Sunday, October 02, 2005

One Week in May '77: Part 4 - 5/8/77

In my search for what made 5/8/77 special (outside of the almost flawless performance and the overall excellent recording quality), I've come up relatively empty. I'm still not sure it's the best show ever, let alone that month or event that week? The first set is good, but not nearly as good as the shows directly before and after that one. But the second set is an absolute beauty, very possibly their best 'set' performance ever. The recording quality may be the clearest and richest Betty Board ever released, but there a couple of AUD patches that mess-up otherwise great performances of a couple songs. And why Ithaca? Why a show at an Ivy League school? Why wasn't their best show in San Francisco, New York, or in any of a number of other classic concert halls, rather than an old, barn-like gym that sat around 7,000?

Whatever it was, nothing sticks from my research as anything pointing to this being a great night. No special karma, no weird or unusual circumstances surrounding the show. The popularity of this show may very well simply be from the fact that it was the first top-quality Betty Board to be circulated amongst tape traders. I know that when I was accumulating my original collection, that this show stood out as one of my favorites, simply due to the fact that it sounded so clear compared too many of the other shows that I had on tape. The fact that their overall playing was so flawless (except for one instance) has always made this show a treasure. But on the other hand, I've seen better set lists, and I've heard more energy and intensity in other shows. 5/8/77 just seems to have it all though, no show was ever perfect, but this may have been as close as they ever came. Best ever, probably not, but historic and fabulous nonetheless.

First set kicks off with a strong Minglewood Blues, but next three songs, Loser, El Paso, and They Love Each Other, while played immaculately, are combined not what I would normally consider to be the start to a great show. The Jack Straw and Deal that come next have much more spirit behind them. The Lazy Lightning>Supplication is as jazzy and complex as ever, but a weak AUD patch during the Lighting jam is a let down. I love the Brown Eyed Women that comes next, once again played perfectly, possibly one of their best versions of that song. An OK Mama Tried follows, with a "Thanks Mom!" at the end, I'm guess from Phil (not sure why, maybe some sort of inside joke). Next comes a Row Jimmy that is solid, but I much prefer the late 80's Row Jimmy's to 70's versions anyway. The Dancin' In The Street however is very interesting. As they start it up, either Bobby accidentally jumps in with the first vocals early, or the rest of the band comes in late. No matter, the crowd cheers, Bobby's probably all embarrassed, and they recover overall with a spectacular performance of the old-time Motown hit. In my 5/7/77 post, I discussed how sometimes they seemed to bounce back from adversity with some of their most inspired performances. I think that this Dancin' is just another prime example of that.

As mentioned previously, it's the 2nd set that sets this show apart. After pleading with the crowd to "Take A Step Back" so that their friends up front wouldn't be so "bug-eyed", history is made with a truly magical Scarlet>Fire. The Scarlet, although good, is not necessarily the best one I've ever heard. What makes this version special is the brilliant transition, and the remarkable Fire. Through the final five minutes of Fire, Jerry leads the boys unparalleled journey unparalled in almost anything else they ever performed. How do you follow that up, with another great Estimated Prophet (I'm not sure they played a weak Estimated in May '77). After Estimated, the St. Stephen>Not Fade Away>St. Stephen is a bit overrated in my book. I'm not feeling a whole lot of energy here, certainly nothing compared to the St. Stephen's of the 60s or the NFAs of the 80s. The Morning Dew that follows though is another absolute classic. Arguably the best version ever of this song, they soar through the highs and lows with a gracefulness not many other musical groups have ever been able to copy. As the climax of Dew builds and builds with increasing intensity, you get the sense that Jerry and the Rhythm Devils are challenging each other to see who can take it to the next level. It's fun to hear Keith think that they are wrapping up, when they still have a few more rounds to go. You have to crank this Dew up to 11 to get the full effect, it just doesn't get much better than this. To top it all off, the One More Saturday Night is also perfect, a great ending to an amazing night.

So is it the best? The controversy lives on. Over 150 people have commented on this show at archive.org alone. Deadbase says their feedback reflects that it's the best show ever, but many over the years, including myself contend whether or not it's the best show even that month. You know what? Who cares anyway. The argument is fun to have as all Deadheads continue their quest for their favorite Dead show or 'moment'. This show overall is not my favorite I must admit, but there are moments in this show that are truly unequalled. And when I'm looking for just that right pick-up, something that brings it all together for me, there's nothing I'd rather listen to than the Scarlet>Fire and Morning Dew from 5/8/77.


Next, we go west, Truckin' Up To Buffalo. See you there...

3 Comments:

At 4:06 PM, Anonymous Scott Catey said...

My thoughts on 5/8/77.....
First I think Ben hit on the key factor that makes this show stand out. The quality of it and the fact that everybody has this show. The other factor for me is not only the outstanding versions of the Scarlet/Fire and Morning Dew but the fact that Scarlet/Fire and Morning Dew are top tier GD tunes. I think you could have a show with best ever versions of Foolish Heart, Here Comes Sunshine, High Time, and Wang Dang Doodle for example and while I might think this is great to a newbie Dead Head I think it would be under appreciated. However Scarlet/Fire was something that got me hooked on the Dead and all of my friends (Dead Head or not) like Fire. Morning Dew is another tune that I was into early as a dead head. Tunes like HC Sunshine took years before I heard a version that stood out. The final factor I have is the emotional attachment people have to this show. If you look at archive.org it is always good advice to ignore a review of the reviewers first show. They always hear the music differently because of what that show meant to them. 7/18/90 is like that for me, I love that show because I was there and it was my first show where I new the songs. However this is just another ordinary summer 1990 show to everyone else. 5/8/77 is the first "Great" tape people had and the memories associated with that helps cloud their judgment. All that being said I think it is impossible to rank tapes. I think all that can be said is that this is as good as it gets. There are many a shows that are as good as it gets and many from May 77. That is why we collect the shows and listen, because so many times it was as good as it gets.

 
At 9:16 PM, Blogger Ben said...

Amen Scott. It's impossible to truly rank 'em, but it's fun to compare at least. Good point about the first show sentiment too. For me, it's my second show that actually sticks out as one of my favorites, even today. That was the 1st Warlocks show in Hampton in '89. Not the Dark Star show, and in retrospect a good, but not great show. But that show did have it's moments. The H>S>F that night was pure magic, and the energy in the place was off the charts.

I'm not sure if this was my first bootleg or not though. It was always a favorite of mine, but early on, I had other's that I liked equally as well. I'll take exception with your dissing High Time though, I love that song :)

 
At 8:56 PM, Anonymous Helen said...

This time I was sure to download early enough in the evening to be able to hear the entire show through. I'm so happy to add this to my collection and thank you once again.
The Dew is beautiful and while Jerry's slightly off key on the start of They Love Each Other, I thoroughly enjoyed it. (I'm sure I must have heard it before but I've only been sober for 17 years!)
Peace............

 

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