Sunday, September 25, 2005

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 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.


At 12:17 PM, Anonymous Scott Catey said...

Here are my thoughts as to why May 77 was such a peak time for the boys: 1) New material - Fire, Estimated and Terrapin were introduced in February of 77. Leading into this 5-5-77 show the boys had 15 shows to work on this material. I think they were just plain excited about what these new songs brought to the table. Estimated was always well explored during this time, the Scarlet / Fire combo become such a classic instantly and Terrapin was just a masterpiece of lyrics and music. Garcia once said there were 2 songs that he had the music in his head before Hunter had the lyrics, Terrapin and Wharf Rat. 2) The hiatus of 10/74 - 6/76: I think the break for the band did them wonders. First of all the tour of 74 was insane, the wall of sound was such an immense beast to set up for each show and if you look at 74 they were usually only playing 1 night at each venue. The break also allowed each member to explore life on their own. In 74 the Jerry Gacia Band began to really take off and Garcia continued with that during the hiatus. Bobby started Kingfish and Keith & Donna started the Keith & Donna band. Also Garcia got to work on projects such as The Grateful Dead Movie. I think that once they got back together they were refreshed and renewed and that coupled with the new material: Help/Slip/Franklins, Music, Samson, etc. completely reenergized the band. The did 40 shows from June - October in 76 then only did the NYE show before 2/26/77. Thats about 4 months off. A nice break to again reenergize and a few shows to warm up and presto May 77. My final reason for this era being so amazing is the age of the boys. Bobby is 29, Garcia is 34. Its an age where they are both young and experienced and mature at the same time and it shows. They seem to be playing with the maturity and youthful enthusiasm at the same time, just amazing. Looking forward to the next post. Thanks.

At 12:45 PM, Blogger Ben said...

Wow! Excellent analysis! I'm curious to find out why the actual recordings from this period are so much richer and clearer than from most other years. Still doing my research on that. The Boston show has an interesting back story, I look forward to discussing that in my next post.

Thanks again for the contribution!


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