The Grateful Dead Are That Good

The legendary Grateful Dead show from Barton Hall on the Cornell University campus in Ithaca, New York on May 8, 1977, sometime in the late evening, night even—is really great. And I’m thrilled to have all four shows of that May 1977 run, loving Buffalo, New Haven, Ithaca/Cornell, and Boston in that order. The sonics are astounding, the playing spot on, some of their best live vocals, a healthy handful of definitive performances. Gotta love the Good Old Grateful Dead.

You can also listen to fifty, maybe even a hundred shows between 1968 and 1973 that are just as good or better. Discover the excitement of a band so melodic, so expertly rhythmic, so soulful, with the aptly named Pigpen bringing an iconic earthiness, the band surprising themselves as much as the audience, spontaneity running amok in the musicalized concert community we’re suddenly belonging to, struggling for utopia, we’re doing a wriggly giggly dance with the band, with death, balancing perfectly on that tightrope, then starting to lose it, whoops, then hell falling off and crashing on the ground in an awkward heap of bones, awkward like a schoolboy’s dream of waking up in his 5th grade classroom in his underpants…and then climbing back up to the top and sailing that Spirit of Music right on to right off of the tightrope, shot from a cannon of the Wild Wild West into the galactic ether where abstract thought plays and laughs with the cosmos.

The Grateful Dead are that good.

May 5 Grateful Dead / New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum: best sound, mix, singing, perfect introduction to Dead live for those looking for a certain radio-friendly standard…Just a great opener, and a great intro for newbies to the Dead. The better of the two Scarlet>Fire’s on offer.

May 7 Grateful Dead / Boston Garden. I have issues with the sound of this room, it puts a reverb on the voice that compromises the sound of the singing. And they kind of fall off the horse/surfboard, but the fun of the Dead is hearing the heights they hit as they struggle back up the mountain (that’s right, THREE ill-matched metaphors). So there are some fabulous moments to be had here as well

May 8 Grateful Dead / Cornell Barton Hall. Very round sound, very perfect execution, very deliberate. Though I find it almost ponderous and indulgent in places. And Keith (whose playing everywhere else on this set is fantastic) dominating endless minutes of Scarlet Begonias with boring and annoying piano riffing. Redeemed by storming the gates with a St. Stephen > Not Fade Away > St. Stephen > Morning Dew for the ages.

May 9 Grateful Dead / Buffalo Memorial Auditorium. My favorite. The clamping down on Lesh, Kreutzman and Hart that I attribute to the Keith Olsen approach to recording Terrapin Station makes for some fine-sounding performances, and that discipline is on display throughout all four shows. But Lesh and the drums unleashed is a big part of what makes the Dead such an excitingly unpredictable band…and that wascally wabbit finally escapes his cage on this Buffalo show, which also means you get some warts and a few clunkers, but the great shit is great.

The beast is loose. Like Cornell it’s the final five or seven songs that the show builds to and climaxes beautifully. I was so excited to finally hear this era Dead do a great The Other One, and this show captures one of the very few great live performances of Comes a Time, a gorgeous song that really deserves to be on the top shelf of the Dead canon: great songwriting, and on this night great singing, fucking awesome and tender guitar solo…

Shep’s Faves from the Box

May 5 New Haven
1 Promised Land
2 Sugaree
3 Deal
4 Peggy-O
5 The Music Never Stopped 
6 Scarlet Begonias>
7 Fire On the Mountain>
8 Good Lovin’

May 7 Boston Gardens
1 New New Minglewood Blues
2 Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo>
3 Big River
4 Samson and Delilah
5 Estimated Prophet
6 Eyes Of The World>
7 Drums>
8 The Wheel (excerpt and fade)

May 8 Cornell
1 El Paso
2 They Love Each Other
3 Lazy Lightning>
4 Supplication
5 Brown-Eyed Women
6 St. Stephen>
7 Not Fade Away>
8 St. Stephen>
9 Morning Dew

May 9 Buffalo
1 Help On The Way>
2 Slipknot>
3 Franklin’s Tower
4 Mexicali Blues
5 Big River
6 (fade in the end of) Estimated Prophet>
7 The Other One>
8 Drums>
9 Not Fade Away>
10 Comes A Time>
11 Sugar Magnolia

…or you can read this version

http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/23168-may-1977-get-shown-the-light/

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