5-15-77…St Louis Arena
Loaded with a lot of intriguing material, 5-15-77 is close, but not quite a ’77 powerhouse. There’s a bouncy Bertha>Good Lovin’ and a Minglewood featuring two action packed Garcia solos early on. Jerry’s vocals and the tone of his guitar jam made Tennessee Jed more exciting than usual. The band is sloppy on Lazy Lightning > Supplication as Jerry continued to dominate the action. The second Jack-A-Roe is a winner; I have a new found appreciation for these slower and funkier 1977 presentations. Passenger made a forgettable debut, but any debut of a new song is positive.
The eleven-song opening set closed in grand fashion with the best Dancin’ in the Streets of the year. My mind tends to wander during some of these versions that go and on and nothing really happens. That’s not the case on this one that checks in at around 18 minutes. Donna was all over the lead vocals, drowning out Weir, and she did a commendable job. Jerry galloped along during the long instrumental segment, dishing out creative licks all over the place. The band was brilliant while nailing the funky chord progression that leads back to the final verse. Donna and Bob sang, “Dancin, Dancin, Dancin in the Streets, over and over, at least 50 times, to Mickey and Billy’s soft beat. A dramatic fanfare finale from everybody in the band put the finishing touches on this masterpiece.
Estimated >Eyes made a love connection for the second time ever for the opening entrée of set two. Eyes of the World is cranking early on with its three minute opening jam and some decisive and melodic leads from Jerry in the first jam. Uncharacteristic of the powerful ’77 Eyes, the second instrumental is short and goes nowhere. Jerry atoned for his sin by noodling his way into a creative fanfare crescendo in a post lyric jam. Solid versions of Samson and Ship of Fools follow before the final presentation.
The band was clicking as they broke out St. Stephen. Everything from the vocals to the solos and overall performance is better than the Cornell version. They break off into what sounds like Not Fade Away at the designated time, but to the surprise of the crowd it’s the first offering of Iko Iko. This is a playful one verse flirtation with Iko before they break into Not Fade Away. The jam started off strong, but the creative juices weren’t flowing. Jerry teases several suggestions and the band finally decided on Sugar Magnolia and an adequate performance ensues. What started off as a potentially classic grouping of songs ends up just being good which is disappointing. Another Jerry tune with a slamming Sugar Mag could have turned St Louis into a classic. The Uncle John’s encore was strong.
Here are the standings halfway through my retrospective tour:
5-11 St. Paul
5-15 St. Louis
Uncle John's Band mp3 from 5-15-77http://visionsofdylan.com/mp3s/ujb5-15
5-13-77…Chicago Auditorium Theatre
An intoxicating mix of songs with a big-time finish make this first set a good listen. Broadcast live on FM radio, 5-13-77 was among my first ten tapes – I can still remember the way my tape cover looked in black magic marker. The infamous “Calling Dr. Beachwood Spoof,” improvised by Billy, Mickey and Phil prior to the show’s commencement is hilarious. I don’t get it, but that’s the point. It sets the tone for the night as it sounded like the band was having a whopping good time.
Most of the first set performances, including a Music Never Stopped opener, aren’t up to lofty ’77 standards. The order in which the songs unfold, and the initial offering of Jack-a-Roe kept things interesting. The new slow Friend of the Devil and Minglewood Blues were a little sluggish.
The set closing Scarlet>Fire has some incredible moments. Spurred on by the rhythm section, Garcia unleashes a searing solo in the middle of Scarlet. This was fortuitous because there is no Scarlet transition jam to speak of. Donna wailed away a bit as Phil and the drummers tinkered with the Scarlet theme. It became apparent that they were completely abandoning Scarlet on this occasion for a full out assault on Fire on the Mountain. The music came to a complete one second stop before Phil explosively led the band into Fire. Jerry proceeded to run wild with a striking instrumental followed by the band restating the irresistible two chord groove. Not satisfied, Garcia unloads with another torrid instrumental before stepping up to sing. That five minute opening is the definitive start to any Fire, and one of two special highlights from this show. Overall, it’s No Cornell, but the Chicago Fire of 1977 might be second best of the year.
For the third straight night the second set began with Samson and Delilah. After singing the final “If I had my way,” Bertha immediately appeared like it was shot out of a cannon. Another well played Estimated Prophet gaves way to a short drum interlude that was clearly a prelude to The Other One. Phil uncharacteristically missed an opportunity to drop his opening bombs as a loose psychedelic journey emerged. In no hurry and without a lot of conviction, our fearless leader (Jerry) went off on a reconnaissance mission and the band makes no real attempt to guide him back into The Other One. After 8 minutes of noodling, the jam started sounding like a Dark Star or Mind Left Body jam. Mesmerized by his creative journey, the rest of the band and audience just watched and listened. After 13 minutes, Garcia signaled for the rest of the band to jump into the Other One. It’s a beautiful piece of improvisation worthy of repeated listens.
