Saturday, October 22, 2005

One Week in May '77: Part 6 - 5/11/77

Tonight we end our brief journey that began just a few nights earlier in New Haven, CT. On Wednesday, May 11, 1977, the Bus rolled into the St. Paul Civic Center (capacity: 16,000) in St. Paul, MN. This show is not typically mentioned in the same breath as the shows from the previous 4 nights, but IMHO, it's just as good as any they played in May '77.

The first set is a tour-de-force 90 minute roller coaster, starting with solid versions of Promised Land and They Love Each Other. The Big River ("I met her accidentally in St. Paul, Minnesota") that comes next is almost as hot as the one played two nights earlier, followed by a flawless, haunting Loser. The highlight of this show comes next in a stunningly beautiful Looks Like Rain. This is an all-time favorite version of this song, and probably my favorite Donna moment. Her backing vocals are as sweet and angelic as they ever were, a perfect compliment to Bobby. The whole band shines on this, particularly with Jerry and Keith providing perfectly aligned textures to this masterpiece. Listen in particular to Keith at the end of the final chorus, it's just perfect. But we're just getting started here folks...A fun, upbeat Ramble On Rose comes next (marred only by a cut going into the last verse), followed by almost perfect versions of two more songs that they just couldn't seem to go wrong with that week, Jack Straw and Peggy-O. After a strong El Paso, Jerry kicks in with a jammin' Deal. You would think the set would be over at this point, but not tonight. No sir. The best Lazy Lightning>Supplication of the week follows. After a long, magical Sugaree, Phil (not Bobby suprisingly) ends a marathon first set with a salty "Thanks, we're going to take a short break. Y'all do whatever you want."

How do you follow up a first set like that? A tough chore indeed, but the Boys were up the task this night. A powerful Samson and Delilah leads off, followed by an equally hot Brown Eyed Women. Another Estimated Prophet is next, sounds like the rest, but the Scarlet Begonias>Fire On The Mountain that follows is another special version indeed. The highlight here is the jam in Scarlet before the final verse which just grows and grows in intensity before finishing off strong and cooling off into a mellow transition and Fire. Things heat back up a bit with Good Lovin', but you can sense that they are starting to tire a bit with a somewhat weak Uncle John's Band. A spacy post-UJB jam, reminiscent of something they may of done a few years earlier, flows into a Jerry solo, which then transitions to a textbook Wharf Rat that once again is marred by a significant cut in the recording. The second set ends with a rockin' Around and Around. I love the way that they turned it up a few notches in 1977 with this song, and this version is a good example, ending the set with a bang! As with the first set, Phil chimes in with a "Thank you and good night!" Again, unusual. A sweet, shuffling Breakdown Palace encore closes another great show.

I began this quest searching for answers, in particular, what made these shows so great? I've read, I've googled, I've listened, and nothing really sticks out as truly out-of-the-ordinary. The band was tighter than ever for a number of reasons (Terrapin Station sessions, completing the Grateful Dead Movie, new songs, repetition of a number of songs night after night, fighting back adversity), and these Bertha Boards, through a five show succession, turned out great. As mentioned before, I've read that Jerry discovered Heroin during this time, which you would of thought could of diminished his abilities. That didn't appear to of happened however.

All that mattered was that the stars were aligned, the cosmos were in balance, the karma was good. You can't go wrong with any of these shows. Download, sit back and enjoy!


At 11:08 AM, Anonymous US Blues said...


Interesting thoughts on a popular week. Just a few thngs, since I just read the posts on all the shows.

If you have not heard the 5.4.77 show from the Palladium, give it a listen. To my ears, that 2nd set is more interesting than the week that followed, as it has more spacious improvisation.

Also, Jerry began using heroin in '75 during the "retirement," and it is easy to hear it in the music. Listen to his solo's and you'll notice that he breaks off after a bit, then has to begin an idea again. If you listen to pre-75 shows, Jerry will play longer solos without the break-off.

Also, you said Donna only sang Sunrise 3 times live. Check deadlists, she sang that song for two years, the last version being in Egypt I believe.

Finally, I have no idea why these shows are so highly regarded either. Granted the band is tight and professional, but there is little creativity or deep improvisation in the playing. As you mentioned these shows were part of the first batch of Betty Boards that circulated on tape, and they provided a high quality listening experience.

For me anything from '74 or earlier is generally better, the lack of heroin being a big piece for me. For an interesting week (or so), try 11.14.73 thru 11.25.73 (6 shows: San Diego, LA, Denver x2, El Paso and Tempe).

I appreciate what you are doing and your thoughts about the boys.

PS- I'm not a Born Again, since I never lost the Faith.


At 2:02 AM, Blogger Ben said...

US - Thanks for the feedback. I thought about including the Palladium, but it didn't measure up IMO. Just IMO of course.

As for Jerry's heroin use, McNally said that it started in '77. I'm reading Blair Jackson's book now, and he is a little more vague on the time period, but says "For a considerable period, Garcia's involvement with opiates was relatively light and didn't seem to be a significant problem. He wasn't lacking in energy..." So maybe he did start earlier than '77, but it didn't affect him enough to slow him down.

I'll have to check on Sunrise again. I saw it written somewhere that Sunrise was performed only 3 times. I could certainly be mistaken though.

Thanks for the tips on the late '73 shows. I'll have to check them out. '73 is a very underrated year for The Dead.


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