Monday, June 14, 1976
Beacon Theater – New York, NY
Just as picking a show from the early 80’s can present a daunting task when it comes to knowing which way to turn first, June 1976 is like a microcosm of the same problem. The Grateful Dead played a lot of shows marking the inaugural run in the band’s return to the road as a touring act in '76. It seems that nearly the entire month of June has always circulated in good quality, and the shows can sort of bleed together. Way back when we all had to build our tape collections through trade, a large portion of June ’76 was among the easiest music to find because the band had done so many FM simulcasts. This meant that soundboard quality recordings were being seeded, potentially by the hundreds, night after night, up and down the East Coast. Interestingly, certain shows from this run (Chicago Auditorium Theater) remained lost in the fog even from an audience tape perspective while the surrounding dates were easy pickings.
I’ve mentioned before how it seems that this overabundance of easy to find music from June contributes to the bad rap 1976 gets in general – so much material from, arguably, the low point of the year. And while I’ll be the first person to tell you that the music only continued to get better and better as 1976 rolled along, there is plenty to enjoy even as the band was shaking the rust off from its near 20 month hiatus. In fact, the highpoints among this historical “snoozer portion” of the year become that much more special precisely because one generally expects very little from June ’76.
I made early mention of one of my favorite Dead shows in general which happens to come from this time frame - the long time under-circulating masterpiece from June 9, 1976 - and here now is another show that has always managed to poke its colorful petals up over the rest of the June ’76 flower garden in my mind: June 14th from the Beacon Theater.
The show packs great energy, both from the band and audience (clear even on the soundboard), and the first set plays like an archival sample of everything good going on in 1976. In typical early 1976 fashion, nothing explodes (though Might As Well – often miss-documented as “Mighty Swell” – does fly over the top), but the entire set is a worthy listen. And it all rounds out with a memorable Playin’ In The Band.
This Playin’ presents a wonderful balance of every direction the song could flow in 1976. Still a staple feature of Dead shows, 1976 saw Playin’ begin to more fully explore different rotation slots in the set lists beyond its hallmark set one closing role. It also started to traverse distinctly different temperaments as if reflecting the changing mood of the band – some would flow out in silky smooth oceans of psychedelic waves, while others could find their ways into jagged and treacherous terrains that boiled with fire and hail. 06/14’s Playin sits in the traditional set one closing spot, and seems to explore and taste both extremes of expression.
With sound quality on the soundboard source that rivals nearly all other tapes, when the band slides into the Payin’ jam everything is about as close to perfection as we could wish. With a terrific balanced mix of instruments, the sense of this six piece band as a true ensemble comes shining through on this tape. Everything weaves together as the band continues to pick up steam. There’s a lovely flow oozing in and out like one’s breath as they roll along. Eventually things quiet to a whisper and we find Playin’ set at the precipice that might have easily led to a roaring Tiger Jam two years earlier, but here in 1976 it hints more at Blues For Allah. The intensity builds again as if we have just passed though the eye of a hurricane, and we are slowly swept back into the fantastic stitch work of an intricate tapestry. Not long after, the drummers tip over an edge into pure rolling thunder – the beat has been consumed and the entire band begins to tremble and fracture leaving us both on dizzying heights and staring up at more impassable mountains of dark foreboding rock. Before a completely blinding meltdown can ensue, the band reappears and another phase of the jam takes form. The drummers come back to the beat while we were lost in some phrasing by Garcia, and soon there is the sense of all the instruments fitting together like massive planet sized gears of reflecting kaleidoscope glass. It’s as if the music can’t take a wrong turn. Each member zeroes in on a simple phrase of their own and they begin to repeat them into each other like the inner workings of a watch. This is one of the most subtle explorations of the band’s pure creative musical force, made somehow more precious by its delicate and fleeting nature. Capping off the jam section of a nearly twenty minute Playin’ In The Band, we find that we’ve travelled many diverse miles all while we otherwise thought we were just listening to another Dead show.