A few more minutes of meandering led to a fine Stella Blue with a strong Goin’ Down the Road on its heels. It was Thursday night, but Weir opted for a joyless One More Saturday Night followed by a U.S. Blues encore. This show has a lot of character with some standout highlights and was better than the previous night. However, as far as May 1977 is concerned, these Chicago concerts are the least impressive. That says a lot for the quality of music the Dead were outputting. The next five concerts are immense.
5-12-77…Chicago Auditorium Theatre
Opening night in the Windy City starts with a romping Bertha complete with a spry solo from Jerry. A large part of this set is forgettable due to a pedestrian set list and a sub par bassy audience recording with a lot of hooting and hollering. The last two songs of the set made this a worthwhile listen. I caught my first Mississippi Half Step of this retrospective tour. In typical ’77 fashion it smoked with an outstanding final jam courtesy of Jerry. A unique Dancin’ in the Streets with intriguing shifts in tempo closes out the set.
Samson/ Brown Eyed Women/ Estimated was pretty good in St. Paul, I certainly didn’t need to hear these same second set openers on consecutive nights. The Samson had some extra kick. The set proceeded with Donna singing Sunrise, WTF??? I was excited to hear my first Terrapin Station, although it went by in a flash. Playin’ in the Band brought the promise of some wild jamming. Those ideas were squashed when the band aborted the mission quickly for a drum solo. The lack of creative song choice continued with Not Fade Away>Comes a Time>Playin’. This seemed to be the best performed part of the show, but that’s where the audience recording really starts screwing up. The tape that was transferred must have been warped as serious speed and pitch problems interfered with my enjoyment of those tunes.
I’d love to hear good quality of the Half Step, Dancin’ and NFA>Comes a Time>Playin’ because I’m filing these CDs back into my storage facility permanently. Even on an off night, there are still a couple two, three gems here.
Dancin in the Streets 5-12-77 mp3http://visionsofdylan.com/mp3s/dance5-12
5-11-77… St Paul Civic Arena…St. Paul, Minnesota
With a herd of anxious freaks in hot pursuit, the Dead set up camp in the Midwest, after being ensconced in the East for a 14 show stint. They name checked several U.S cities during the opening Promised Land, but finally pinned their location as Weir sang, “ I met her accidentally in St Paul, Minnesota,” during an early appearance from Big River in the third spot. The first five songs had a pleasant aura surrounding them as the boys prepared for an unprecedented conclusion to the set.
About four years ago I acquired this St Paul show. I listened to it two or three times before filing it away until now. I was stunned by how good the rest of this set is starting with robust versions of Ramble on Rose and Jack Straw in succession. Probably the best version of Peggy O to date followed. Garcia really nailed a stand out solo. Marty Robbin’s El Paso was the next appetizer as I was getting road weary just listening to this set - New York, Wichita, Detroit, Santa Fe, Cheyenne, Tulsa, on and on it went. To compliment the country and traditional tunes, they followed with a rousing Hunter/ Garcia gem, Deal, to wrap up this slice of Americana.
Phase three of the first set was a Garcia mind-melt showcase. Lazy Lightning/Supplication was a furious psychedelic treat with Lesh and Garcia improvising off of each other during a torrid Supplication jam. All portions of this musically arcane arrangement were executed with brisk precision. Lesh didn’t want stop as he ran through Supplication’s ending unleashing a spine-tingling bomb. You gotta love these 1977 first sets with all the new songs that were introduced or improved after the band reemerged from their year and a half hiatus/ retirement in 1976. One such tune that blossomed into maturity during 1977 was the following set closer Sugaree. This St. Paul version was not as long as the legendary versions from later in the month, but it was intense and a grand set closer. Checking in at around 14 minutes, the first two jams almost exclusively featured Garcia picking away in Helter Skelter fashion. A sensational set was in the books and an animated Lesh exclaimed,” We’re gonna take a short break, do whatever you want!”
Like the previous show in Buffalo, three stand alones opened the second set. Keith really tinkled the ivory during a tight Samson opener that was proceeded by uplifting presentations of Brown Eyed Women and Estimated, although I prefer the latter when it goes into another song.
The next three song shuffle, Scarlet>Fire>Good Lovin began and ended with a bang. Jerry was blistering along early in the Scarlet outro jam, but the band seemed fixated on going into Fire while Donna was still vocalizing Scarlet. That amazing transcendental playing from Cornell wasn’t recaptured. Most Scarlet>Fires from 1977 are a little disappointing and inferior to Cornell in every way. It wouldn’t be until 1978 that this combo would soar again on a regular basis. The band had a tendency to cut off Scarlet way too soon in ’77. Jerry jumped into Fire with some sweet instrumental leads before the signature slide melody. The rest of this Fire was short and lackluster. Thankfully, Good Lovin’ was there to save the day. I was surprised by the upbeat tempo and the excitement in Garcia’s solo. This is a completely different animal from the 80’s versions with the long Weir rap. Jerry is inspired and this version ends with a dramatic fanfare crescendo.
