To Terrapin: Hartford '77
[May 28, 1977]
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2009, Volume 16, #7
Written by John Metzger
Tue July 14, 2009, 06:30 AM CDT
There simply is no denying the fact that as the Grateful Dead neared the end of each of its seasonal sojourns, it routinely had a tendency to give tepid performances that killed time more than anything else. Even in its heyday, when the group bestowed everything it had to its fans, it typically was quite weary when it was wrapping up an extended series of shows. In 1977, however, something different was afoot. On April 22, the Grateful Dead had settled into the Spectrum in Philadelphia. Five weeks later, on May 28, after winding its way along the eastern seaboard and also visiting portions of the Midwest and the Deep South, the band descended upon the Hartford Civic Center for the tour-ending concert memorialized on To Terrapin: Hartford ’77. Miraculously, the ensemble sounded as energized as ever, too.
Save for the perfunctory rendition of U.S. Blues that brought the Hartford concert to its conclusion, the rest of the material featured on To Terrapin: Hartford ’77 is indisputably first-rate, even amongst the other terrific concerts that the Grateful Dead delivered throughout the spring of 1977. For the most part, the songs sung by Bob Weir injected a jolt of energy into the proceedings, as he rummaged through the hard-edged rock songs in his repertoire. Covers of The Olympics’ Good Lovin’ and Chuck Berry’s Promised Land were blazing blasts of pure, unadulterated joy, while Samson and Delilah was fueled as much by Jerry Garcia’s assertive guitar playing as it was by Weir’s exuberant vocals. Even the tricky time signatures of Estimated Prophet and Playing in the Band were navigated not just skillfully but also forcefully by the collective.
Not surprisingly, considering how often they played these same roles, Garcia’s laid-back presence provided the perfect counterpoint to Weir’s exhilarating enthusiasm. Taking the lead, Garcia stretched songs like Brown-Eyed Women, Row Jimmy, and Tennessee Jed to their limit. Threading his silvery guitar solos through the interlocking ebb and flow of the rhythmic cadences, he underscored and accented the emotional centers of the compositions. Beginning with American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead, Garcia had begun to refine his vocal approach. Around the time of Europe ’72 through the Grateful Dead’s spring tour in 1977, he increasingly found the sense of maturity that he had been seeking to embrace. Throughout To Terrapin: Hartford ’77, he delivers the lyrics as if his very life depended upon getting them just right.
If any song could have been considered a bellwether for the Grateful Dead during its spring sojourn in 1977, it was Sugaree. The rendition featured on Terrapin: Hartford ’77 surely ranks among the finest versions that the outfit ever managed to perform. Although it runs roughly 19 minutes in length, the tune never seems to meander. It lingers in places for a while, as the band fully explores its surroundings, but it never overstays its welcome. During this era of the Grateful Dead’s history, Garcia, in particular, was completely connected to Sugaree, and he habitually made a finite number of note sequences and chord patterns feel as vast and open as the cosmos. There was a genuine ache to his guitar solos, but as Sugaree progressed, he shrugged off his gentle sorrow and transformed the composition into a tumultuous firestorm of fury.
Quite frequently, the Grateful Dead’s creative flair frequently would wax and wane over the course of a performance. To Terrapin: Hartford ’77, however, bears proof that occasionally the band remained remarkably consistent for an entire show. Neither peaks nor valleys were present during the concert; instead, on song after song, the Grateful Dead remained focused on and committed to the task at hand. There are numerous entries from 1977 in the outfit’s ever-expanding series of archival releases. To Terrapin: Hartford ’77 not only outflanks them all, but it also just might speak to the unconverted.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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