When talk turns to the great years of the Grateful Dead's career for some reason 1976 gets overlooked, and I am guilty of this as well, having done this Monday Dead project for half the year so far and not posting a single show from that year. Well I am fixing my mistake by posting my favorite show from that year, June 14th 1976
People can argue over favorites from different years, and 1976 has some other top contenders, such as the excellent New Years Eve show they recently released or the Boston Music Hall only a few days before this show presented today, and both of those are superb, but my money is on this show from uptown in my home city at the Beacon.
This is a peach of a SBD recording and you couldn't possibly get better quality. By the way if you want a whole bunch of SBD's from 1976 head over here...While they only played 41 shows in 1976 it wasn't about quantity, it was about quality and today's show has it all. A great tight first set is highlighted by an excellent "Cold Rain and Snow" opener. I gotta admit this is one of my favorite ways for the boys to kick off a night of tunes and this version is crisp clear and satisfying. Bobby covering Merle Haggard's "Mamma Tried" is a winner, and here is the original for comparison:
A sweet and Long "Row Jimmy" works wonders as does the short "Cassidy" which contains some really unique bass notes and runs from Phil. Donna is also very upfront in this mix, but she does nothing to take away from the tunes and enhances them greatly with her supporting vocals.
The unique phrasing of "Lazy Lighting > Supplication" catches me off guard all the time, and I usually dislike it, but it works well here as does "Tennessee Jed" which lopes along until Garcia's cutting solo to end the tune. This solo has a different sort of sound and feel to it thanks to his playing of the custom made Travis Bean in 1976:
As dozin' points out the guitar was played by Jerry for the first part of 1976 was a Travis Bean TB500 w/single-coil pickups and an FX loop. Things stayed tightly wrapped in the first set until the huge "Playin' In The Band" that ends the set clocking in at almost 20 minutes with the fellas and chica dribbling all over the place going in separate directions, barely holding together; this is jazz rock personified. Billy and Mickey ride the cymbals as guitar lines seem to ring out from nowhere and everywhere at once. When they come back together around the 17 minute mark, it is almost as if they wanted to keep it spaced out and only reluctantly return before the set-break.
While the first set was good, the second set is even better, containing a few tunes that via for "best of" consideration. Starting things off in a really cool way, out pops a set opening "The Wheel", in fact I am not sure if ever opened a set any other show...will do some more research on that, but I couldn't find out, either which way it is rare, cool and a harbinger for excitement to follow.
The Rhythm Section gets a funky work out with the "Samson and Delilah" that bounces out, Phil again showing some intense dexterity on the bass. Next comes "High Time" and this just may be the definitive performance of this majestic tune. Pristine vocals, Donna again contributes but doesn't over power, smooth playing by Keith on keys and swelling crescendos make this a great listen and one of the best versions the band ever played. "The Music Never Stopped" is a good work through, and there is an easy majesty to "Crazy Fingers" highlighted by the fluid jam at 7 minutes in that morphs into an almost "Spanish Jam" around the 10 minute mark before the "Drums> Dancin' In the Streets".
Hey lookie here, someone made a Youtube Clip of "Cosmic Charlie" from this show:
The group brought this tune back into the fold briefly in 1976 so it is fun to have this version to check out, especially the nifty guitar work from Jerry, a rare tune played swimmingly.
Perhaps not as swimmingly as what comes next though, with another song suite in the running for the "best ever" label..."Help On The Way> Slipknot!>Franklins Tower". Phil again here is propulsive as are the drummers, even sprinkling in a cowbell. In reality this grouping of songs is what makes this show for me, sure everything else has been really great leading up to this, but with the flaring of Keith's keys, Jerry's strong leads and Phils backing you have a champion 25+ minutes of music. "Slipknot!" in particular gets jammed out all over the place making you forget just what song you are listening too before it crashes back into its familiar riffs then motors into the glorious "Franklin's Tower" that just keeps building upon itself. This is some great live music...alive in the moment.
The band in October 1976The "Around and Around" and "US Blues" that end the set and make up the encore are really just icing on the cake of this fantastic show. Give this one a listen to ease into your Monday and enjoy some of the best playing of a sometimes overlooked year. Do you have a favorite 1976? Feel free to let me know.