Friday, June 7, 2019


                                          42nd Anniversary of the June ’77 Winterland Shows

            Six nights after the release of The Grateful Dead movie, the band returned to the scene of the footage, the Winterland Ballroom. The first set of 6-7-77 is a perky presentation, although it’s only eight songs in length (no, I don’t count the “Funiculi Funicula” tuning as a song). The set was plagued by technical difficulties, but that kind of thing never derailed a ‘77 show before. A lackluster Scarlet > Fire kicks off the second frame. The Cornell version seems like it happened in another lifetime. The first sign of exceptional playing comes during the bluesy outro jam of “He’s Gone,” the sixth tune of the set.
“Samson and Delilah” is a rocker that doesn’t vary much performance to performance, and it’s not easy to distinguish or rate different versions. This 6-7-77 “Samson” materializes out of drums on a mission. Garcia extends and smokes the opening passage as if he can singlehandedly transform this mediocre show into gold. The mighty “Samson” is followed by a call to the gods, “Let my inspiration flow in token rhyme suggesting rhythm, that will not forsake me till my tale is told and done.” Many in the crowd are still not familiar with “Terrapin Station,” yet the anthem is rendered with the utmost confidence.
“Terrapin Station” winds down and rolls into the Holy Grail, “Morning Dew.” This is the last “Dew” of ‘77, and it’s the final Terrapin > Dew ever. Garcia’s not messing around as he shreds the mid-song solo—kinetic energy compressed in a succession of shrill notes. Billy, Mickey, and Phil simulate a musical heart attack, pumping away as they keep pace with Garcia. It’s the best opening solo of the ’77 “Dews.” Great versions have distinguishing characteristics, and another tell-tale sign of the 6-7-77 “Dew” is that Jerry only sings “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway” once before the ballistic ending. Jerry’s calling the shots and escalating the urgency of the jam. It’s as inspired as it is technically flawless. In rolling climax mode, the band chases Jerry in unified waves. It’s a brilliant “Dew” all the way, and it challenges the Cornell version for ‘77 supremacy and bragging rights.
The wheel of momentum spins into “Around and Around.” It’s a captivating version—a joint-jumping, bone-crushing ride. The intensity of the first encore, “Uncle John’s Band,” is riveting. I read an Internet review where a critic points out that Jerry’s guitar is horribly out of tune on this encore. I can’t argue with that observation, but regardless, that strange tuning gives this “Uncle John’s Band” distinction. The amazing post-drum barrage concludes with “U.S. Blues.” This chapter from the Grateful Dead playbook is a textbook example of how to salvage a shaky show with a fabulous finale.
The second Winterland affair opens with an aggressive “New Minglewood Blues.” The drumming is intense, and there’s an ornery tone to Garcia’s guitar that hints of the madness to come. The band’s ready to rumble, and fortuitously, they play “Sugaree.” It’s amazing to consider the transformation this number had undergone since the ‘74 Winterland run. A tight Hunter/Garcia ballad developed a monster jam that defined the Grateful Dead during their most fabled year of performing.
Garcia opens the initial foray with a fine assortment of licks. It sounds like he may run amok, but he reins in his garrulous guitar and sings, “You thought you was the cool fool, never could do no wrong.” Keith leads the boys into the second siege with elegant piano strokes. The group builds a sturdy “Sugaree” foundation as Garcia cuts loose with screaming notes followed by the slicing and dicing of blazing fanning. If this were a prize fight, a referee would have stepped in to stop it. Garcia does a masterful job of shifting gears to keep things from becoming repetitive. In one scene he’s digging ditches in the valley, and with the next segment of the jam he’s dancing on the mountains of the moon. The Dead ride the wave as long as possible, and the Winterland erupts as it concludes. The third jam is subdued, a soothing balm.
Sparks are still flying from “Sugaree” as “Mexicali Blues” begins. The rest of the first set is an intriguing listen, thanks to a lineup with unusual song placement: “Row Jimmy,” Passenger,” “Sunrise,” “Brown-Eyed Women,” “It’s All Over Now,” Jack-A-Roe,” Lazy Lightning > Supplication. Set two kicks in with a frisky “Bertha.” The Winterland is treated to their first Estimated > Eyes. In the L.A. Forum, the band consciously steps up the tempo of “Not Fade Away,” and on 6-8-77, they consciously slow down “Eyes of the World,” making it a distinctive nineteen-minute version. The nonverbal communication between band members is remarkable. Taking chances has always been a Grateful Dead virtue, and sometimes that adventurism brought about failure. In May and June of ‘77 it was almost all risk and reward. The second Winterland gig ends with another spiraling post-drums ride: The Other One > Wharf Rat > Not Fade Away > Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad > Johnny B. Goode.
Everything was lined up perfectly for the final show at the Winterland on 6-9-77. Now it was up to the Grateful Dead to play the songs that they’d yet to break out during this California stint. On this Saturday night, Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” was the number one song in the land, and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors topped the album charts. These were glorious days for popular music. In the world of boxing, on June 9, 1977, Larry Holmes won a decision over Ken Norton to capture the WBC Heavyweight crown, and on the same day, ex-Beatle George Harrison and Patti Harrison got divorced. In the Winterland Ballroom on June 9, there were no hassles or squabbles, just music, sweet music filling the air—a performance that is one of the undisputed heavyweight shows of the year.
