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Published: 2009/04/28
by Fady Khalil

To Terrapin: Hartford ’77 – Grateful Dead

Rhino

To many Dead fans, the spring tour of 1977 has a kind of mythic quality about it. The band, semi-fresh off their 1975-1976 hiatus, were debuting several new songs and their jams, likewise, seemed alive with new energy, passion. In the ever-fluid lineup, percussionist-drummer Mickey Hart was, by now, fully integrated, helping the seven-piece find its stride. Further still, the insistent practice required of them by then album producer, Keith Olsen, was tempering a particularly sharp edge in their live performances. Simply, 1977 was a great year for the Dead, and by extension, the Deadheads.

To Terrapin: Hartford 77 is then, a fitting release. Recorded at the Hartford, Connecticut Civic Center, the album captures the band on the final night of their spectacular tour for the ages. The three-disc set faithfully reproduces the 21-song performance to HDCD specs, and an extensive 16-page essay, interspersed with rare photos, helps to conjure the setting of the evening. But, of course, it’s all about the music. There, the album earns its keep.

The show opens with a high-powered run through staples, “Bertha” and “Good Lovin’.” Performances are tight, with songs in mint condition, free of obvious dents or dings. Polished executions of composed elements lend a stabile base for jams, in which Garcia and band seem bent on exploring sonic landscapes to exhaustion. Likewise, the remarkable 20 minute “Sugaree” that follows, finds the band pushing the slow-tempo, waltz-like movement through repeated builds and impassioned peaks, setting an explorative mood that continues to crescendo as the evening progresses.

Adding to the excitement of the night was the inclusion of several then-new tunes. "Terrapin Station," Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter’s epic odyssey set to music, and "Estimated Prophet," Bob Weir and John Perry Barlow's character study of delusional persons, placed overtop a reggae swing, were both just beginning to find their rightful place amongst the Dead’s extensive repertoire. To Terrapin: Hartford 77, showcases these tunes, still animated by a palpable newness and energy, free of the overdone production that would mar the studio album to come.

Though all three sets are solid, the third proves hard to surpass. Garcia’s leads seem emboldened by the driving rhythms of Lesh’s bass, Kreutzmann and Hart’s drums. Freed to explore, Jerry’s usually deliberate riffs are swept into emotional flurries on an unhinged version of “Estimated Prophet,” his notes ablaze with cathartic release. “Playing In The Band” follows. Here, Donna Godchaux’s voice lends gossamer counterbalance to Weir’s stout croon. Down set, an incredible 35 minute exploration of “Terrapin Station” > “Not Fade Away” > “Wharf Rat” comes to a definitive exclamation point with succinct rockers, “One More Saturday Night” and “U.S. Blues.” This is the Dead, smart and fiery.

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