Mydland’s Hammond B-3 organ and superb backing vocals energized the band. During his era, there were minimal creative innovations for the Dead, and there was a limited amount of new original songs compared to the abundance of new compositions from the Keith era. Although, this had nothing to do with the change at keyboards. With the help of John Perry Barlow, Mydland contributed seven new tunes to the Dead’s last three studio efforts. However, Brent is best remembered for his live contributions during his eleven-year run which ended with a fatal drug overdose on July 26, 1990.
The Spartan Stadium show on 4-22-79 is a solid performance and extended workout as the band introduced Brent to standard material. They played twenty-four songs, four more than the average for the year. The biggest surprise of the night was the double encore of “U.S. Blues” followed by a crisp performance of “Shakedown Street.” The overall sound was more synthesized, but the rest of the band seemed unaffected by the change, carrying on as if it were just another show. Brent’s vocals and Hammond B-3 blended in effortlessly, although it took some Keith fans years to get used to Brent, and some were never fond of his sound at all.
After an I Need a Miracle > Bertha > Good Lovin’ set two opening, Scarlet > Fire is the hottest performance from Brent’s debut. The “Scarlet” outro fizzled prematurely into “Fire,” and it was here that Brent and Jerry bonded as the intro jam materialized. Garcia boiled, bobbed and weaved on the swishing cushioned mounds of Brent’s organ sound. The mingling of the Mu-Tron III filter and the Hammond B-3 added an extra dimension to one of the band’s great rhythmic numbers. Two years earlier on this same day, the Dead performed their first spectacular version of “Fire.”
“Fire on the Mountain” was born on the wings of a “Scarlet” transition in the Winterland Arena on 3-18-77. It was next played at the first show of the legendary East Coast spring tour in the Philadelphia Spectrum on 4-22-77. This second “Fire” is superior to the rag-tag Winterland debut. There’s an irresistible magic in the rhythm of “Fire” which was adapted from Mickey Hart’s “Happiness Is Drumming.” It’s as if the Dead discovered the heartbeat of the universe, and they are the only ones who could tap into it.
The band’s sucked into a vortex of sonic rapture as they surge into the 4-22-77 “Fire.” Jerry’s in Mu-Tron heaven as Phil and the drummers have the pumping/pulsing beat on lockdown. Keith didn’t play much synthesizer, but he’s playing one in Philly, and the sound creates a surreal vibe. It takes five minutes for Garcia to get to the first verse, yet the instrumental is so exciting and raw that it could have gone on for an hour without getting redundant. Jerry flubs the lyrics during the second verse, but this is a splendid “Fire,” one of the best of ’77, although nothing compares to the Cornell “Fire” two weeks later.
Set two of 4-22-77 forges ahead with a gritty “Samson and Delilah.” for Philly. A dreamy “It Must Have Been the Roses” eases the tension prior to the rocking soulful funk of “Dancin’ in the Street.” Garcia noodles and doodles over a relentless rhythm that’s has all the tenacious qualities of a southpaw Philadelphia boxer. In the middle of this instrumental workout, there’s a subtle shift in the chord sequence and Weir sings a few verses of “Got My Mojo Working,” the first of three Dead versions of “Howlin’ Wolf’s classic. The set concludes with a sensational one time pairing of originals: The Wheel > Terrapin Station. The majestic “Terrapin Refrain” makes for an unforgettable conclusion to any evening of music. Maybe that’s why there’s no encore on 4-22-77.
One of the most underrated shows from this venerated year, 4-22-77 has a sprawling and glorious “Mississippi Half Step” in the second hole of the first set. Despite an early vocal flub, a seductive ragtime feel emerges, and then the band slams down the hammer prior to the “Rio Grande” verse. “Half Step” would continue to blossom making it one of the definitive masterpieces of ’77. “Estimated Prophet” shines mid-set, and a heavy and dark “Playin’ in the Band” closes the set. This another exceptional chapter in the legacy of Grateful Dead magic in the Philadelphia Spectrum.
Big arena East Coast shows brought the beast out of the Dead. Another hotbed for Garcia and mates was the New Haven Coliseum, where they played on 4-22-83. “Feel Like a Stranger” launches the show, and Weir annunciates an animated rap in perfect cadence and rhyme: “I don’t know about you, maybe you feel like a stranger too…(Feel like a stranger) Some nights everything just gets stranger and stranger…(Feel like a Stranger) Like a stranger. Sometimes maybe there’s just a little element of danger.” Everything Jerry, Brent, and Bob threw at the round robin singalong sounded sweet—improvisational vocal magic. And the funky, layered jam resolved itself with a smooth landing.
I was at the show on 4-22-83 and it was exhilarating to catch “Birdsong” in the second spot. An unexpected highlight was Garcia’s Clapton-like solo in “C.C. Rider.” This smoldering jam arises without warning. This is the only “C.C. Rider” that knocked my socks off in the moment.
Phil’s bass rumbles the coliseum during a late set “Cold Rain and Snow.” “My Brother Esau,” a Weir tune that was debuted a month earlier, is maturing, although it will always remain one of the weirdest songs the band has ever played. “Esau” didn’t make it on to In the Dark, but an outtake of the song was added to cassette tape releases of the album. Garcia molests the fretboard during a typically strong 1983 “Deal” to close the opening set in New Haven.
Help on the Way > Slipknot! Franklin’s, which was played on the East Coast for the first time in six years at the start of this tour, opens set two. It’s a crisp and energetic presentation. The band has ironed out most of the creases, and they would tee off on future versions over the next two years. “Franklin’s” surges into “Samson and Delilah.” After Drums, “Truckin’” segues into the first appearance of “Spoonful” since 10-15-81 Amsterdam. I hadn’t listened to 4-22-83 in decades because it was just an average show from that tour. This performance in New Haven delivers more than looking at the setlist would lead you to believe.
For more on April 22 including the 1969 show in The Ark, check out Deadology