One Week in May '77: Part 2 - 5/5/77
This may be tougher than I thought, finding things that made this week particularly special (special at least in my mind). They had just recently finished final touches on The Grateful Dead Movie, they had worked out the kinks from an uneven '76 comeback tour, and they had spent considerable time and effort in the studio working on Terrapin Station. On the other hand, this was also about the time that Jerry had discovered heroin, which you think would of hurt of him more than helped him musically and spiritually.
So why is the playing so tight? Why are there moments during this week that are possibly unequaled in their history? Why is the recording quality of these shows so crystal clear and rich (guess we'll just simply have to credit Betty Cantor for her perfect mixes)? Haven't figured that out yet unfortunately. I've done a bit of reseach so far, if you have any insight, please feel free to contribute.
Regardless, the May 5 show in New Haven, CT was a fantastic start to an amazing 5-show stretch. Played at Veteran's Memorial Coliseum (Capacity - 9,500), this show started off with a scorching first set, followed by an almost equally impressive 2nd set. This show was covered last year by the Dark Star Orchestra at The Fillmore, with Donna Godchaux making a special appearance, and that show was recently released on DVD.
The show starts off with a garden-variety Promised Land, after which Bobby cracks, "Sorry to be late, but you see a funny thing happened on the way to the show tonight, the airplane went the wrong way." Must of been an inside joke. They played in NYC the night before, I doubt they flew from NYC to New Haven. What followed was a spectacular 18 minute Sugaree, one of the best I've heard. Next came a unique Mama Tried>El Paso combo (only time ever played as a combo in that order), followed by a decent Tennessee Jed (never have been a big fan). The Looks Like Rain is excellent, with Donna adding very soft and sweet backing vocals, but this one wasn't even the best one that week. Next comes a hot, shuffling Deal, you know the kind you just bounce around to. After Lazy Lightning>Supplication (always a favorite of mine), a practically perfect Peggy-O follows. Listen closely on this version for Bobby and Keith, who both apply a beautiful texture to this great song, Jerry's solo soars as well. An incredible 95 minute 1st set ends with a powerful Music Never Stopped. The show could of ended there and most I'm sure would of been completely satisfied.
The 2nd set opens up with a methodical Bertha (I'm not so crazy about the slow-tempo Bertha's of this time-period), but then heats up with an Estimated Prophet that's about as good as you will ever hear. The Scarlet>Fire next is red-hot. The Scarlet may be better than the Cornell version 3 nights later, the transition is nice, but not spectacular, the Fire has it's moments, but never hits any spectacular highs like it did at Cornell and other times. Alot of reviewers at archive.org are always looking for the better Scarlet>Fire than the Cornell one, this one is close, but not quite as good overall. A typically fun Good Lovin' comes next, followed by St. Stephen. I only like the late 60's St. Stephens myself, the late 70's versions just don't have the same energy. This version shines though in an extended jam that has a Not Fade Away tease and a smokin, but brief blues shuffle. The Sugar Magnolia that comes next is a bit disappointing as they struggle to find a good tempo, kind of like the Bertha that the set started with. The last half of the song finishes strong as they find a driving high-tempo groove to close-out a solid 2nd set. A rockin' Johnny B. Goode encore that Chuck Berry would be proud of ended the night.
Like a couple other shows played this particular week, the 1st set outshines the 2nd. A joy overall to listen to though. Next, we'll head a couple hours north-east to Boston for what was a problem-plagued, yet still amazing show two nights later.