The Unabashed Joy of Grateful Dead, Binghamton, NY & the Fall of 1977


Grateful Dead Live at Broome County Civic Center 6 November 1977

Spring 1977 is largely considered one of the Grateful Dead’s best tours. So much so, in fact, there’s a 5 show box set that’s just been released by the Grateful Dead and Rhino (the keepers of the Dead’s massive musical vault) this week. But for me, the magic didn’t end with the completion of the spring ’77 tour. It was simply being ushered in by it. The Dead’s fall tour of that same year, followed by the 4-show New Year’s run at Winterland and into the spring tour of 1978, contains some of my favorite shows of all time. In fact, that Winterland run should be released as its own box set along with the 3-camera black and white video that was shot by the Bill Graham folks. If ever there was a treat for DeadHeads, that would be it. When was the last time you saw Jerry doing Pete Townsend windmills? Sure, the video isn’t up to today’s Hi-Def standards, but it’s still incredibly revealing and energetic and such a rare and beloved piece of history for anyone who loves the Dead that to NOT release it in the best quality possible may actually be considered a hate-crime in some countries.

The tightness and beauty, mixed with a high rockin’ energy that came to characterize the Spring 1977 tour, only intensified as the year rolled forward. Garcia seemed uncontainable throughout this period: wide grins and guitar-slams so intense and heartfelt you’d think Garcia was trying to make the music reverberate straight through the center of the earth itself. And perhaps it did. The fierceness with which Garcia played throughout this period brought the band to new heights and each and every member of this touring circus rose up to meet Garcia. Sometimes the effect was less “tight” than they had been in the past, but the savage joy that took its place fills me to the core.

One such show was the Dead’s final show of their 1977 Fall tour. The Dead always loved playing New York and the Broome County Arena in Binghamton was no exception. This gig not only closed the tour, but an astounding three-night N.Y. run.

The first set is so magnificently tight and masterful. And the soundboard recording available streaming on Archive.org is one of the most beautiful mixes I have ever heard. Each and every instrument is clear in the mix. Vocals are sharp and confident in a way that is rare for Dead recordings of any kind. And Garcia’s voice is so soft and melodic with traces of that early 70’s Garcia sound. Keith is uncharacteristically high in the mix and it is such a joy to hear what he is doing here. His contribution to the band’s sound is unparalleled. And to hear the nuances and intricate exclamation points created by Bobby will make your hairs stand on end (in that good way). Even Donna, who many complain was off-key more often than not, is in prime and delicate form here. If you ever wondered why Jerry loved singing with Donna so much, this recording and show will answer that question for you.

The second set isn’t as tight as the first. Some botched lines and slightly less-certain moments do crop up, but they are met with laughter and some of the most creative work-arounds I have ever heard, eliciting even more energy and commitment from the boys. It’s a show that one simply cannot stop listening to.

19770727_0939The show’s opening MISSISSIPPI HALFSTEP is among the best I’ve ever heard. So much pure energy and storytelling, it threatens to blow the roof off the place. This is followed by one of the best JACK STRAWS I have ever heard (in my opinion, Spring 1978 was the peak for JACK STRAWS so this is on the precipice of that moment in time). I would dare say that most every song in this first set is in competition for best version ever. If it’s not the best, it’s among the top 5. The MINGLEWOOD/DUPREES DIAMOND BLUES combo alone makes it all worthwhile. And the MUSIC NEVER STOPPED closer just lilts and roars.

The Sunday-appropriate SAMSON opener for the second set shows that the boys hadn’t lost their energy during the break. And Donna’s SUNRISE may make believers out of non-believers. One of the best ever. The SCARLET-FIRE that follows is not as tight as the rest of the show (though it’s no slouch!) with Jerry forgetting lines and even disappearing for a while (broken string? Bathroom break?), but this just spurs on more creativity and a clear desire to make up for lost time. Once the boys kick into GOOD LOVIN’ and then ST. STEPHEN, we’re off and running again straight through to the end of the show and a rockin’ TRUCKIN’ set closer.