The Wheel opens set two, to the clear shock and delight of the crowd. The song came out on Garcia’s first solo LP in 1972 yet never made it into the live show line up until 1976. Here, the band is fully enjoying themselves (there’s even a nice “Woo!” let out along the way as they become clearly locked into the slow pulsing arch of the songs melodic runs). The solo section paints a majestic picture with Garcia dancing on tiptoe from star to star. It’s short lived, but no less enjoyable for it, as the song comes to a close just as we’re ready for it to go on forever.
There follows some fun stage chatter as no one seems to know what to play next, eventually seeing the band land on Samson & Delilah, followed by a tasteful High Time, and The Music Never Stopped.
With Crazy Fingers, we head into the meat of the second set. Always good for casting a subtly gentle, yet psychedelically mysterious mood, we find ourselves casually ambling through a misty evening as our peripheral vision seems to flicker with unseen light sources. The song trails off into the end portion improvisation and the slow turning galaxy wagon wheels are back. The tides shift, and just as we feel the arrival of a Spanish Jam, Bobby provides a distinctive tease into the Dancin’ that will follow. Gently the jam subsides leaving the drummers to assemble the backbone of Dancin’ In The Streets.
Dancin’ was a tune that matured over the years after its return in 1976, and the ’76 breed is often one that merits little attention. Truly the versions in the following year become epic. Here, however, we are gifted with some of Garcia’s most delicious solo work of the entire evening. When they launch into the jam, Jerry’s phrasing becomes that of a 1950’s jazz saxophone player (insert your favorite’s name here). The way he holds back, and then blows out phrases flying up and down the fret board provides us with the Jerry we are all so thankful for. His tasteful note selection, filling the syncopated spaces between the beats, brings nothing but smiles to your face. All in all, it’s an understated Dancin’, as most were in 1976. But it’s worth everything to ride with Jerry through the solo section.
Cosmic Charlie, another song seeing its revival in 1976, comes next and is delivered perfectly. Vocally, the song just takes you in and works its magic. And as the pulsing backbeat that bore The Wheel at the start of the set returns to ricochet and echo its way through this song too, we’re firmly locked into the hypnotic trance of the Grateful Dead.
Then the set caps off with the wonderful highlight of Help>Slip>Franklin, containing an improvisational masterpiece during Slipknot which firmly locks this entire show into its spot as one I’m always happy to return to and explore. Here, as the 1976 tour was getting started, this song trio was well rehearsed and sounding very much like the Blues For Allah album version while allowing the band plenty of space to work each rendition into its own unique direction, and all the while finding Garcia able to forget the correct ordering of the lyrics in Franklin’s Tower.
Help On The Way overflows with heartfelt and emotional vocal delivery by Jerry, and rides ever so sweetly through the extended solo section. The tempo is locked in the pocket, and everything shimmers and gleams as they roll into the last verse, and then deftly navigate the intricate path which leads to Slipknot. This jam is representational of a new direction for the Dead. Nothing they were doing in their first ten years sounded quite like this at all. And the music finds its way into a lovely expanse of long flowing phrases atop Bobby’s wide volume swells. A deeply explorative jam finds the musicians listening to and playing off of each other. For a long while we are buoyed in a borderless ocean of the jam’s theme, lost in a timeless space of coolly dark comfort.
Soon much of the jam drops away, leaving Garcia playing off of the drummer’s light accents. Slowly Phil works back in, layering his own solo efforts while Jerry’s notes fly past like meteor showers. Eventually the rest of the band assembles again, and off of Bobby’s seemingly forced change of direction inspired by Phil’s own thumping, the band slips into the heavenly realm of absolute bliss and musical satori that forces chills to electrically snake across your face and down into your heart. We are cast into a pure musical presence which sucks all attention into its own focused midst. There is nothing else in the universe at all. This short (painfully fleeting) passage calls back to the inspirational brilliance found deep within 1970 Dark Stars – joyful expression of exquisite musical passion. Experiencing this music when you can offer it your open heart is a healing event. Our souls filled to bursting, the inspiration fades and the band returns to the coolly dark and mysterious interplay we were comfortably enjoying moments ago. We ride the twisting river toward Frankin’s Tower and arrive in the song’s own uplifting energy and simplicity.
Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile.
06/14/76 SBD etree source
06/14/76 SBD Stream