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...