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Published: 2008/02/24
by Randy Ray

Road Trips, vol. 1, no. 2: October ’77 – The Grateful Dead

Rhino/Grateful Dead Productions 2-6002

This isnt the time to discuss the lack of space in live Dead circa 1977. Nor is it the place to hit up the Head complaint that completists need ENTIRE SHOWS, MAN. The art of collecting has been well-documented and for every old Head with a foot locker filled with tapesmethere are new fans who have hard drives ready for new ways to explore the Deads enormously rich live performances. Find your own path, man.

The new Road Trips vault series selects cuts from a run of shows with fall 1979 chosen as the inaugural era and fall 1977 in this case, early-to-mid October branded as road trip number two. Does the product fulfill its function as a cool and loud auto trip fix? Yes. Are the two discs plus a bonus coaster a fine sampling of the Dead during one of their illustrious years on the road? Mostly yes and partially no.

The opening Let It Grow and Sugaree are volcanic while Mississippi Half-Step is a beautiful cascading waterfall. Playing in the Band is really solid but only Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh appear to navigate well within this dark corner of space. Black Peter and the "closing" Brokedown Palace > Playing in the Band (Reprise) serve as another fine reminder of the mixture of great Jerry ballads, Lesh runs and Bob Weir showmanship.

What is strange is that one does get filler much like an actual Dead show from just about any era. El Paso gains a spot in my SKIP IT folder as does the three minutes of Drums, which proceed the lyrical passage of The Other One, as does a less than spectacular Good Lovin and an Around and Around, which does and does and, no thanks. However, the bonus disc is shockingly complete and almost serves as a better option than the two disc official Road Trips. I guess, in a way, one has various ways to program their own little metaphysical road trip. And thats what it should be about after careful consideration. Yeah, do up your complete shows but sampling gives one a good indication of how well the band varied their song performances. Although, oddly enough, rare beefs about the meaty giant 1977 was that the band did not vary their songs too much from show to show. Hence, my lack of space comment which presupposes ones knowledge of the early primal Dead years leading to the spectacular interstellar space explorations of the early 1970s when the band was at their peak.

Me? Id hit the bonus disc for Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain, Estimated Prophet (from October 16th) and vault right into the Iko Iko > The Wheel > Wharf Rat > Sugar Magnolia (October 7th) passage to remind one of what the Dead were like before the setlists became turgid and the band didnt quite have that extra gear to push the whole beastly machine into overdrive. There is a dynamic group mind thrill to these tracks that are especially warm via the watershed recording skills of Betty Cantor-Jackson.

Againdoes one need complete shows or entire runs ala the annoyingly legendary wouldve/couldve/shouldve Winterland 73 release or the Greatest One on a Farm, August 27th, 1972? Of course, but for old and new Heads, this is a pretty solid collection of tunes from a band that knew how to play hard rock almost as much as they knew how to navigate acid dreams for vast periods of time. Dig in, burn on and, bum not.

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