Well, the end of summer if finally here. Well, technically summer doesn’t end until September 21, but we here at Music Mook are more than ready to bid August adieu and ride out it’s final days in glorious splendor. And with that we bring you one of our biggest reviews ever: Grateful Dead – Winterland June 1977: The Complete Recordings. Because of the immensity of such a release we have to, no, we must, spread the review into three parts.
Winterland June 1977 compiles all three stellar nights, June 7, 8, and 9, spread across 9 discs, that the Dead played at the Winterland Ballroom in June of 1977, on the tail end of their monumental, legendary, and mind altering spring tour that climaxed in May with some of the greatest playing of their career. Several releases have highlighted the magic of May, all of which are essential, but none have presented anything quite like this. This release is the third of the “full run” boxes released in the past few years, the first two being the limited Fillmore West 1969 (now available in a 3 disc highlight set here) and the staggeringly amazing Winterland November 1973: The Complete Recordings.
As can be expected from almost any Grateful Dead release, especially 1977, is the absolutely amazing sound. But there’s something extra special about this one. Although still a mere 2 track recording the sound is almost studio quality in it’s pristine, crystal clear presentation. Special mention needs to be made of Betty Cantor Jackson who recorded these and countless other Dead shows. Her attention to detail and excellent choice of mixing is especially apparent here and her now famous “Betty boards” are legendary. Special mention also needs to be made of the band who delivers near flawless execution of the material, something that most fans regard as par for ’77 and as Bob Weir often says “just exactly perfect.”
The first night, June 7, is perhaps the most laid back of the run. Not to say it doesn’t cook, it does, but the boys seem to be taking their time and keeping things somewhat standard compared to the improvising insanity that was May of ’77. It’s almost as if they wanted to ease in, like an old man in a hot bath, to the three nights of awesome that was about to ensue. What starts as standard ’77 material in the first set of the first night quickly turns into riskier, more confident material as the night, and the 3 night stay, progresses.
Things kick off with a wonderfully lazy “Bertha” featuring a gorgeous Garcia solo that really sets the tone for the rest of the set, and perhaps even the night; things are laid back and in no real hurry. Throughout the rest of the first set we are treated to excellent versions of “Jack Straw,” “Peggy-O,” and a positively scorching version of “The Music Never Stopped,” which continually threatens to careen out of control but, thanks to the dexterity of ’77 Dead, manages to burn pure and bright.
The second set, disc 2, starts off with a somewhat tentative “Scarlet Begonias” but things quickly heat up during the transition jam into “Fire on the Mountain.” Although clocking in at a mere 9 minutes, and thus shorter than I crave, the jam itself is classic 1977 “Fire” with Jerry bringing some wonderfully mutated guitar tones to his leads. The band is especially nice here with bassist Phil Lesh providing some excellent framework throughout the jam. “Fire” transitions, surprisingly, into a calypso flavored “Good Lovin'” that surely got people up and dancing. An all too rare “Candyman” makes a much appreciated appearance, and a short but concise “Estimated Prophet” morphs into a beautiful “He’s Gone” that really picks up and takes off to the cosmos during the ending jam. The drummers, two in 1977, are really bringing the collective fire here and proceed to heat things up into a short but powerful “Drums” segment that closes out the disc.
Disc 3 picks up where “Drums” left off, spiraling into a scorching, rocking, and nearly out of control, “Samson & Delilah.” The entire band picks things up to such a degree it’s almost like they just woke up from some sort of collective dream (I’m probably not too far off in that assessment). The drums are pounding left and right while Jerry is bringing the house down with his sinuous leads. Incredible, incredible interplay between the musicians here, especially on a song I don’t normally get that excited about.
A beautiful “Terrapin Station” follows, providing much needed relief from the previous rock onslaught. The band is tight here, playing in a somewhat quicker tempo than usual although it works to the song’s advantage, and Jerry sounds especially inspired during the short leads between verses. The ending jam fades away like thunder in a passing storm and when the opening lines of “Morning Dew” shine through the crowd goes ecstatic. And really, who could blame them, for the band delivers a near definitive version that dances between surging rock explosions and quiet, pin drop, interludes. Jerry delivers not one but two climaxes during the solo section and you could easily, easily imagine the band ending things right there and then.
But this is the Grateful Dead in 1977…
The boys pull out a truly danceable “Around & Around” followed by a generous encore featuring a near 12 minute “Uncle John’s Band,” and a rockin’ “U.S. Blues.” Finally, after nearly three hours of madness, the band lets us loose to breathe again. We can all go home and rest now, for tonight is only the first night of a truly splendid run of shows. And if you thought the first night was special, just wait until tomorrow.
Check out Part 2 tomorrow….
- “Bertha” – 7:34
- “Jack Straw” – 6:19
- “Tennessee Jed” – 9:25
- “Looks Like Rain” – 9:05
- “Peggy-O” (Traditional) – 10:13
- “Funiculi Funicula” – 3:06
- “El Paso” – 4:52
- “Friend of the Devil” – 8:42
- “The Music Never Stopped” – 7:20
- “Scarlet Begonias” – 10:11
- “Fire on the Mountain” – 9:03
- “Good Lovin'” – 7:29
- “Candyman” – 7:24
- “Estimated Prophet” – 8:48
- “He’s Gone” – 14:47
- “Drums” – 3:01
- “Samson and Delilah” – 9:30
- “Terrapin Station” – 10:51
- “Morning Dew” – 13:15
- “Around and Around” – 9:14
- “Uncle John’s Band – 11:55
- “U.S. Blues” – 6:07