Barton Hall, Cornell University – 5/8/77

There is an official release box set due later this year of the 5th, 7th, 8th and 9th May 1977 along with this concert also being released on its own. Fortunately, I have good recordings of all four nights so that will save me what I expect will be at least £140 of my hard earned. This concert was voted by most fans as their favourite show. I don’t necessarily agree with that as I could easily make a case for any of the other dates as being a better all round show. However, the reasons for the vote will become clear later.

A harsh reviewer would find it easy to pick holes in a first set that never really catches fire but let us concentrate on the good points. Jerry’s tortured solo on Loser where it sounds as if he is strangling his guitar, forcing out the notes. A quiet slow paced El Paso. An excellent up tempo Brown Eyed Women. Even Lazy Lightning/Supplication is good and you won’t hear me saying that very often. The two best songs are saved till last; a sweet Row Jimmy with sublime slide guitar from Jerry and Dancing in the Street. I’m not a great fan of the disco versions of Dancing but this is a really good one and in a rare spot as a first set closer.

The crowd rush the stage at the start of the second set and an apparently failed attempt to Take a step back follows. The band give up and launch into a blinding Scarlet/Fire. Jerry’s guitar tone is wonderful, full and rounded and as satisfying as a massage from a geisha (so I’m told), Kieth is on fire on keyboards, finding seemingly endless numbers of grooves, Donna is on top form (for the whole gig) so that’s a poke in the eye for all you haters. There is a brief tease of a break with just Jerry and Donna a la 1974 but the band power through it and into the bridge between the songs which is like Donald Trump’s hair – you can’t see the join. Beautifully done. I have seen Weather Report Suite described as Bob Weir’s masterpiece. No, it isn’t. It is Estimated Prophet which is next, powerful despite the calypso rhythm the vocals are faultless. A short break for tuning while the band decide what to do next and it is into St Stephen. No solos but it sandwiches Not Fade Away which starts slightly slower than usual before Jerry gets going with an extended solo and then the drummers, Phil’s bass and Bobby’s rhythm take over towards the end. What better to finish with than Morning Dew? Written by Canadian folkie Bonnie Dobson about the aftermath of nuclear war the Grateful Dead started playing this in 1968 and made it their own. She went to see the Dead play in 69 but was too shy to go backstage and introduce herself (bless). This version is wonderful and the guitar strumming at the end just keeps going and going and the final lyric just kills you. Bobby picks One More Saturday Night (on a Sunday) as the encore and even this often dog of a song is good

As the crowd troop home through the snow (in May) they won’t have minded as they had just witnessed a very special 90 minutes of the Grateful Dead at their very very best.

The best show ever? No.

The best set ever? Quite possibly.

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