It all begins with “Mississippi Half Step Uptown Toodeloo.” The music thunders and gives off a warm glow at the same time. Sloppiness is not an option as the band surges forward. Garcia unleashes a tremendous final solo as his mates feed off the inspiration. A great start is chased by “Jack Straw” from Wichita, probably the best ‘77 version to date. The bar has been set high, but as the Grateful Dead run through a set that includes “They Love Each Other,” “Cassidy,” “Sunrise,” “Deal,” “Looks Like Rain,” and “Loser,” everything is album worthy, and Garcia’s in the moment with each solo. The set-ending “Music Never Stopped” is hotter than kung pao chicken, and the best is yet to come.
A slamming “Samson and Delilah” kicks off set two. It’s not as wild as the one two nights earlier, but it’s a potent rocker. Nothing on this night wanders aimlessly, yet there’s an abundance of satisfying improvisation. The sonic landscape is dynamic and dominant—it’s the beginning of a new era for the Grateful Dead as they conquer a new generation of fans without alienating the old guard. This isn’t easy to do. Just ask Bob Dylan; although in his case, he wasn’t keen on building bridges or mending fences with critics or fans. He mastered the art of challenging his audiences. The Grateful Dead clearly shifted their playing philosophy after the hiatus, but the change was subtle enough not to offend their loyal fan base, although the band could almost do no wrong in the eyes of Deadheads.
Following “Samson and Delilah,” Weir announces, “Our highly efficient and trained crack equipment team is busy at work making sure everything is just exactly perfect.” This is good news for fans of the “Funiculi Funicula” tuning. In the divine scheme of things, if everything happens for a reason, then “Funiculi Funicula” was born for this moment. The instrumental’s buoyant and carefree, and it’s obvious the band’s getting off, and everybody in the Winterland has a happy heart. Technical difficulties never sounded so sweet. The little waltz winds down and Weir proclaims, “Ladies and gentleman, we have a winner.” Indeed! 6-9-77 wouldn’t be the same without the “Funiculi Funicula” bridge between “Samson” and the beloved Blues For Allah opener.
“Help on the Way” kicks in like a heart skipping a beat—soulful anticipation full of promise rings sharply—jazzy riffs pound—Paradise waits. On a crest of a wave her angels in flame. This “Help On The Way” is as good as it gets, and then the “Slipknot!” ascension begins. Jerry, Bobby, Phil, Keith, Mickey, and Billy dart off to lands where only jazz legends roam: Coltrane, Miles, Monk. This summertime Winterland exploration is metallic and dark, a spiritual voyage linked to something past but not forgotten—the continuation of an eternal jam. The ghosts of Coltrane seem to find their way into every “Slipknot!” I envision Coltrane in a dark suit blowing his horn through a smoky haze in a dimly lit lounge on 52nd Street. Suddenly, we’re back in the Winterland Ballroom and the Dead are whipping through the intricate transition to “Franklin’s Tower.” No band delights in a segue like these guys, and this segue is July 4th fireworks and the New Year’s Eve countdown rolled into one. The ensuing “Franklin’s” is a seventeen-minute breakout aerobics session. That 1974 Winterland crowd from The Grateful Dead movie got weird with the best of them, but the dancing and spinning must have been outrageous on 6-9-77. Garcia’s singing is hyped towards the end: “I want you to roll away the dew. Yoouuuu better roll away the dew. Come on come on rollaway the dew!”
“Estimated Prophet” ignites the next segment with nuclear efficiency. Garcia scuba-dives through Lake Paradise during the Rasta/jazz outro. “Estimated” and “Slipknot!” are cousins ignited by the same muse. Jerry’s absorbed in the sonic sensations—the jam gets out there…too far gone to return. “Estimated” travels through time and space until it shakes hands with the past, “St. Stephen.” The transition is smooth and exquisitely understated. The intro explodes and extends. Garcia and crew skid down an icy runway in command, and wildly out of control at the same time. The first two solos are brazen and longer than usual. In Cornell, a standalone “Estimated” is followed by “St. Stephen.” This Estimated > St. Stephen hook-up is outstanding—a cosmic connection that should have happened more often. “St. Stephen” dives into “Not Fade Away,” and things heat up pretty good until the drummers change the flow with raging percussions.
The “St. Stephen” reprise materializes out of drums, but it lacks the creative noodling and suspense of the Cornell reprise. A brisk “Terrapin Station” pops out of “St. Stephen.” The true tenderness of the anthem isn’t captured here, yet the power of the instrumentation is stunning—the almighty ‘77 hammer pounds away during the “Terrapin” refrain. “Sugar Magnolia” is the final destination of this express train. Totally drained, the Grateful Dead still manage to give up a double encore of “U.S. Blues” and “One More Saturday Night.” The energy of “U.S. Blues” is unreal, like a victorious warship rushing home through peaceful waters. The Grateful Dead delivered a fantasy set list for the ages—ballads and dirges never had a chance.
I never acquired a copy of 6-9-77 during my hardcore touring days. I picked up a three-CD bootleg of this show at Jack’s Rhythms in New Paltz, New York, sometime in the mid-‘90s. It was the first time I paid for a Dead bootleg since I forked over seven dollars for my first BASF tape of Englishtown. I enthusiastically embraced the new technology of 6-9-77, my first bootleg CD. The ability to jump to a given song without rewinding, fast forwarding, or flipping a tape was awesome. With the twenty-first century came days of miracle and wonder. With a few taps of a keyboard, any Deadhead can access and download, or stream, just about any Dead show. If someone asked me what ‘77 Grateful Dead was all about, I’d advise them to get 6-9-77. I’m not suggesting it is, or isn’t, the best show of the year, it’s just that this performance best embodies the unrelenting professionalism and muscular sound of ‘77—that bulldozer effect. And 6-9-77 is a snapshot into the future, a blueprint for the way the band wanted things to be; except the future rarely sounded this vibrant again.

DEADOLOGY:: The 33 Essential Dates of Grateful Dead History.

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