Monday, May 9th, 1977
War Memorial Auditorium - Buffalo, New York
Audience & Soundboard Recordings
Immediately after what would later become arguably their most famous show of all time, the Grateful Dead just rolled right along. On the very next night they were simply playing the next stop on the Spring 77 tour in Buffalo, New York. For them, the events of the previous night were very likely to have passed relatively unnoticed. It was just what happened yesterday. A good show, no doubt. But the earth didn't shift on its axis. That said, when you go back and review the musical events of that May 1977 tour, you can appreciate that the band had set its own bar pretty high in early 77 and was coasting completely in the zone at this time. What felt commonplace in the moment clearly became the stuff of legends as the years wore on.
Set 1: Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Franklin's Tower, Cassidy, Brown Eyed Women, Mexicali Blues, Tennessee Jed, Big River, Peggy-O, Sunrise, The Music Never Stopped
Set 2: Bertha, Good Lovin', Ship of Fools, Estimated Prophet > The Other One > Drums > Not Fade Away > Comes A Time > Sugar Magnolia E: Uncle John's Band
This show opens up with a Help>Slip>Frank that is spun directly from the cloth of the night before. And it's almost no wonder that something like this is what comes directly out of the gate the night after Barton Hall. It's as if the massive energy of the previous night's second set needed further release. It finds it in spades here.
Slipknot comes on like a surging thunderstorm hurdling towards us over a mountain range in the distance. For a time, the music is awash in hazy, cloudy mist. Slowly elements and energy begin to take form and before long potent eruptions and gales lash at us from every direction. The show is getting off to one of those starts where you feel we may have dropped into the start of the second set rather than the first. Things are just too intense. The music approaches its climax as great fists of power knock us off balance. Eventually the band gels into the song's head again and they smolder through the structured final section. We are dropped directly into a Franklin's Tower that is about to nearly lay waste to everything that just came before it.
It is in Franklin's that we find that effervescent full dimension of the Grateful Dead appearing. And leading the charge is Mr. Jerome Garcia, as on fire as he ever was in 1977. As you will have already noticed, the audience recording featured here is quite fine. We feel the hall, but are up front enough to experience the vocals in extreme clarity. It's a perfect setting for a musical experience of the highest order.
Garcia proceeds to blow lyrics in nearly every verse. And somehow, as deadheads are often ones to notice, these slip-ups seem to propel Jerry's soloing into the stratosphere. He is crisp, he is clean, and the band is in lock step behind him. And Keith is playing the organ instead of piano here – a truly rare and amazingly satisfying treat to be sure. It takes a verse or two, but eventually Garcia and the boys stretch out into an inferno of classic Grateful Dead rock. The performance engraves itself in the book of 1977, and you can feel every nuisance from each musician. The music is palpably loud, streaming out and over your head. It's exploding sunshine into a sea of joy beyond measure as Jerry continues to climb and climb. He approaches shredding without giving in, and the entire band is catapulted into the sky. Amazingly the show has only just begun.
The rest of the set continues as textbook 1977. There's no mistaking that certain blend of energy and enjoyment that the band was emitting at this time. Because of this, much of the set is dappled with highlights. One worth calling to your attention is Big River. I've said it before, Big River may be one of the most overlooked tunes in the entire songbook of the Grateful Dead. Jerry must have looked forward to this song more than most as he would almost always lay down solos that went beyond expectation. This night is no exception, and deserves a good listen. By the time he goes around for the third and fourth laps in his last solo, Jerry has fire flying out of every pore of his being.
The first set closes with The Music Never Stopped. Friends, there is little I can do to suitably set the stage. Accolades are rightly lofted upon this version by many a tape collector. The crescendo is so fierce that you can't help but marvel at what it was like to be there with the band back in 1977; to be in the presence of something so ferocious. And it also goes a long way to supporting the fact that the night before isn't so much more special or unique. Considering all the songs at the Dead's fingertips, it took far more than one night to allow them to express them all. Tonight, on May 9th, we are clearly experiencing an extension of the previous night. It's just one long ride in May 77. Enjoy.
Second set highlights do not fail to match the fireworks of the first. Estimated Prophet coils out with snaky and mysterious tendrils. They curve and caress their way through the crowd painting a rich watercolor of stained glass rivers. These waters seep into everything, infusing the experience with the psychedelic unknown – like tipping over a precipice that leads into a great sea of kaleidoscoping fog. After spinning entirely away from Estimated, a subtle jam finds itself launching an Other One that packs infinite intricacy and detail. There are endless featherings of reflection and echoing tremors that peel off of every corner of the music. These rushing rapids send our hearts spinning, completely at a loss to find solid ground. We come out in a wide open terrain where Drums impossibly liquefies the earth beneath us.
This transitions into Not Fade Away and again the music comes to tower over us, performing an endlessly intricate weaving of streaming lights and textures. There's too much music to be coming out of just one band here. Everything is playing off of everything else, and the occasionally whispered reminders of Not Fade Away come and go, teasing us with a knowing smile. Then a segue born upon night mist leads us into Comes A Time.
The juxtaposition of Comes A Time against everything that preceded it demonstrates yet another layer of the Grateful Dead's magic. We are in church again, at complete peace. Every cell of every body sings this prayer together. It's as if we've known it our entire lives. The connections between audience and band are unmistakable, and we expand into another moment that we both wish would never end and goes on forever at the same time.
Comes A Time jams. There is nothing quite comparable to the exit jam section of Comes A Time in 1976-1977. They are a breed unto themselves. Here on 5/9/77 we are spun out into such gorgeous emotional expression that one can barely hold back tears. Things become indescribably beautiful. These are the moments that define the love many of us have for this band.
Sugar Magnolia ends the set with a bang, and then we get treated to an Uncle John's Band encore that closes the evening right back in the happiest of places. We glow with the music. We sing with the band. They proceed to stoke the wild fire embers again as they let the song's 7/8 section blossom into rainbow moons and cascading stars. Sensationally this encore crackles and shines, closing a show that could only have happened in that mythical year of 1977.
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