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Thursday, March 26, 2009

1978 February 3 - Dane County Coliseum

Grateful Dead T-Shirt 1978

Friday, February 3, 1978
Dane County Coliseum – Madison, WI
Audience Recording

Early 1978 marks a wonderful peak in the career of the Grateful Dead. Many folks like to say that 1977 didn’t really wrap up until the end of the Jan-Feb run in ’78. I’m not one of them. 1977 can have its own 365 days. 1978 deserves the credit for its early section of musical mastery. Even with Garcia battling laryngitis early on in January (which only made him play more intensely while not being able to sing at all), the first tours of 1978 are worth exploring in detail.

Looking at another stretch of shows that makes choosing one to review nearly impossible (including yet another great run at the Uptown Theater in Chicago), I’ve come back to an old favorite tape for its somewhat subdued, yet wickedly potent dose of phenomenal Grateful Dead music – February 3, 1978. The Dane County Coliseum was some sort of ignition point for this band. It’s hard to find bad shows played at this venue. Featured on Dick’s Picks 18, the highlights from this night make this pick one everyone should own. To add color and perspective, there is also an AUD of this show to enjoy. It’s not what we’d call A quality, but it fully succeeds in delivering the full spectrum of the power that was happening on this night. The deeper the music goes, the more the quality of the listening experience improves, and the music goes quite deep, to be sure.

Jerry Garcia 1978While it’s set two that will receive most of my focus, I can’t help but call attention to the first set’s closer, The Music Never Stopped. After revisiting it for this review, I can’t believe this one hasn’t always stuck in my brain as one of the best ever. How could I have forgotten this? Why don’t all Deadheads hold other versions of this song up to 2/3/78 to judge their worthiness? Do not pass it up when you pull out this tape for a listen. And then, you’ll want to get right to the meat of the second set…

Estimated Prophet > Eyes Of The World > Playin' In The Band > The Wheel > Playin' In The Band

Estimated Prophet expands like we’ve found a veiled entrance to an underground cavern of ancient, untouched mystery. Slowly torches reveal a labyrinth of loosely coiled passages, all reflecting a soft shimmering glow of prism hued light off of flickering flames. The music is soaked, cool and dark, with a hypnotic power that is hard to see coming. The evening’s concert has slowly begun to evaporate around you, and before you’ve even noticed the shift, it’s already nearly gone, leaving you quite powerless to defend the music’s insistent pursuit toward waking your soul to its siren call. By the time the music begins blending into a rolling and shifting landscape, sounding more like a mellow Other One and hinting at the Eyes to come, we have found that our pulse, breath, and complete attention have synced into a collective presence with the music. Effortlessly, the music dissolves the cavern’s wet rocky canopy into sunlight, as if small fissures are allowing starlight to pass through causing the walls to liquidly evaporate like steam, and slowly fade away.

Eyes Of The World brings with it that buoyant joyfulness that gives off the distinct impression that the music is smiling broadly. Relaxed into the moment, Jerry rushes nothing. He runs through solo after solo, and just when you figure he’s stepping up to the microphone to sing, he flows back into another solo section, cart wheeling up mountain peaks again. In between each verse he triumphantly soars and delicately floats in a gorgeous interplay of sunlit peaks and valleys. Even at 16 minutes, the song seems to stretch out far longer, eventually leading up to the highpoint of the evening, Playin’ In The Band.

This Playin’>Wheel>Playin’ captures an enormous segment of quintessential Grateful Dead creativity, reaching well outside the bounds one can easily pin down as simply 1978 Dead. The Playin’ jam begins with Phil taking a relaxed solo over drums and whisper quiet instrumentation from the rest of the band. It’s as if the bass is strolling through a forest, gently kicking up swells of musical texture, like leaves in its wake. The haunting mystery of Estimated Prophet has returned to bring a hushed reverence to the musical experience. The band seems to be allowing their musical magic to reach its own deepest levels of inspiration. They force nothing, and the jamming that slowly begins taking form appears organically, as if born of the music itself, not from the individual members of the band. It courses into you, more than just music – the sweet magic of the Grateful Dead has fully opened its flower, its rich color and fragrance so strong as to wipe all other sensation away from your senses.

Grateful Dead 1978Formless grace seems the most apt description of the long jam that follows. Things aren’t veering aggressively away from the Playin’ theme, yet it has been left miles behind in the distance just the same. As this was the section of the band’s career which saw the formalization of Drums>Space as a fixture in the second set, it is worth noting that while the drummers reach a passage where they are musically calling for the rest of the band to give them room, it doesn’t happen. On the fingertips of small hand percussion the music continues to gently evolve into one intricate tapestry after another. Eventually, the musical beat slips away, as the band coxes the gentle grace into a shifting, tilting landscape of Space. Beware a somewhat brutal tape flip edit as this Space gets started. It’s a bump in the road that quickly passes and leaves you deeply immersed in a pulsing sea of light and color. Throughout this passage, The Wheel is hinting its way into being, and eventually we come out on the other side into the song proper.

The Wheel tends to always strike me as a pop song that someone dosed heavily with LSD, driving it into a realm beyond mere hallucinations to a pure resonance with all things – an awakened spiritual grace tinged with a quiet peaceful knowing. It wears psychedelia like a flowing garment on a body of spiritual serenity. That there is a real song going on binds this inner world quality with a more tangible form. The song’s lyrics and musical structure call us into the same pure church-like setting as Attics Of My Life, or Brokedown Palace. This is a song you often “attend” more so than simply hear. The exit jam embodies a pure distillation of the ocean of grace that has been going on for over a half hour now. It is absolute Grateful Dead music, undeniably marked with the personal expression of the collective musical muse underlying the band’s creative energy. Gently, and with the hands of a loving parent, the music settles us back into Playin’ In The Band, and the set wraps up there.

