The Boston 6/9/76 show shouldn’t be anyone’s first show, and it won’t be anyone’s favorite. But like November ’73, June ’74, or May ’77, June ’76 ranks as one of the most reliable months in the band’s three-decade career. The Dead traded some abandon for steady execution in their first post-hiatus tour — throw a dart at the gigography and you just can’t hit a bad performance — and although this approach would grow into a full-blown powerhouse of sound and performance one year later, 1976 still offers its share of modest and particular charms.
The negatives for this show? It falls on a night that skips a couple of setlist favorites in the rotation that year: no “Playing In The Band”, and no combo involving “Help On The Way > Slipknot!” One of the relatively “new” songs, “Cassidy” was a good song from the start but had yet to acquire the first-set mini-jam that would raise its profile later. Plus, the set closed with “Around And Around”, a permanent entry in my tracks-to-skip list. No offense, Mr. Berry.
Count On Crazy Fingers
On the good side, ’76 deserves its rep for good first sets. Between the essentially error-free performances and the fantastic sound of this release, makers of live Dead samplers for their friends could turn to this set for versions of the even newer “The Music Never Stopped” and “Crazy Fingers”. The latter sounds especially good, exquisitely unhurried but never plodding, with that hint of Jamaica from the drummers and a Spanishesque jam at the end.
While the year gets criticized by some for over-careful playing, there’s no denying ’76 featured a sense of adventure in mixing and matching segues/songs that would not be seen again on that level.
The main attraction, however, still waits on disc two. The “St. Stephen > Eyes Of The World > “Let It Grow” three-pack lives up to billing, with a several-minute intro to “Eyes” and a “Let It Grow” with a bpm just enough beyond the norm to make it more engrossing than some of the plenty good ’74 versions. “St. Stephen” sounds as if it fades in at the very beginning, which is extremely odd, but whatever. The first chunk of its middle jam is probably my favorite musical space of the night. The disc also features the fresh “Lazy Lightning > Supplication” pairing that brings the kind of fully formed jam we missed in “Cassidy”.
While the third disc is low on highlights and gets weighted down by a preponderance of slower bonus tracks from 6/12, it gets buoyed at the end with a “Sugar Magnolia > U.S. Blues > Sunshine Daydream”. While the year gets criticized by some for over-careful playing, there’s no denying ’76 featured a sense of adventure in mixing and matching segues/songs that would not be seen again on that level.
Let The Setlist Guide You
Phil really shines in this beautiful recording, and the night’s other key player (no pun intended) is Keith. Godchaux is nimble throughout, with little fills and runs that would become less frequent even a year later. He is fully engaged in this slightly undersized venue, and it makes a world of difference, whether lifting up first-set material like “They Love Each Other” or pulling up to the sadly underused electric piano and engaging in a three-headed “Eyes” outro with Phil and Jerry.
So is this release better than Dick’s Picks 20, taken from two shows later in the year? Close call. Probably so, pound for pound. Will the upcoming Dave’s Picks series serve up a better show with its first ’76 selection? Probably again, but who knows if it will, or when that will be. In the meantime, for an often overlooked year, 1976 has done OK in terms of official releases. Some consider DP33 the cream of the crop so far. Cow Palace 12/31/76 has its moments (and possibly higher highs) scattered across the three discs, with this set being more consistently enjoyable. You can likely go by which songs you like best and come out in good shape.
(2021 postscript – I kinda slept on the Scarlet Begonias back at that time. I would bump it and the overall rating of the release up some.)
June 9, 1976 @ Boston Music Hall
d1: cold rain and snow / cassidy / scarlet begonias / the music never stopped / crazy fingers / big river / they love each othe r/ looks like rain / ship of fools / promised land (end of set)
d2: st. stephen > eyes of the world > let it grow / brown-eyed women / lazy lightning > supplication / high time / samson & delilah / it must have been the roses
d3: dancing in the street > wharf rat > around and around // franklin’s tower (only standalone franklin’s encore) /// (bonus tracks from 6/12) mission in the rain / the wheel / comes a time / sugar magnolia > u.s. blues > sunshine daydream