There’s just something about this era for the Grateful Dead that moves me. Hell, there’s something about every era of the Dead that moves me, but this period speaks to something deep inside, something primal. It encapsulates both the grace, beauty and ferociousness that I most love about the Grateful Dead, mixed with the potent suspense and fire that is created out of risk and that the boys did so well when they allowed themselves to be vulnerable. All the while maintaining the musical clarity that came with being professional musicians at the top of their game.

If you’re less accustomed to this period of the band than others, or simply don’t know the band all that well, give this show a try. Not only might it knock yer socks off, but it will give you a prime example of why the Grateful Dead are considered such a wide mix of American musical styles in a way few bands have ever been. And why they are, still to this day, considered one of the greatest live bands in musical history and of such profound cultural importance. Not to mention, why they bring so many of us so much unabashed joy.

Advertisements
The Unabashed Joy of Grateful Dead, Binghamton, NY & the Fall of 1977

You Win Again: Copenhagen, Denmark April 14, 1972


The fourth show on the Grateful Dead’s first-ever tour of Europe landed them in a hall that was tailer-made for music. Located in the center of the Tivoli Gardens amusement park, the 1,700 seat Tivoli Concert Hall had been designed for classical music performances, though the Dead were not the first rock band to play there. Needless to say, it was a far cry from the dark and acoustically-challenged venues of the tour’s first three gigs.

Enjoying playing not only to an audience of Danish-speakers (though the Danes are well-versed in English, as I can assure you from having lived in Scandinavia for a time in my youth), the band was also performing for a culture of European hippies, the likes of which would not be seen again till the band hit Amsterdam. In the north part of Copenhagen is a small “town” called Christiania (or Freetown Christiania) which is an autonomous “commune” that exists outside of the drug laws that are somewhat enforced throughout the rest of Denmark. As a result, this Danish audience was more than a little equipped for this particular band’s visit to their humble city.

The results were, to say the least, perfectly in sync.

The sound on this recording is exceptional. You can “feel” the space itself and the energy of this more-than-ready-to-have-their-minds-blown crowd. From the first notes of BERTHA, this show soars. The tour’s first YOU WIN AGAIN makes a welcome appearance early on. WIN’s a song I’ve always loved and one the Dead sadly didn’t keep in their repertoire for very long. I always thought Jerry did justice to the heartfelt Hank Williams tune. Another short but highly experimental PLAYING IN THE BAND helps keep the first set loose and wiggly while Pig’s rendition of BIG BOSS MAN makes sure the dancing and swaying never loses momentum.

Set two gives us another steamrollin’ TRUCKIN’ (this was definitely the tour for that song!) and another heartfelt IT HURTS ME TOO, which I will never get enough of. The BROWN-EYED WOMEN is energetic and a perfect reminder of the Dead’s various roots and inspirations; there is no better reflection of American music than the Grateful Dead songbook. This is followed by the last LOOKS LIKE RAIN of the tour and the last time Jerry would play pedal steel with the Grateful Dead until 1987 (!) when they backed Bob Dylan.

Like all versions of DARK STAR on this tour, April 14, 1972’s is one of the best ever. Deep and spacey, while not quite as luxurious as the Wembley DARK STAR, it certainly takes us on a long, strange trip (though the second verse is left out in the nether-sphere for another night). Pig’s GOOD LOVIN’ may be one of the best examples of the man’s vast talent for rapping as he weaves in and out of GOOD LOVIN’, WHO DO YOU LOVE, CAUTION (DO NOT STOP ON TRACKS) and back into GOOD LOVIN’. It’s a wondrous thing to behold.

Well, the boys could have ended the show then and there and one wouldn’t have heard nary a peep of complaint from anyone in attendance. But they chose to add another five songs onto the evening including a rousing NOT FADE AWAY-> GOING DOWN THE ROAD FEELING BAD-> NOT FADE AWAY. And by the time the band completed their frenzied and energetic version of ONE MORE SATURDAY NIGHT, the audience, and this listener, was more than a little satiated. Oh, to have been one of those 1,700…

Thankfully, this would not be the Dead’s last stop at the Tivoli Concert Hall this tour. They departed briefly to do another show at Aarhus University in Denmark before returning to the amusement park and hashish aromas of the fabulous Tivoli Gardens.

