Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Album Review: The Grateful Dead - Dave's Picks 29: 2/26/77 Swing Aud.

The Grateful Dead
Dave's Picks 29
2/26/77 Swing Auditorium San Bernardino, CA
****and1/2 out of *****

The Dave's Picks series is continuing the tradition started by Dick Latvala with his Dicks Picks Series and just by process of elimination there are less hidden gems as things progress. Dave Lemieux has picked a few shows which fans have known very well and "officially" released them. 2/26/77 from the Swing Auditorium is one of those well known nights as it is historical in Dead history being the first show played in their landmark year of 1977. It is a deservedly well loved show containing the debut of two major numbers, "Terrapin Station" and "Estimated Prophet".   

Personally, this show was one of the early highlights of our Grateful Fandom as it contains a few personal favorite versions of songs, the playing was a touch more energetic and the quality of the tape was top notch. It was a "Betty Board" from Betty Cantor-Jackson, and this release is culled form that same source, souped up to blare out of high end 2019 and beyond speakers. Needless to say the quality of the sound here is fantastic as Dave Lemieux and his team have succeeded wonderfully.

This is not a perfect Dead show, there are flubs and oddities, however newer fans can certainly enjoy the offering, and the uniqueness of set-list and high energy from the band about to unleash new tunes on the crowd makes this historical night a great entry into this series.

Opening with the debut of "Terrapin Station" (who would see and official studio release that summer), the band works their way through it with some missteps, but never again would the titanic tune kick off a show and the band wanted to showcase their new baby (flaws and all) right from the start. While lead guitarist/singer Jerry Garcia may have missed a few lines and he was in fine for this night (and the for the bonus material as well) energized to be showcasing new material and back out where he belonged, on stage.

The other debut of the first set was the Bob Weir led "Estimated Prophet" which would be played at every single show in 1977 (checks notes) well I guess it just felt like it was...Not to say this is a bad song, far from it, one of the best of the Weir/Barlow duo ever produced, the band loved to play it often. It's first airing here is a tight, much quicker version then what would follow as the band speed up the soon to be languid groove.

Outside of the debuts the first set is highlighted by a meaty rendition of "New Minglewood Blues" which cooks with energy and a gorgeous version of "Sugaree" finding the band hitting on all cylinders with three musical breaks. The closing combo of "Playing in the Band > The Wheel > Playing in the Band" is one of our favorite Dead live segues as it manages to combine the perfect blend of jazz and rock, it is exploratory with bassist Phil Lesh holding the center before a heartfelt "Wheel" surprise middle. 

Continuing the personal favorite them comes 2nd set opener "Samson and Delilah" and this just may be our favorite version of the tune and it is because of the excellent drumming of Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann. The energy of this one with Donna Jean Godchaux and Weir hitting the right notes vocals make it a standout.

The mid set "Help on the Way>Slipknot>Franklin's Tower" gets mentioned a lot but it is not your typical joyous affair, the Slipknot section in particular is dark and searching and Jerry continues that motif into "Franklin's Tower" taking a bit of time before kicking the song up to celebratory levels. It is an interesting ride and more nuanced then some other versions.

This show does have something for everyone as a quick Chuck Berry "Promised Land" cover leads into a relaxed Eyes of the World > Dancing In the Streets" which has Garcia's leads finding cosmic bliss before funky dance laden chunking but it is the ominous bass lead which Lesh delivers which is the true standout bridging the gap between the two tunes; Phil was loud this whole show.

The show wraps up with a second Chuck Berry cover "Around and Around" which is disjointed, super mellow to start before shifting mid-song into a (literal) screaming upbeat jaunt and a "U.S. Blues" encore. This Dave's Picks also includes selections from the following night which push this release over the top.

The 2/27/77 bonus material from Santa Barbara add even more levels to the groups sound with a sensationally powerful "Morning Dew" coming directly out of the second ever "Terrapin Station" with some fine work from Keith Godchaux, Garcia and Lesh. A great grooving "Sugar Magnolia" and a revved up third Berry cover, "Johnny B Goode" close this excellent installment of Dave's picks, one any fan, new or old, of the band should own.   
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