The Grateful Dead have Numerous "Historic" Shows but the Whole Month of May was a Highlight Reel.

  The Grateful Dead have Numerous "Historic" Shows but the Whole Month of May was a Highlight Reel.

The Grateful Dead managed to rack up quite a few phrases that point to a specific sound in place and time. The Fillmore West, Harpur College, Europe 72', Alpine 89', Spring of 90', etc.. all immediately bring up a picture of the band and a sound to match. However, one towers above all others. Cornell 77', the holy of holies, in Dead mythology. However, the whole month of May was smoking hot and the "trinity" of 5-7 through 5-9 might be the pinnacle of the Spring tour. The band was truly beyond description and the new material from the soon-to-be-released album Terrapin Station had been coming to fruition. A special nod has to be given to the title track which the band had turned into an epic journey with symphonic overtones that the boys managed to turn into a psychedelic morality play that still stands today and is as provocative and mysterious as ever. There is some room for saying that the show from Ithaca was the best show of all time. There is a similar contingent that claims it's overrated. Still, the whole month, as well as the whole year, was just as on point as that show. 
The band was at what turned out to be the midpoint of their career. They had been together and touring steadily for twelve years. Excepting 1975, the band had been on the road steadily for more than a decade. They had reached the sweet spot of what is considered the maturation of a true band. The band of brothers that passed the acid tests together and toured Europe and played every dive and ballroom across the country had pulled out of the station and after taking a short time off was off and rolling. It pushed through the country in the spring of 1977. Each member was contributing and pushing the music forward and forever pulling the songs apart and trusting they would fall back together, as Bobby said, "just exactly perfect". The "Just Exactly Perfect Brothers Band" had been throwing heat all through April and into early May. The interpersonal demons that would tear holes in the group mind of the band hadn't fully made themselves manifest. Witness the trips through "New Minglewood Blues" that Bobby would rip out of his guts each time it came up. Or maybe the dollops of electricity that would roll across the stage as Jerry poured the effects on during "Dancing in the Streets" would make the show. Each night in May, there was a new band leader during each song and at the same time no guiding force but the songs alone, with the band hanging on for dear life as the music played the band. When Phil dropped those distinct runs during "Scarlet Begonias" it left jaws on the floor and Keith was still playing distinct runs of spun gold that decorated every version of "Terrapin Station". So, each night of the tour the whole band was playing as if their lives on were on their line. So luckily, we have the magic documented by the amazing Betty Cantor-Jackson for each night. Or maybe, the show was caught by a taper, the scenes' unsung heroes, that made the music more and more possible to share, with tacit permission or at least a blind eye by the band. Now that the band has finally seen fit to release the month of May, we can hear these shows in all their finery. However, I grew up on these tapes and they sounded just exactly perfect to me.

Sugaree 5-11-77

I might be a little biased because 5-11-77 is my birthday show. I was born to love May of 77'.

Written by:Greg Heffelfinger
Editor-at-large
GratefulMusic.com



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