You Win Again: Copenhagen, Denmark April 14, 1972

Comes A Time: Newcastle, England April 11th, 1972


A Tuesday night at Newcastle City Hall in Newcastle, England. Third show of the tour before taking the ferry across to Denmark and the mysterious continent beyond.

Many a band had played the industrial town of Newcastle, England before the Dead. In fact, Eric Burdon and The Animals derived from Newcastle so the locals already had their own rock and roll celebrities. But the City Hall had never been a favorite place on any band’s list of venues to play. It was not the warmest of settings, with a tiny stage and concrete pillars spaced evenly throughout, blocking sight lines and making the acoustics a bit wonky. Even the crowd seemed a tad suspect as the gig began, but soon enough, the Dead had proven their worth and those cold concrete pillars and walls started reflecting the heat that was coming off the stage.

The first set was a whopping 18-song affair. Not as tight or energetic as the 2 previous Wembley shows, but no slouch either. The Newcastle crowd was privileged to get one of the tour’s three Jerry-on-pedal-steel LOOKS LIKE RAINs as well as a scorching BIG RAILROAD BLUES. The BEAT IT ON DOWN THE LINE offered the first false-start of the tour, but once the song got up and running (how many beats was that again?) all was as it should be in Grateful Dead land.

Pig led off the second set with another GOOD LOVIN’. It’s great to hear Pig belting out each and every song with so much energy and emotion as this would turn out to be, unbeknownst to anyone at the time, his last tour. Pigpen was already sick by this stage and looking mighty frail, but you’d never know it by the recording.

The highlight of the second set is the epic 20-minute TRUCKIN’ that devolves into some deep psychedelic spaces before spinning its way into DRUMS and then into a 25-minute OTHER ONE that leaves one breathless as it winds down into the first of the tour’s four renditions of Garcia’s beauteous COMES A TIME. The set closes out with one of only two versions of BROKEDOWN PALACE offered on the tour. It is as stirring an interpretation as I’ve ever heard.

Even Eric Burdon’s Mum was overheard to declare about the Grateful Dead (somewhere during the show’s over 4-hour running time), “They’re very good, you know.”

High praise, indeed.

A few days off to re-energize and the band will soon be taking the stage at the famous Tivoli Gardens Concert Hall. A far cry from the grey of Newcastle and the band’s first show in front of a foreign-speaking audience (though one could argue that Newcastle’s northern dialect might seem rather foreign to some). But music is, after all, a universal language. And so it would be in the land of the Danes. And beyond…

Comes A Time: Newcastle, England April 11th, 1972

A Band On Fire: Grateful Dead 12-27-77


As if this might be the last gig ever played, the members of the Grateful Dead took the stage at their ol’ familiar haunt, the Winterland Arena, on the evening of December 27th, 1977 and immediately burst into flames.

To put it more sensibly (and without conjuring up Spinal Tap drummer imagery), Jerry and gang came out of the gate with so much energy that they nearly blew the roof off the place with the first song of the night and they let the show snowball from there. The Bertha-> Good Lovin’ that opens the first set just sweeps you off your feet and it’s readily apparent that Garcia is in one helluva guitar-slamming mood. Every song reaches a scorching peak as if no amount of joy could be contained but must instantly be transferred to all in attendance, even those hiding in the farthest rows or standing outside the walls of the arena itself. The Brown-Eyed Women may well be the most energetic version you’ve ever heard. And while the entire show is wild with energy, it’s the first set that shines brightest with an excitable tightness that was 1977. Even mellower tales like Peggy-O and Friend Of The Devil have claws. One need only close their eyes and listen to see Jerry’s high-energy grin as he owns each and every chord.

