Sound: For the millions of fans who dedicated years of their lives to following the Grateful Dead, you can relive those Sunshine Daydream years with the latest release Live At The Cow Palace: New Year's Eve 1976. The 3-disc, 22-song collection is an amazing look back at just one of the many memorable concerts that the legendary jam band performed throughout its long career. While not everyone out there might be able to connect with the touring lifestyle of diehard Dead fans, there is still plenty to appreciate musically on Live At The Cow Palace.
Rhino Records recently took over the Grateful Dead's vault of music, and Live At The Cow Palace marks the first release since it all transpired. Recorded the night of December 31, 1976 (and the early morning of January 1, 1977) in Daly City, California, the concert features fantastic jams and incredible songwriting underneath all the improvised solos. Will this new release make believers out of everyone who might have doubted the Dead in the past? Well, not necessarily. But even the biggest skeptic will have to give credit to the amazing musicianship heard by guitarists/vocalists Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir.
The first disc features a variety of styles from the band, from the laid-back shuffle of Bertha (one of the best tracks on the disc 1) and the balladic beauty of They Love Each Other, featuring a Juke joint-like piano solo. The only problem actually lies in the softly spoken commentary from the bandmates in between songs. Although concert's music is absolutely enhanced by the HDCD process, the spoken dialogue is a bit quiet and you'll need to turn up the volume to make out some of it. Of course, that isn't going to be the most important aspect for Deadheads, and they will be satisfied by most everything they hear on the first disc, from the Merle Haggard cover Mama Tried to the famous finale Playing With The Band.
The second disc is where the fun really begins. Following Sugar Magnolia, the band begins a 40-minute continuous jam that shows off the same eclectic type of mix. Wharf Rat stands out as one of the best with it's quiet power and chilling harmonies. Good Lovin' is a fun cover of the sixties' classic, most memorably done by The Rascals (although theirs was a cover as well). When you first hear it, you have no clue that Mickey Hart's pounding drum beat intro is slowly but surely going to transform into Good Lovin'. The Grateful Dead truly excels at taking well-known songs and reinventing them successfully.
The Chuck Berry cover Around And Around kicks off the third disc, once again showing the band is not afraid to tackle any genre. While it's not quite as powerful a rendition as some of the band's other covers, it does feature some fantastic guitar work from Weir and Garcia. Some other key tracks to listen for on the final disc are Slipknot! and One More Saturday Night. // 9
Lyrics: For all of the talk about The Grateful Dead's ability as a jam band, the lyrics deserve a bit of recognition as well. The primary lyricists are Garcia, Weird, and the band's friend and collaborator Robert Hunter, and these 3 musicians rarely waste a line with anything too lyrically ordinary.
If you know Sublime more than the Dead, then you might be familiar with Scarlet Begonias. The easygoing song delivers some fantastic descriptive lines about the woman of Hunter and Garcia's imagination. Garcia sings, She had rings on her fingers and bells on her shoes; And I knew without askin' she was into the blues; Scarlet begonias tucked into her curls; I knew right away she was not like other girls.
Hunter and Garcia create more memorable lines in Uncle John's Band, which almost has a country feel to the lyrics. He sings, I live in a silver mine; And I call it Beggar's Tomb; I got me a violin; And I beg you call the tune. These are words that might not connect with some younger audiences, but there is just a lot more character than what's in some contemporary music out there. // 10
Overall Impression: Live At The Cow Palace has several gems in the 3 discs, and not surprisingly, those tracks usually involve some sort of jamming. Slipknot! is a must-listen because it displays both the talent of the musicians individually as well as their cohesiveness as a band. It's almost like a jazz jam session at times with the alternating tempos, and it's a fascinating listen.
While most fans have probably experienced more than a few Dead concerts in their day, Live At The Cow Palace is a worthwhile listen, showcasing the best of what the band has to offer. With the band's extensive songlist, it's likely that some people will feel that some indispensable tracks were left out, but the New Year's Show still features plenty of the band's best work. If you don't like jam bands, steer clear. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the show. // 9