Jam Band/Classic Rock
The Grateful Dead played thousands of shows over their decade’s long tenure on tour; many of which were recorded. It is almost hard to believe that with such a massive library of recordings one show could stand out so blatantly above the rest. Yet there is one show that is regarded as legendary among deadheads all over the world. One show described as the pentacle performance by those lucky enough to be there and as nothing less than a pristine recording for those who were not. This show was Cornell 5/8/77.
It was this very week 40 years ago that this concert was played in Barton Hall at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. I could almost imagine the crowd funneling into Barton Hall that night; cool and breezy, temperatures in the low 50s; blissfully unaware that they were about to see the very show that deadheads would not stop talking about for the next 40+ years. So what makes this show so special you might ask? Why all the fantasizing about hippies in Ithaca anyway? Well, from where I stand, it was a combination of multiple factors that night; a Grateful Dead perfect storm of sorts.
See, I was not actually there. Nor was I even alive… But I am here to talk about the record and that is something that I am more than happy to do. As an avid fan of the Grateful Dead and their many live recordings I can tell you that this record is not just hype. I could tell how special this performance was during my very first listen. In fact, this recording was so special that it has even been included in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.
The overall sound quality of this recording is a cut above the rest. With the varying level of quality that exists among the many live recordings this one really stands out. The instruments sound clear and distinguished, the vocals are well balanced and blend properly, and the whole thing sounds so professionally mixed you would think this was a planned official release recording. Indeed it was not. This show became famous just as many other Dead shows did; through hand-to-hand circulation; recorded off the soundboard.
What is even more important than the quality of the recording is the Dead’s energy that night. You can hear it in the music. Not only are some of the songs more up-tempo than I am used to hearing but they are played with such conviction. The Grateful Dead was switched on that night. It is almost hard to explain but you can very well hear it in the music. Here you have the Grateful Dead in pure form.
The setlist for this show was a recipe for success. The first set skipped the extended jams for the most part instead favoring a long list of classic Dead songs. The set started with New Mingelwood Blues and included songs the likes of Loser, Jack Straw, Deal, Brown Eyed Women, Mama Tried and the eleven minute finale Row Jimmy. Most of the songs on set one are some of the best respective versions that I have personally heard.
Set two starts off with one hell of a bang with the sixteen and a half minute Dancing in the Streets. This song features such an electric jam that it is easily one of my favorites of the whole show. I have heard Dancing in the Streets on other GD recordings but never quite like this. Set two continues with Scarlet Begonias, Fire on the Mountain, and Estimated Prophet. Need I say more?
Set three is the grand finale and graces us with spectacular versions of St. Stephen, Not Fade Away, Moring Dew, and One More Saturday Night as the closer. I have to say that the St. Stephen and Morning Dew really stand out as key pieces on this recording. Set three would not be the same without them.
Well folks there you have it; my short blurb on the legendary 5/8/77 show. If you really want to sponge up the lore and mysticism behind this show go type it in google. You will have plenty of reading to do. I am always grateful for the plethora of Dead recordings that exist out there (yes, I just did that…). I love listening in for the variations, perfections, and imperfections from show to show. Each era of the Dead has a different story to tell through these recordings. Just go ask someone who was there; they will be happy to tell you all about it. Until then be sure to check out the 5/8 recording. You won’t be sorry.
See you next week.