The second set is a musical amusement park of swirling rides and exhilarating twists and turns, though it rarely attains the confident figure-hugging tightness of the first set. But that doesn’t mean it’s anything less than spectacular. Garcia’s still roaring and Bobby’s rhythm guitar is clean and sharp. The vocals are strong (if a tad lower in the mix than the first set) with terrific harmonies enhanced by an unusually beautiful and inspired Donna who never steps on any toes here and is, quite simply put, at her melodic best.

The Cold Rain And Snow opener will have you spinning with chaotic abandon, followed immediately by a rare second set Lazy Lightning-> Supplication that will leave you breathless. The remainder may not be unusual set-list-wise, but the rocking and rolling is at a fever-pitch, if not a tad imprecise in moments, but that’s mostly when compared to the flawless first set. By any other standard, this is one helluva second set!

I sat down to listen to this night’s pre-New Year’s Eve festivities with the full intention of simply whetting my appetite with a couple of choice songs. But as the evening wore on, I realized I was in for the long haul. There was no way I wasn’t gonna follow this show into its final notes.

Luckily for us, there’s a new Bertha SBD remaster out there that is just stellar. The Samson & Delilah encore is sadly absent as, apparently, no decent sounding versions could be found.

If you want to download the uncompressed flacs, etree still has a good number of seeders up and running. Get it while they’re still active!

Otherwise you can stream this beauty over at the Archive.

Enjoy.

A Band On Fire: Grateful Dead 12-27-77

The “New” Dead on Letterman Tonight


picture-10While it’s no secret that I’m a bit underwhelmed with the post-Jerry Garcia Dead’s sound, I think many folks who weren’t big fans of the band before might actually, ironically, prefer this current incarnation. Guitarist Warren Haynes’ sound is certainly more “familiar” sounding to the masses as his playing is a tad more “straight-forward” than Jerry’s was. Jerry spoke from his soul and the music took you there. It was different from anything else out there. And that’s what made it so damn one-of-a-kind. But it was an acquired taste and often took folks a bit of time to hear what was going on there (to the untrained ear it can sometimes sound a bit harsh, or so I’ve been told), but once tapped in, it was the centerpiece of joy and inspiration. It was NOT, however, great background music (unless you were singing along) as it demanded your attention. It’s possible that I just need more time to tap into Warren. Though something tells me that’s not the case. But I’ll be listening nonetheless.

When the Grateful Dead introduced TOUCH OF GREY to the world, it signaled the beginning of the end of an era. Legions of new “fans” stormed the scene expecting a band that played amusing little ditties like GREY (a fun song, absolutely, but not really the kind of thing the Grateful Dead were known for). Suddenly, the tight little community was inundated with concert-goers more concerned with the drug-scene than with the music. People were getting too high, too drunk, and oftentimes violent. Before we knew it, the Grateful Dead was banned from playing many of its long-standing favorite venues! The scene never fully recovered, IMHO.

I’m curious to see what this newfangled Dead will choose to play for the masses on the David Letterman show tonight. Will they pick some great, weird oldie that will shock and amaze? Or will they decide to play something a bit more… “mainstream”? We’ll see. No doubt, either way, a few more folks will climb on board the bus as a result.

Dead.net posted a History of the Grateful Dead on David Letterman. It’s a fun journey back in time. I saw all of these shows when they originally aired. Enjoy!

History of the Grateful Dead on David Letterman

cThe members of the Grateful Dead, mostly Jerry and Bobby, have a long relationship with David Letterman going back to 1982. The two guitarists first appeared on Letterman on 4/13/82, during the Grateful Dead’s Spring tour, on a night off between shows at Nassau Coliseum and the Glens Falls Civic Center. On this episode, they played two acoustic songs, Deep Elem Blues and Monkey & The Engineer, with Jerry and Bobby revealing terrific senses of humour in describing the origins of the moniker Dead Heads. Classic stuff. Bobby had a bit of a cold, and his voice was a bit off, but they played these acoustic tunes very well.