Like an ace up your sleeve, this show hides out of view for most folks as they draw from the deck of Grateful Dead music. It's a card worth playing time and time again. Enjoy.

02/03/78 AUD etree source info
02/03/78 AUD Download


  1. Ahhhh I love this run with such a passion. These late January early February 78 is perhaps my favorite stretch of Dead if i had to choose. I stumbled upon the uni dome show two days later early in my tape exploration, and it was everything i was searching for. Needless to say i sucked early 78 dry, and i love this show.

    There is just something so perfect to me about Jerry's tone in this period, he was squeezing so much expression out of his new envelope filter, its so warm and comforting, not to mention how incredibly tight and explosive they could be in this era.

    I have to say, you're really doing a great thing here man. I was five when Jerry died, I remember the day vaguely, people were so sad, and i didn't even know what all this fuss was. and i feel that my generation is the first to miss it all. Yet, we have access to so much at our finger tips. To young people trying to sink their teeth into some of this legendary music, the opinions and insights of an aficionado is very valuable, and rare.
    I started poking around archive before i found your sight, but i felt like i was reaching around in the dark, and i had the feeling that there was some great secret that i was not in on, like people around the country in the know were getting incredible kicks from music that was so far below the radar of music teenagers are exposed to. It was intimidating, but it didn't have to be.

    By taking peoples hands and walking them through some of your personal favorites, you make it accessible, like a disciple spreading the word. And it serves as such a testament to the beauty of the music, that there is even this much to be said at all.

    Thanks man

  2. Very well put, my friend. You sum up the nature of the music's "approachability" very nicely. That "great secret" was exactly what everyone was sharing back when you had to actually forge friendships to access this music. It's good to see that we are finding ways, in this digital age, to keep passing the secret along. Glad to have you here.

  3. Count me as one Deadhead who reveres the 2/3/78 Music Never Stopped as the all-time greatest, and possibly the best single performance in the band's history. That's the Jerry performance to convert nonbelievers.

    Eugene, the Uptown, Madison, Cedar Falls -- what a run!

  4. I wanted to add my voice to the many who have thanked you for starting this blog. I only discovered your blog last month as I am working full time and in law school so my free time is very limited.

    My sister turned me on to the Dead when I was in 5th grade and it has been one long beautiful ride ever since. Many of my friends love the Dead but I think that there are only two or three that really "get" the Dead. I only got to see one show, Three Rivers Stadium 1995, but I started taping when I was in high school. I dropped out for quite a while when tapes made way for CD's. It just did not seem as intimate. I have fed my Dead addiction with the tapes that I have and the Dick's Picks and Road Trips series. But your blog has reignited that spark that kept me running to my mailbox every day while I was taping.

    I would like to share many of these shows with my friends so I have posted a few of the links to to my facebook page. I hope that this is all right. I want my friends to experience the beauty that is the Dead and I think that by doing mini-reviews and posting links on facebook I can accomplish that goal. This is all done with a nod to you of course for pointing the way.

    Keep them coming. I find myself checking the blog daily for new treats. Just know that you have made at least one person very happy. Thank you so very much.

  5. Such a nice loosening of a Gordian Knot at the end of the jam of The Music Never Stopped. Thanks again for expanding my experience.

    The Looks Like Rain from this show is amazing, I must say. I just played it for my wife as a 'great example'. Donna sounds fantastic throughout, and it just somehow strikes me as Bobby's perfected cowboy ballad-a duet a la Cash/Carter. I can't say it's the best of that particular song, but I can't imagine it gets much better.

  6. Love the reviews!! Thank you very much! Love the early '78 era as well. Wanted to request a review of the McArthur Court,Eugene,OR show on 1/22/78. My all time favorite second set. I'd love to hear your Pynchonesque description of that show. Thanks again for all you do. Love the site...wish I'd found it sooner!

  7. Show is amazing...I'm always a fan of Estimated, but this one is seriously special...whole run before and after this show is prime.

    I'm tossing in on another request for 1978-01-22 Eugene, OR...purdy, purdy please.

  8. This was my first Dead show. I was 19. I worked in downtown Madison then, and went to the show with a bunch of people, some from work, and some from my other life. It was an eclectic crew, and somehow I talked them all into going together. Once there, like a true Dead experience, we all drifted our separate ways and enjoyed the show on the wave of the NOW. (Or at least I did.) A little smoke here with these folks, and little chat there with this bunch of strangers/friends/deadheads, a little drifting and trying to find just that right place to stand and let the sound wash over you and through you. This was a show that changed me. I went to it unaware that I would be a different person just a few hours later; I look back on this show as the moment where I was touched by the Dead's music in a profound way. Many GD shows followed this one, but what a start this was for me. Listening to it again, after all these years surprises me because somehow the performance is still familiar. Specific moments have stuck in my head and to find them again, to be able to experience it again after all these years is beyond description. Thank you for the AUD tape.

  9. on my iPod I call TMNS and Estimated the best versions ever from this show.

    to the best of my knowledge, this is the first "extended" Estimated Prophet "middle jam"

    Jerry takes the band through an extra 16 bars methinks

  10. I was there that magical evening and it transformed me to a Dead Head forever. My brother turned me on to the Dead with Live '72 but this concert created an everlasting bond. When Jerry was on, the Dead were ethereal.

  11. Best Bertha ever, and one Jerry's best, tightest solos.

  12. Man sorry, Bertha wasn't in this show. Got it mixed up.


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