordings and setlist selection.  This great show from Springfield (one of many reasons why I love having this 1977 “problem”) is a good example of a show that rewards a sharp focus on the details – it might not seem like an over-the-top performance, but there is a lot of nuance here.

The first interesting moment of the night comes during Loser, a song that the Dead played well in 1977 but it often gets overlooked because it’s not a “jammy” tune.  Don’t overlook it here – this one is ruthless.

A little bit further on, the Dead ramp up It’s All Over Now.  You can tell they’re having fun here – even if this isn’t a great tune, it’s a energy boost.  Which leads into . . .

. . . a very rare first-set-closing Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain.  Please keep in mind that this is only the third time that the boys have ever played Fire on the Mountain, but it is more than fully worked up tonight.  The jam in the transition is very sparse – a beautiful touch that I’ve never heard played this gently before.  And woa boy, the soloing at the end of Scarlet Begonias is awesome.  This is a very interesting version of this song pairing, and it really opens up the second time you run through it and know what to listen for.  Do it up!

The second set opens on Estimated Prophet.  Like the San Bernardino premier a couple of months ago, the Dead are still working out the sound of this tune, which results in all sorts of interesting guitar tones and effects throughout the performance.  It’s a good one.  Bertha chugs into an interestingly-placed 2nd set The Music Never Stops, which is a little ragged but oh-so-good.  After that, the main event of the 2nd set – Help on the Way>Slipknot?>Franklin’s Tower with Keith playing on what sounds like a Moog for part of Slipknot?  Like the transition jam in Scarlet>Fire and the guitar on Estimated, the use of this keyboard on this song is unusual and grabs your attention right away.  It might have been a little too assertive for day-to-day use, but for tonight it’s a welcome “say what?” moment.

After this, we get the power Dead of 1977, rocking out with Around and Around>Going Down the Road Feeling Bad>Not Fade Away.  If this doesn’t get you moving, I don’t know what will.  And One More Saturday Night brings the hammer down as the encore.

You’re going to like this show, and the little Easter eggs that pop up will keep you coming back to it time and again when you need a dose of the unusual in a year that tends to be a little more staid.

Listen here:  https://archive.org/details/gd1977-04-23.mtx.seamons.97596.sbeok.flac16

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Today in Grateful Dead History: February 26, 1977 – Swing Auditorium, San Bernardino, CA

dancing-bearThe various iterations of this show on the Archive have more than 200 comments attached to them, due, I’m guessing, to the fact that this show is the first show of one the Grateful Dead’s most beloved years and it features the live debut of Terrapin Station (in the opening slot, too), one the Grateful Dead’s most beloved songs.  It is also one of the Betty Boards, preserved by Betty Cantor-Jackson, one of the Dead’s sonic engineers, and it widely circulated during the learn years of tape trading until the internet made all of these things like relationships between traders and access to tapes obsolete.  So there’s a little bit of hype attached to this performance, which the show basically lives up to.

But since this is 1977, there are a ton of great shows to come, and while this particular performance stands up very well on its own, it’s far too easy to listen to the various songs and say, “yeah, but they played such and such better on 5/8 and they did this and that better on 5/9, etc . . . ”  But if you want a consistently good night of Grateful Dead music, then this evening in San Bernardino is not going to disappoint.

Shockingly enough for such a complicated song, the Dead manage to play a very effective version of Terrapin Station on their very first live attempt.  They’re not going to take things all the way out of the park tonight, but most of the time when they attempt to do that, things tend to drone on, so this version is nice and to the point.  It remains one of my go-to live versions of this song.

Tonight also marks the live premiere of Estimated Prophet, a song that the Dead played 51 times out of 60 shows in 1977 alone, making it an almost ubiquitous presence during the year.  As such, there are lots of versions to compare it to.  What makes this one rather unique is Jerry and Bob’s work with the effects pedals – for now, there is some serious funk being laid down and as the spring wore on, this would be reigned in a little.  So it’s good to hear some rough, rugged and raw playing right out of the gate.

Beyond these new songs, there is a wonderful Sugaree in the first set and a very long Help on the Way>Slipknot!>Franklin’s Tower in the middle of the second set.  But two pieces stand out as highlights this evening – the Playin’ in the Band>The Wheel>Playin’ in the Band sandwich that ends the first set and the Eyes of the World>Dancin’ in the Streets near the end of the second.  This Playin’/Wheel combination is a thrilling extension of the great work that the Dead were laying down in 1976.  We haven’t arrived at some of the more fired-up versions of Playin’ from later in 1977, so the relaxed, heady vibe from ’76 still rules the roost here and the transition into and out of The Wheel is awesome.  In Eyes things proceed normally until the Phil Lesh bass solo near that end of the song that knocks everyone for a loop and then moves us steadily into Dancin’.  The first couple of minutes of this tune are as good as any later version that the Dead attempted.  Things settle down a little after that intro, but the rest of the song still thrills.

And the rest of the night is really good too.  You can tell right away that 1977 is going to be bananas, although there is not as much separation from 1976 as there would be by the end of the year (this isn’t a bad thing, coming from an avowed 1976 fan).  So sit tight, enjoy the premiers and keep on dancing.

I listened to the Matrix version today (the soundboard is good too): https://archive.org/details/gd1977-02-26.mtx.seamons-bertrando.110037.flac16

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

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