Uncle John’s Band kicks off phase three of set two (I like the way both sets break down into three neat phases, very symmetrical). Garcia’s fingers must have been dancing around the fret board like a spider hopped up on bennies. The playing was gripping, but the song went by quickly, so Garcia extended UJB with an exiting instrumental that segued into a 1974-like space jam. Playing almost exclusively solo, Jerry locked into a few minutes of brilliant blues and jazz riffs before unwinding into a relaxed Wharf Rat. Revving it up one more time for the faithful, a head-banging Around and Around was a satisfying conclusion. Around and Arounds from 1977 are a joy to listen to.
During the encore Jerry sang, “It’s time to leave this brokedown palace.” After this gig, I’m sure a lot of freaks decided to make the journey to Chicago for the next two-night stand, if it wasn’t already on their itinerary. This concert really surprised me; this retrospective journey I’m on is already paying dividends. 5-11-77 is a distinctive creation – a strange brew with inspirational performing. St. Paul ’77 will never be filed away in storage again.
Peggy O from St. Paul 5-11-77
5-9-77… War Memorial Auditorium…Buffalo, N.Y.
After a historic barnburner at Cornell, the Grateful Dead trucked up to Buffalo, land where the Deadheads roam. The beloved Help on the Way> Slipknot>Franklin’s Tower combo kick started the ceremony. The band was picture perfect, but Jerry didn’t step out on anything. His playing was adequate, although there was no super-charged Jerry moments like there are on 2-26-77, 4-23-77, 4-29-77 and 6-9-77, but just hearing that trifecta in the opening slot is a feather in this show’s cap.
This unique first set raced forth with well played favorites like Tennessee Jed and Brown Eyed Women, as well as including Cassidy and Peggy, two songs in their embryonic stages that would go on to become opening set dandies. The band even found time to squeeze Donna’s much maligned number, Sunrise, into the eleven song set. It was the best Sunrise ever, ho ho ho. In the eight spot, Johnny Cash’s Big River was a force to be reckoned with. The band really locked into a tight groove here and Garcia hit pay dirt with an extended blitzkrieg on the last instrumental.
Born in 1976, Music Never Stopped was an exciting breath of fresh air – a spunky good-time rocker. On 5-9-77, it took a quantum leap forward, maturing into a set ending tour de force. The concluding instrumental suddenly doubled in length and intensity. Later in the year Music would develop a two- tiered instrumental structure featuring a substantial building jam prior to the big finale. These early versions have very short developing jams, the emphasis was on the finale and this one in Buffalo blew the roof off the joint. Layer by layer Garcia increased the intensity with the band in hot pursuit. Without redundancy, Jerry’s guitar playing was a tornado of ideas. There aren’t many better examples to illuminate Jerry’s rock-and-roll prowess. This is a must listen – there’s an mp3 of this frenetic masterpiece for your pleasure at the end of this mini-review. If you get a copy of this show, make sure you get either an audience recording or a soundboard with an audience patch. A widely circulating version of this show is missing 45 of the greatest seconds of Garcia’s career during that MNS. If you’re version of 5-9-77 fits the MNS on the first CD and times out at 79:58, you need to upgrade to hear the real deal.
Set two opens with Bertha>Good Lovin’ and Ship of Fools. I like those three jingles individually, but that’s scraping the bottom of the barrel as far as commencing on a second set expedition is concerned. The dull triple shot opening was performed in a comatose trance, things could only get better and they did with a powerful Estimated Prophet. A rejuvenated Garcia explored the exiting jam for all its psychedelic possibilities and linked it to the Other One. Those songs made a fine connection and should have been hooked up for many more return engagements. The instrumental leading to the first verse was effective. After Weir did his vocal bit, Jerry seemed to be keen on jamming as he pecked away on some nice riffs. Unfortunately, the band decided to let Billy and Mickey have an unnecessary drum solo that killed the momentum.
Although it lacked the prior night’s explosiveness, a well played Not Fade Away emerged from the percussion segment. It melted into the perfect choice of the moment, Comes A Time. The band’s energy level was running on empty, so they turned to Jerry to deliver a poignant ballad and he came through in spades. The Captain sang his heart out with a concise piercing guitar solo in between. A well developed outro-jam gave way to a Sugar Magnolia which was the make or break song of the set. If it were rip-roaring, I would have to pay homage to this set. It flopped, big time. A great choice for an encore, Uncle John’s Band, was mediocre. This set had a lot of potential, but after three consecutive torrid affairs in New Haven, Boston, and Ithaca, they were out of gas. If you combine the first set of 5-9-77 with the second set of 5-8-77, you have the perfect beast.
Nusic Never Stopped 5-9-77 Audience Recordinghttp://visionsofdylan.com/mp3s/music5-9