The next visit to Letterman was on 9/17/87 on the night off during a five night stand at Madison Square Garden, at which they played Bob Dylan’s When I Paint My Masterpiecewith the Letterman house band backing them. While talking with Dave, they discussed their new video So Far, the shows at MSG, and the success of In The Dark. Bobby then did one of the oddest things these guys have ever done on TV, he attempted to lift Jerry via a parlour trick, with Dave and Biff helping out. The sight of an unwitting Jerry, in a nice coat, sitting as the crew tries to lift Jerry with two fingers is one of the most hilarious images of the band I’ve ever seen. Just the way Dave looked at the camera and said “we’re going to lift Jerry” had us all cracking up. I’d been at the two previous shows at the Garden, and they were playing very well and, obviously, having loads of fun.

In 1989, during a five night run at the Brendan Byrne Arena at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, Bobby and Jerry once again visit Dave, on 10/13/89, this time playing Second That Emotion with Paul’s band once again backing them up. Also very cool during this appearance was during the commercial breaks, they played along with the band on the music the leads in and out of the commercial breaks, including Good Lovin’, Mighty Quinn and Hideaway, amongst a few other things.

In 2003, The Dead appeared on Letterman with that version of the band, featuring Bobby, Phil, Mickey and Bill, as well as Jeff Chimenti and Rob Barraco on keyboards, Jimmy Herring on lead guitar, and Joan Osborne on vocals. They played a rocking version of Casey Jones.

Bobby and Jerry also appeared separately on Letterman, the former playing The Winners with Rob Wasserman in 1991, and the latter playing Friend of the Devil with David Grisman in 1993.

The “New” Dead on Letterman Tonight

ROCKING THE CRADLE: Egypt In A Box


The Grateful Dead‘s newest release ROCKING THE CRADLE has been slowly arriving in mailboxes all week. I was one of the lucky ones, apparently, who got mine early and undamaged. There have been some quality control issues surrounding this set that I feel confident Rhino will address in a timely and professional manner. They’re just starting to figure out the level of “commitment” Deadheads have to this music and the ravenous collection of such. And their previous releases since acquiring the Grateful Dead’s vault of music have been tremendous. The WINTERLAND ’73 BOX SET is an extraordinary collection, beautifully packaged and presented. A real treat for Dead fans. As was LIVE AT THE COW PALACE from 1976. Lovingly mixed and one of the best New Year’s shows the Dead ever played (they were not always on the ball those nights). I have heard complaints about the recycled cardboard packaging on the ROAD TRIPS sets, but have not acquired those as I’m usually a “full show” snob and those sets are compilations.

However, ROCKING THE CRADLE does not offer up all the music played at the Dead’s historic 1978 trip to the Gizah Sound and Light Theatre in Cairo, Egypt, but what’s there is certainly among the highlights and, quite possibly, all we’ll ever get. The set includes 2 CDs of music, 1 “bonus” CD for those who ordered before September 30th, and 1 DVD of actual footage of the band playing, as well as behind the scenes super 8 home movies documenting the Dead “family” adventures through the cradle of civilization.

Let’s start with the CDs. The sound is mixed with perfection. I’ve heard these shows before, both in audience and soundboard, and I’ve never heard them sound this crisp. Every instrument is crystal clear and perfectly balanced. The same goes for the bonus disc. I’m not sure why this wasn’t just included as part of the package as it really is an essential part of the collection. Apparently, the sound recording for the first of the three nights played was damaged and that is why September 14th is not represented here at all. It’s a shame, but some things are unavoidable.

Now the DVD. I want to thank the folks who put this together for allowing me to access this historic event in a way not possible before. I had seen some of the video footage shot by Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, but the sound quality on that was questionable at best and, though fascinating, never quite engaging. While the video here is shaky and unprofessional at times–even to the point of actually losing site of the band entirely and drifting off into darkness–at least there are several cameras running simultaneously and the sound is massive, especially the DTS 5.1 mix. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any information as to exactly what footage was available to the producers of this set and how the editing choices were made. For example, most of the songs “fade out” instead of continuing the jams into transitions. Most disappointing is the fade out during the final jam in FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN, thus losing one of the evenings best moments and a great transition into IKO IKO, a song which is, thankfully, included here. It is altogether possible that the footage available for that portion of the show was simply unusable and that is why this decision was made. However, I would love to know about that. I recognize that it’s perhaps not customary for fans to request so much knowledge about the making of a “product”, but Deadheads have a rather “special” relationship to all things Dead, and many of us are completists and simply want as much as is available. Strange, I know, but there’s nothing like sitting down and immersing oneself in an uninterrupted show, especially when captured on DVD. If the experience is available to be had, many of us would love to have it. I would also question why they chose to jumble many of the songs out of the order in which they were performed. The progression of songs, the unfolding of the setlist, is often as much a part of the show as the music itself. For those who don’t know, the Dead never played the same show twice. And even if they HAD, they wouldn’t have played it the same way. So what they play and in what order has been of fascination to fans since the Dead first started performing. It is truly part of the energy, uniqueness, and experience of each and every show.

