Of the nearly two decades that followed The Grateful Dead's post-1974 hiatus from touring, few years are more highly regarded than 1977. With a year of revamping the road repertoire behind them, often within a slower context, now the group was displaying a newfound focus and energy. A new album, Terrapin Station, was providing fresh new material and The Grateful Dead more often than not, were sounding inspired again. The sweetened tone that Garcia developed on "The Wolf" guitar (custom made by Doug Irwin), combined with new processing gear (most notably the envelope filter which gave him a sort of reverse wah-wah effect) often fueled his playing, leading the band into new territory and with a greater musical palette to explore.
The 1977 Spring Tour contained a couple of now legendary runs, both in the North East and during a three night hometown stand at Winterland in San Francisco. The most in-demand Dead tickets that year were for the band's year end run leading up to New Year's Eve, also held at Winterland. The Thursday night show on December 29, 1977 is not only regarded as one of the year's best performances, but also one of the strongest performances ever by this septet configuration of the band. So much so that it became Dead archivist Dick Latvala's choice for his 10th Dick's Pick's release, showcasing the best of the group's road work. Also included in this same release was a good deal of the second set from the following night, Friday December 30, 1977, which found the band in equally strong form.
Presented here is the second set from that Friday night performance on December 30th, some of which was included in the Dick's Picks 10 release, sourced from an alternate mix and master. This presents the entire unedited set, as it happened and which can also be viewed in it's entirety in our Video Vault. With the drummers kicking it off and with Bob Weir on lead vocals, The Dead launch into this set with their rousing arrangement of the traditional, "Samson And Delilah," a number featured on the new "Terrapin Station" album. They follow with the slow relaxed groove of Garcia's "Ship Of Fools" which is well played, but doesn't hint at the fireworks about to begin with the next number.
Returning to new Terrapin Station material, the set begins taking flight on Weir's "Estimated Prophet," which also provides a definitive example of Garcia's use of the envelope filter. This song, which introduced a new texture to The Dead's sound, was rarely played more forcefully or with more improvisational flare than it is here, eventually morphing into the infectious groove of "Eyes Of The World." This pairing ("Estimated" into "Eyes") would become a ubiquitous setlist presence in the coming years, but few surpass the performances heard here.
Still to come is the highlight sequence, which begins with an extraordinary improvisation that develops out of "Eyes Of The World." Here the band embarks on a journey devoid of formulaic restrictions. Experienced fans would expect the drummers to begin an extended solo sequence here (as was most often the case), but the group defies expectations by veering off into a surprisingly inspired jam. The Grateful Dead's ability to embrace experimentation with an anything goes attitude was always a primary motivation for the legions of Deadheads, who would follow the band from city to city, hoping not to miss these moments of spontaneous inspiration. This improvisation is one of those elusive moments, where the entire band is inspired simultaneously, feeding off each other's ideas in real time. At one point it sounds as if the rhythm section is motivated toward "Fire On The Mountain," but Garcia steers them off into deeper space instead. When this jam gently dissolves, Garcia plays the opening riff to "St. Stephen," which elicits a roar of approval from the Winterland audience. Essentially dropped from the regular stage repertoire after 1971, appearances of "St. Stephen" anytime afterwards were always greeted with enthusiasm, but rarely was it performed with more fire and raw energy as it is right here. Listeners should pay particular attention to the second instrumental break following the verse that ends with "One man gathers what another man spills." Garcia's tone has rarely sounded sweeter and the entire band is playing brilliantly. This version actually rivals the 1969/1970 era performances and is arguably superior in terms of vocals and improvisational fury. This performance of "St. Stephen" and the improvisation that preceded it are indeed the peak moments of this night's performance.
Following the closing refrain of "St. Stephen," the band heads toward the close with a high energy "Sugar Magnolia." By the conclusion of the "Sunshine Daydream" coda, the hometown audience is howling for more. Like the previous night, they return for double encores, first with the Garcia fronted "U.S. Blues," followed by the relatively new at the time Weir fronted arrangement of "Good Lovin,'" which would remain a live staple in the decades to come.