If 1972 was the first apex year for the Grateful Dead, then their second apex year came in 1977. Many of the May shows of that year are considered some of, it not the best shows the band ever played. This Dick’s Picks volume grabs a majority of the May 22nd show at the Sportatorium in Pembroke Pines, Florida. Though nine songs were ultimately omitted for the release of Dick’s Picks Volume 3, this show contains a selection that is a near perfect track list.
Disc One contains six selections from the first set played that night in Pembroke Pines. The band starts off with a goofy 30 second rendition of the Neapolitan song, “Funiculi, Funicula.” It’s a quick and lighthearted guitar driven number that only served for the group to ensure instruments were in tune. The set doesn’t really kick off until they break into Bob Weir’s, “The Music Never Stopped.” The fun track is a great opener, allowing Garcia to warm up his fingers. The mixing is solid as well, with Donna Jean Godchaux’s backup vocals never overpowering the rest of the group. What follows next is an incredible rendition of Jerry Garcia’s, “Sugaree.” Garcia wastes no time getting the band into the jam, stretching the song out for 16 minutes. The vocal harmonies between the trio of Jerry, Bob, and Donna Jean are crisp, nearly as good as the harmonies in ‘72. Garcia’s guitar is airy and light, hitting every note with precision before building up to the distorted crescendo.
The band gets right into a “Lazy Lightnin’>Supplication”. The two tracks penned by Bob Weir and John Perry Barlow first appeared on Kingfish’s self titled debut album. Though the tracks were from Weir’s side project, the Dead would adopt them and run with them much like other songs from Weir and Garcia’s side projects. “Lazy Lightnin” serves as a vessel for the dizzying jam of “Supplication.” Though short, Garcia proves himself to be in rare form and ready to bring it throughout the rest of the show. Finishing out the first set, the Dead bust into a cover of “Dancin’ in the Streets.” They stretch the old tune out to nearly 15 minutes, bringing a uniquely ‘70s feel to the track. The theme that the group find in the last five minutes of the jam is real funky, invoking the kind of jamming expected out of a more modern era jam band like Phish. The song descends to a near whisper before the Dead exits the stage.
The first disc ends with the first three songs from the second set. Tape Archivist Dick Latvala may have selected this because the next 27 minutes of the disc are perfection. The band shreds the beginning of their second set, running through “Help on the Way>Slipknot!>Franklin’s Tower.” These three tracks are the embodiment of the Dead in May of 1977. Garcia’s jamming is somehow both tight and loose, Keith Godchaux’s piano is still dynamic, the vocals are clean, and both drummers are in sync. The group gets aggressive on “Slipknot!” and transitions into tasty, 15 minute “Franklin’s Tower.” The dynamic between Phil Lesh’s driving bass and Garcia’s powerful soloing move the jam forward in a light way, never getting to spacey.
Disc Two continues to bring the fire from the second set. The band get into “Samson and Delilah” and “Sunrise” off their upcoming album, Terrapin Station. The first is powerful and continues the energy from the last song, but the second is a bit of a snooze. Not everyone may love solo Donna songs, though she does sound great on this track, it’s too much of a tonal shift for the set. What follows is the beginning of the end. Bob returns with the power for “Estimated Prophet.” The guitars bring a heavier reggae sound to the song than appears on the studio version. This reggae vibe then turns spacey when Garcia solos over the nine minute track. This spacey sound dissipates when transitioning to “Eyes of the World.” At this point Garcia brings some of his most inspired playing to the track, giving it a casual jazziness.
“Wharf Rat” brings on the final moments of the second set. The group slows things down and Jerry delivers tired vocals that work well to emphasize the powerful lyrics of the track. The group builds and builds the song up and Garcia subtly moves it into “Terrapin Station.” They forego playing the entirety of the medley, omitting “Lady with a Fan”, and get into the heavier verses and chorus. The group is in complete harmony during the coda, delivering each rise and fall with everything they’ve got. The band finish out the set with an incredible, 14 minute “[Walk Me Out In The] Morning Dew.” Garcia brings passionate vocals and guitar playing to the track, reminiscent of the great Europe ‘72 renditions. Though Disc Two doesn’t contain the shows encore, it leaves listeners’ brains on the floor after “Morning Dew.”
Though just a slice of the full May 22nd, 1977 show, Dick’s Picks Vol. 3, is a filling piece of Grateful Dead pie. Everyone may talk about some of the early May ‘77 shows as the peak of the Grateful Dead, but for right now, this show is the best of the Dead in this era. From “Sugaree” to “Help>Slip>Frank” to “Eyes>Wharf>Terrapin”, this is an essential listen for any fan of late-’70s Dead.
The complete set list for the 5/22/77 show at Pembroke Pines, Florida was:
Set 1: “Funiculì, Funiculà”, “The Music Never Stopped”, “Sugaree”, “El Paso”, “Peggy-O”, “New Minglewood Blues”, “Friend of the Devil”, “Lazy Lightning” > “Supplication”, “Ramble On Rose”, “Dancing in the Street”
Set 2: “Help on the Way” > “Slipknot!” > “Franklin’s Tower”, “Samson and Delilah”, “Brown Eyed Women”, “Good Lovin'”, “Sunrise”, “Estimated Prophet” > “Eyes of the World” > “Wharf Rat” > “Terrapin Station” > “Morning Dew”
Encore: “Sugar Magnolia” > “Sunshine Daydream”
Bold appears on Dick’s Picks Volume 3