Grateful Dead North American Tour
"Our second coming," says Grateful
Dead drummer Mickey Hart of the band's 1977 North American tour. Everyone knew
the Dead could jam out infinitely. But that year they were discovering something
new: that tight, songful concision could transport a crowd just as easily. "We
had a lot of new songs and wanted to get at 'em," says singer and
guitarist Bob Weir. "And the only way to get at the next song was to
finish the one you were doing." Ironically for a band that had little use
or patience for studios, it would be recording sessions that strengthened its
live approach. Terrapin Station, the group's most recent LP, was
recorded with Fleetwood Mac producer Keith Olsen, who'd helmed their
self-titled 1975 breakthrough; he forced the Dead to prep and rehearse more
than they ever had. "Going in with Keith and having him organize and arrange
all this stuff," says Weir, "that gave us a solidity." The
results of Olsen's whip-cracking became clear as soon as the Dead went back on
the road – they tore into old favorites like "St. Stephen" and tried
new combinations, like going from the fast-paced "Scarlet Begonias"
into the churning "Fire on the Mountain," and proved their newly honed
chops could help sculpt jams such as the 10-minute "Terrapin Station."
"We felt like rock gods," Weir says. It helped that the band was in
relatively good shape physically as well. "Jerry was healthy," says
Hart. "That was a big thing." The high point took place on May 8th at
Cornell University's Barton Hall, regarded by Deadheads as the band's greatest
show ever. In the end, the 1977 tour completely changed the Dead's sense of
connection with fans, and their own musical purpose. "That was an era
where it started to creep up on us that people came to hear the songs,"
says Weir. "It finally dawned on us: 'Oh, that's what it's all about.'" D.B.