March 19 - Winterland

The second of this three-night run at San Francisco's Winterland Arena featured the band starting off a little slowly, but fortunately they hit their stride toward the end of a long first set and never looked back. This show definitely tops the first night of the run.

There's not much to say about the first few songs of the night, with the exception of "Mama Tried," discussed in the following paragraph. They weren't playing badly, but listening to the recordings, it sounds as if the band was on auto-pilot. Granted, auto-pilot for 1977 is not too shabby, but these first few tunes are lacking the fire that makes for truly special performances.

The exception to this is the excellent "Mama Tried." It is worth noting that the Bobby-sung cowboy tunes like "Mama Tried," "Big River," and "Mexicali Blues" sure did sound great in 1977. These quality of these songs through the years tends to vary depending not on how Bobby sounds (he usually sounds great), but on how invested Jerry is in the performance. If he's on board, his energetic playing and confident backing vocals add immeasurably to the tunes. More often than not in 1977, he was on board, and a great example is the terrific "Mama Tried" from this night.

But the next few songs slip by without much fanfare. It isn't until the ninth song of the set, "Terrapin Station," that things really begin to perk up. This is easily the best of the Terrapins we've reviewed here. It shows none of the sloppiness that I referred to in my review of the March 18 show. It's energetically played from beginning to end. About the only quibble is that the concluding jam ends abruptly, but considering what follows, you simply can't complain: a spectacular and unusual "Playing in the Band" --> "Samson and Delilah" --> "Playing in the Band" jam. The initial "Playing" jam is spacey and compelling, and the quick transition into "Samson" is interesting to hear. This unusual pairing gives "Samson" a very distinct feel. Garcia plays a noticeably different lead riff throughout the tune, sort of an inverted version of the typical riff. It's an excellent performance that features great soloing from Garcia and another interesting and brief transition back into a "Playing" jam. This spacey jam doesn't take long to begin dancing around the main "Playing" theme, but it's several minutes before the band explicitly embraces the "Playing" reprise. There are some very nice dynamics at work here, as things get almost completely silent before the band quickly thunders back into the reprise, which comes complete with a zesty version of the vocal reprise. It's an awesome end to a very long first set.

The band apparently wore itself out during the epic opening set, as the second set is unusually short, comprised of just five songs. But it's quality, not quantity that counts, and thankfully this set picks up right where the first set left off. Things start with an excellent and very fast-paced "Eyes of the World" during which the band sounds amazingly tight and in tune with one another. The jamming on this version is positively thrilling at times. "Eyes" eventually slows down, and when Jerry switches on his envelope filter, you know you're in for a treat. During this era, the wah-wah sound generally means one of three songs, "Estimated Prophet," "Fire on the Mountain," or "Dancing in the Street." At this point on this night it was "Dancing." It got off to an awkward start vocally, with Bobby jumping in with the start of the first verse ("Calling out..") rather than the cheesy "Dancing....dancing in the street" chant that preceded the first verse in this arrangement of the tune. But that's the only thing you'll find wrong with this version of the tune. The jam in the middle of the song is great, with Phil and Jerry pushing things forward and Bobby laying down some nice jangly rhythmn lines. It's a fine example of how nice a jamming vehicle this song usually was in 1977. Rather than returning to the chorus following the monster jam, the band instead slowed things down and settled into an excellent "Wharf Rat." It's a much needed breather after the very hot set-opening duo.

This is a show of unusual pairings, and that trend continues when "Wharf Rat" segues into "Franklin's Tower." After a mellow start, "Franklin's" really picks up steam after the second verse, when Jerry and the drummers kick up the intensity a couple notches following the "If you get confused listen to the music play" line. Then they turn it up to eleven during the closing jam. Great stuff. This jam eventually is overtaken by the intro to "Sugar Magnolia." It's a fairly standard version of "Sugar Mag," which is to say it's well-played and a nice set closer.

Perhaps to make up for the short second set, the band played a double encore, starting with what Bobby's "crazy little number," a lively "One More Saturday Night," and closing the show for the second consecutive night with "Uncle John's Band." This performance of "Uncle John's Band" is first-rate from start to finish, decidedly superior to the previous night's version. As a whole, this show tops the previous night, and stands as contender for one of the top five or ten shows of the year.

No comments: