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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

1977 February 26 - Swing Auditorium

Grateful Dead 07/27/1977

Saturday, February 26, 1977
Swing Auditorium – San Bernardino, CA
Soundboard Recording

There was a wonderfully harmless war started in the online Grateful Dead community throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s. It came down to people having to choose allegiance to the year 1976 or 1977. ‘77 fans found it abundantly easy to laugh at and ridicule the Dead’s output from 1976 as tired, slow, limp, and utterly outshone by the following year, while ‘76 fans (or perhaps more accurately phrased, people who didn’t find 1977 to be the year above all other years) stood fast on the merits of 1976’s often overlooked psychedelic wonderland of creativity and inspiration which could make 1977 seem somewhat too organized and contrived. Just in writing that last sentence I can feel the ire of both camps rising to defend the motherland. And if I haven’t already made it abundantly clear in my writings, I was a banner waving member of the 1976 crowd.

And while I spent my heavy trading years obsessively collecting everything I could ever find from the Dead’s entire output of the 70’s, 1977 was never part of that blind obsession. While I can call to mind the merits of nearly every stop on the calendar in 1973, 74, 75, 76, and 78, such is not the case with 1977. Oh, I know my way around that year. I know that I gravitate to the feel of the spring and summer shows more than those from the fall and winter. But I don’t bleed the details of 1977 like I do the other years.

Jerry Garcia 10/11/1977Flash forward to today, and I can freely admit that 1977 is like a new flower opening up before me. It represents new discoveries for me tucked within an era to which I’m already intimately in tune; and what a glorious hidden jewel to be able to discover after all this time.

I went in to revisit this 02/26/77 Swing Auditorium show remembering that it was good, and little else. What followed was a heart opening ride into a sensational Grateful Dead show which towers with perfected Grateful Dead energy and groove throughout. Beyond the clear set list highlights, the show is filled with songs I’d normally pass over, yet everything from this show shines and delivers a full cup of the Dead’s most potent elixir.

Set 1: Terrapin Station, New Minglewood Blues, They Love Each Other, Estimated Prophet, Sugaree, Mama Tried, Deal, Playin' In The Band > The Wheel > Playin' In The Band

Set 2: Samson And Delilah, Tennessee Jed, The Music Never Stopped, Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Franklin's Tower, Promised land, Eyes Of The World > Dancin' In The Streets > Around & Around, E: US Blues

The opening Terrapin (its debut) ushers in the fact that 1977 was going to bring with it an entirely new level of Grateful Dead musical exploration. It’s a mind-blowing thought to consider what it must have been like to attend this show and have this be the opening event. An instant classic to be sure, the Dead waste no effort on trying to figure this tune out from the stage. It fires at near full strength immediately, and by the end we’ve been thrust into the wild pulsing heart of the band right in the show’s opening number. The band rides this wave into a sublime first set of song delivery. 1977 is getting off to a magical start. Minglewood, They Love Each Other, Sugaree, the Estimated Prophet debut – really everything in the first set is terrific. It just feels utterly wonderful.

The set closes with a Playin’ > Wheel > Playin’ that funnels the entire set’s wildly energetic magic into a concentrated psychedelic ride. Playin’ In The Band creates a slow churning boil like a lava lamp under high heat. The ground shifts and buckles and bows in all directions until there comes an eruption into a galaxy imploding wormhole which transports the entire auditorium out of the physical plane. Out beyond the stars images flicker and glow. Sound passes in ceaseless ripples of energy riding the drummers’ beat, while great mountains and rivers of energy swell and recede on Garcia’s phase shifting distortion and Phil’s slow popping bubbles of starlight.

Jerry decides to move into The Wheel, and it happens without the drummers first locking onto the standard Wheel rhythm pattern. The transition is fabulous (great transitions being something of a hallmark for 1977), and The Wheel come on riding all the psychedelic energy of the Playin’ before it. A lovely and twisted exit jam follows and the outer space landscape of the Playin’ jam slowly fades back into view spreading our depth perception out beyond planets and stars which gently bob and turn around us.

Donna Jean Godchaux 05/21/1977Set two rockets out of the gate with a fine Samson And Delilah and a Tennessee Jed containing a Garcia solo that leaves you wide-eyed and smiling from ear to ear. The Music Never Stopped follows and it spirals ever-upward to a high-stepping crescendo.