Now for the Bonus Material. “The Vacation Tapes”, a rare and intimate portrait of the band and their close “family” of friends and lovers starting from their arrival in Cairo, through the shows themselves, culminating in a three day boat trip down the Nile. Here we are privy to moments rarely seen as we get to watch the Dead off-stage and in a very “normal” light. It is refreshing and fun and truly made me wish I had been a part of the whole adventure as it unfolded.

The music itself. Part of the reputation of these shows is that the band didn’t play very well. And they were the first to say so. Since the Dead were largely an improvisational band, the music and its energy was different from one night to the next. Some nights they were on, some nights they were off. And both ends of the spectrum could be rather dramatic! What’s fascinating here is that there was some truly inspired and tight playing to be heard from the Dead’s various tours throughout 1978. But what happens in Egypt these 3 nights is unlike anything the Dead had played before or since. And there are certainly a combination of factors that added to that. One is the possible pressure of being the first western band permitted to play Egypt. Another is the PA system which was loaned to the Dead by The Who (England is much closer). The setting itself: a beautiful outdoor theatre nestled beneath the Sphinx and the Great Pyramids of Gizah. Add to the third night a lunar eclipse and, well, the energy MUST have been interesting to say the least. Then there’s the audience: hordes of Deadheads traveled from far and wide to be here and they danced side by side with Egyptians, many of whom had never heard this music before and slowly found the groove as the nights progressed.

Then there are stories of Jerry’s addiction and the fact that he had to take a hiatus from some “medicines” his body may have been quite used to at this point. But whatever the reasons, the Dead had moments of fascinating beauty up there, as well as moments when the rhythm just seemed to slip out from under them as they all scrambled to find their way back. Perhaps it had to do with drummer Bill Kreutzman having one hand in a cast. Or maybe not, I don’t know. But it’s interesting to watch Jerry trying to get everybody rhythmically in sync during LOOKS LIKE RAIN which, oddly enough, turns out to be a terrific rendition. Same goes for GOOD LOVIN’, which really hits a wall and never quite recovers. But all this gives the evening an odd yet exciting tension that everything could collapse at any given moment. And when it doesn’t, the music SOARS or, at worst, finds a shaky life that is quite thrilling. It is music and energy unique to this set of shows and this venue. It’s a version of the Dead unlike any other. And while I wouldn’t recommend it as an introduction to the band’s live performances, I think it’s a must for anyone already familiar and looking for new variations and new experiences from the Dead’s treasure trove of musical journeys. Garcia’s voice is in top form and he seems to be having a blast up there. It’s odd that the Dead chose not to play any cuts from their acclaimed BLUES FOR ALLAH album (the best of the studio offerings, in my opinion) as it seemed an obvious choice and a rare opportunity. However, I’m sure they had their reasons and just getting to watch the Dead jam with percussionist Hamza El Din and the Nubian Youth Choir up on that stage, in that surreal and magical setting, is worth the price of admission.

ROCKING THE CRADLE is incomplete, imperfect, and worth every penny. It does what most great things do; it leaves you wanting more. And if there is more out there, I hope it will find its way to release as well. I, for one, will look forward to buying it.

Here’s a taste of the Grateful Dead playing a rockin’ version of DEAL from the third night, September 16, 1978:

ROCKING THE CRADLE: Egypt In A Box