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Wednesday, December 7

Since 30 shows in a Month, We've Decided to Trim that down to One a Week. Today starts with 6-11-76, Boston Music Hall

In 1976, the Grateful Dead had resumed touring with a new album under their belts and a returning drummer at their backs. They always showed up to play in Boston and tonight was no exception.
The band was easing back into touring in the spring of 76' after taking off the only year in their career. Not that Jerry stopped playing but the band all took some time off after the massive tour with the Wall of Sound and the death of Rex "Ramrod" Jackson. There were a few shows in 1975, including the famous one caught and released on "One from the Vault" but mostly it was a hiatus for most of the band. They came roaring back with a new album and the return of Mickey. You couldn't tell by this show though. This might be the mellowest, well-played, dynamic show of their career. Nothing was over-played but they still played the shit out of every song they played. Starting strong with "Might as Well" you can tell Phil is out there ready to play from the word go. That strong 77' sound was in it's infancy and you could hear it developing all through this show. Especially, the "Scarlet Begonias", that came up later. This show has always been a personal favorite, out of all the incarnations and songs and transmutations the band went through, this one captured a snapshot of the band at the genesis of what most would consider their creative peak during 1977.  
This is the first tour since the regrouping and an innocence and joy shines through the playing. Each song is a joyous rendition that even makes the bum notes bring a smile to your face. There weren't many but the rust was still coming off. Every song starts somewhere and the peaks of 77' all begin with the awkward adolescence of the first time they tried to play them. There were no big bust outs but the pacing and the flow of this show is a snapshot on where they were headed. They had been through the 68-69' era lysergic-era when everything dripped into everything else. This show highlights the band's growth where they could find those spaces on purpose without stumbling upon them in an Owsley haze. The "Candyman" is a perfect example of a meditative version of the song that could either peel the paint off the walls or worm it's way into your head and make you a believer of every word Jerry sang.  The "Scarlet Begonias" might have been the point where the band all finally decided tonight was going to be one of "those"nights. Phil, for one was perfecting the bass runs that would become such a distinctive part of the 77' Scarlets and the show just picked up from there. Bobby delivered a beautiful LL Rain which was followed by Jerry's gorgeous "It Must Have Been the Roses" and the first set was just a taste of what was to come up next.
Starting what I call the "S" portion of the show, ala' Phish, is one of the smoothest, close to the vest versions of St. Stephen ever played. Everyone was just exactly perfect but this is what a mature version would sound like and Keith makes some musical choices that just make it sound perfect. Even Donna fits in perfectly. The second set really starts swinging when Jerry asks " What would be the answer to the answer man?" Well, apparently the answer is "Dancing in the 'S'treet" and after a strong disco-style opening the house got rocking. After almost twelve minutes of jamming out Dancin' they swung into the newly-written "Music Never Stopped" and it still is a rockin' version but it is in it's infancy and shows hints at how much they could stretch it out even if this version is a little truncated. They slowed the pace down with a note-perfect, "'S'hip of Fools" that made the slow tempo of the song just drip with the pathos of a man stuck on a journey of motley fools. The tempo of the song was just another show of dynamic mastery that Jerry gained from playing with jazz and soul greats during his stints at his JGB or Reconstruction gigs in 75'. It was a perfect way to hold your attention while slowing down the pace for what comes next. Even though I hold the " 'S't. Stephen, in high regard, the show took flight and never landed once the band hit the opening notes of " 'S'amson and Delilah", which was another song that was a new-ish addition to the repertoire and grew in front of our eyes. It had the same beat but it still had yet to grow into the beast it would when Jerry added those famous opening licks. In this version he plays a wonderful jazzy solo but neither him nor Bobby had found the opening licks that would turn this song into a Sunday monster. Jerry begged not to reveal his identity in a long, slowly building "'S'ugaree" that the band is still pushing out of adolescence into the versions that would tear down roofs. Even though they had been playing this one for awhile, they still attacked it in the jazzy style of the rest of the show. Up next, the "'S'ugar Magnolia" gets a rockin' little solo to open it up instead of the chord figures that would end so many shows later in their career. This short version that rolls into an epic "Eye'S' of the World" shows Phil at his finest, playing lead bass. They fully explore the tune waiting until the eleven-minute mark to start the third verse, they let the drummers run wild and the whole band is firing on all cylinders. It's a wonderful way to melt into the show's penultimate song, " 'S'tella Blue", which Jerry slays like a giant. His fresh-as-a-daisy voice takes its' time and his playing isn't rushed and it's a beautiful eleven-minute gem before Bobby takes back over for the coda and show-stopping, "'S'unshine Daydream". The band comes back for an encore of "Johnny B. Goode", ending the "S" theme and allowing the band to leave it all on stage with an old-fashioned rave up of the Chuck Berry classic. If you listen to this show and find it boring or unenjoyable, I don't know what to tell you. I feel like this is the Grateful Dead playing some of their very best, most vital and creative music of their career. I think you'll agree if you strap on the headphones and dim the lights. The next night ain't bad either!

Greg Heffelfinger

Boston Music Hall

First Set:
Might as Well
Mama Tried
Tennessee Jed
Big River
Scarlet Begonias>
Looks Like Rain
It Must Have Been the Roses
Lazy Lightning>
Brown-Eyed Women
Promised Land

Set Two:
St. Stephen>
Dancin' in the Streets>
The Music Never Stopped>
Samson and Delilah
Ship of Fools
Sugar Magnolia>
Eyes of the World>
Stella Blue>
Sunshine Daydream

Johnny B. Goode

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