We then reach Help > Slip > Franklin’s, and the Slipknot opens us back up to the misty magic we enjoyed in Playin’ In The Band. The music is a swirling blanket of distant clouds, corkscrewed hallways and shimmering fractal glass. At times overpowering enough to sweep your breath away yet mysterious enough to leave you unaware of your need for breath at all, the jam rolls in on itself as it reflects the glowing patters in every cell of your body. The tides rise and fall in random patters eventually bringing us back to the jam’s theme and on into Franklin’s Tower.

Franklin’s kicks off with its infectious uplifting energy. We are immediately locked into a dance around the most precious hearth of Grateful Dead music – the place where everything is simply infused with joy and pleasure. The solos stretch out and return to verse as our attention to time dissipates. To a degree this Franklin’s Tower is made more enjoyable by the absence of any triumphant explosion or peak. It rides a buoyant stream ever onward with the occasional parting of mountain tops revealing a blazing sun above pulsing and dancing along with our hearts and feet.

After a curiously placed mid-set two Promised Land, we reenter this joyous bond with the band in Eyes Of The World. Again we are treated to a flowing output of music that doesn’t attempt to dazzle us with acrobatic feats, yet locks in just the same keeping the gaze of our heart transfixed on the music’s soul-reaching expression. We are treated to a nice Phil solo that sounds grafted right out of 1973, and then we roll right into Dancin’ In The Streets.

Dancin’ turns up the disco funk dial to ten and Jerry springboards his solos into the sky. He’s fully cranking on his auto-filter wha-wha pedal and the music cooks along. From here the show powers through its finale with Around & Around and the US Blues encore.

1977 exudes a certain glorious level of Grateful Dead energy and psychedelic adventurism. It’s nearly impossible to go wrong anywhere you step. And it started out of the gate on the right foot with the very first show of the year.

This is a fabulous quality soundboard recording with titanic Phil throughout.

02/26/77 SBD etree source info
02/26/77 SBD Stream


  1. Great review as usual. I don't think this tape left my car's tape deck for a few months my Senior year in high school. Phil's opening in The Music Never Stopped just before Jerry chimes in is great stuff!

  2. Probably my favorite show of any year. It's hard to make that claim but it's simply that good. If I were stuck on a desert island with that tape, I would be a miserable man except when I'm listening to 2/26/77

  3. How is it possible to download this on a Mac?
    Or is it only available for streamimg?

    Ken from Scotland

  4. This was my 2nd show, and the one that go me hooked . The 1st show I saw , a few months earlier at the Shrine (10/14?) was good , mostly just straight ahead songs, good for a beginner . This one! Two new BIG songs .plus that unbelievable Playing>Wheel>Playing, i the first set !
    All this jamming went over out teenaged heads, we didn't fully get it . But it was an extremely different show that the 1st one we saw , this WAS an intriguing band, ..why two shows , and none of their radio hits (unless you count US Blues ) ! No one did that !
    In hindsight , this show, like the Cow Place New Years show,is sort of a bridge between the 76 and 77 Dead . Thank God for both years !

  5. Great show...and they only got better as the year went on.

    As for '76 vs '77 -- the weakest Dead shows I went to were in '76. Only went to one show in '77 -- a great show at Cornell that somehow went on to gain a rep I still can't fathom.

    I love all periods of Grateful Dead music -- although after around 1991 IMO it was a period of declining returns. But I started going to the shows in 1972 and gravitate to 1972 > 1974 as my fave listens.

  6. Way to represent us '76 weenies

  7. Wasn't this the first show where Jerry used his mutron and Keith had his new moog synth? They ditched the synth after a while, but I've always loved the sense of childish glee that Jer and Keith seem to have playing with their toys.

  8. As an arty type, this show had a lot of significance for me. Probably the most powerful show I ever witnessed out of hundreds. I have written about it on several occasions.

    This was the show that my friend Rick Griffin and several others, unbeknownst to the dead, lofted his imperial message mural behind the stage. The clutching hand of the eagle held a rainbow scroll and presented us with an edict from on high.

    It was also the first show that I remember liberal use of plastic bottles squirting elixir into waiting palms and mouths. The drive to Santa Barbara that night was perilous as my car was turning into mythological creatures, sprouting wings and such.

    The terrapin was so strong and polished at its inception, as was the esto. Thanks for talking about this show. It was a life and game changer.


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