Seal That Silver Mine #1: 5/19/77

In which the Disco Dead feel like home.

Welcome to the first “Seal That Silver Mine.” We’ve wanted to do something like this for a while, so when the outside world fell apart and things got weird, we decided to do something about it. But what is this?

Every week, we’ll recommend a Grateful Dead show for you to listen to. We’ll take turns—this week’s recommendation is from Ed, so next week’s will be from me. Whoever isn’t recommending a show will (very briefly) recommend something else. With any luck, we will give you something to listen to while you’re stuck at home (or doing whatever the current world situation requires of you), and you will give us your undying devotion and millions of dollars (small bills only please). Thanks for subscribing. Let’s get weird. — Kevin Lipe

May 19, 1977: Fox Theater, Atlanta, GA

Listen along: Relisten, Internet Archive

I chose 5/19/77 not because the late 70’s are one of my favorite periods of Dead shows — though they are; and not because it has a pretty bitching “El Paso” — which it does; but because I am from Georgia and my personal memories of the venue in this show, the Fabulous Fox Theater, brings up strange memories of my childhood. It was also almost exactly a month before my birth. I was born on 6/18/77 (or 6/16/1977 according to the government, but the details are hazy) and I like to think my dad saw the show was coming to town and was annoyed he couldn’t go.

Regardless of my personal feelings, this is a damn fine show. It’s a reminder that an exceptional Dead show can lurk and then reach out and surprise you.

The Fox has a fake night sky on the roof. I hope that had already been installed when Weir said to the crowd, “Y’all be happy to know we got everything exactly right now” before blowing into a rickety version of “Promised Land.”

Phil is the only one locked in from the start, Keith is wandering around, Jerry’s first lead is lazy and though Bob puts his sweet little jean shorts into calling out the southern cities all the way to Houston, it’s not one for the history books. It’s like musical toe-touches before a race.

“Sugaree” is the speed the band actually feels like playing: nice and easy. The crowd is happy to hear Jerry put a warble in the lyrics and though it’s a languid 16 minutes, it goes down nice and smooth - leading right into Cowboy Bobby’s “El Paso,” which I admit to a never-ending fondness for. Might be the general darkness of lyrics, or Jerry’s running up and down the neck. Whatever it is, it always works for me.

Though they take their time, these aren’t jam filled explorations. Every nearly 10 minute tun breezes by. From Phil’s gentle rocking on “Peggy-O,” to Bob’s caterwauling on “Looks Like Rain,” or the melancholy “Row Jimmy,” which makes me cry sometimes, they flow by. This band was truly in its right place here.

Then suddenly - DISCO. There are literal space noises kicking off “Passenger.”

I assume this was the first time some of these sweaty Atlanta hippies had heard “Passenger,” because the Terrapin Station album was still about two months from release. Of course they were gonna rip a hole in “Passenger.” Regardless, Disco Dead felt super weird and out of left field at this point in the show. It seems like the band knows that too and quick as boiled asparagus, we’re back into the cowpoke on “Loser.” It’s almost like the ‘lectro noises took it out of them, because once they slow things back down to a lope, the band is right back to building momentum.

After a lengthy tuning session, the band closes out the first set with “Dancing in the Streets”— which helps bring the ‘lectro sounds back in a more organic way. Jerry’s compressed solo here feels right, even if it’s a long way from Losers in El Paso. He’s also on top of that motherfucker. I imagine his hands like dancing bugs, and the attack is so clean that this one made me dance a little in my living room.

I remember two very specific shows that I went to as a child at the Fox Theater. For the first, I went to a marathon of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends with my dad. I wandered around horking down snacks for hours watching Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties and Aesop & Son. I hope Dad was stoned.

Later I saw the watermelon-smashing comedian Gallagher there when I was 10. I have no real explanation for it. I did not get any food on my corduroys when he did the Sledge-O-Matic routine.

Speaking of the inexplicable, Bobby makes a brutal joke that no one thinks is funny and then “Samson and Delilah” kicks off. The Dead should be commended for being able to transform a cover of a gospel tune about an Old Testament psychopath into a consistent rock n’ roll staple, but there’s not much more here than a nice energetic jump-off.

“Ramble on Rose” rambles through a very-good not-great Jerry solo before shuddering to a close.

Y’all. It’s disco time again as “Estimated Prophet” unfolds with Bobby summoning his best hippie commune preacher howl and Donna reminds us that she's been on stage for a half hour already. I always enjoy Donna popping up on “Prophet.” Her voice always reminds me of where the band is. Sometimes I find myself unmoored in time by this one, as it feels mostly unchanged since it hit the rotation.

I am not a big fan of “Terrapin Station.” I’m sorry. I’m just not that into it. But this is a very good version for me. Jerry’s voice really aches here and Phil’s bass pulse really keeps it all coming together really beautifully. Bobby and Phil lock together here in their weird way. It’s a little rickety in places, but for me that adds to its charm—Phil and Donna’s backup singing doesn’t even mess it up too much. It ambles into its end and “Playing in the Band” emerges and its bouncy start breaks through the Tolkien-like fog of Terrapin.

“Playing” is always dependable, and I often gauge it by the strength of the Donna-warble. This one is mostly on-key and everything!

It falls apart to just Phil and Keith’s instruments talking to each other while Jerry wanders around the neck. They seem to all be waiting for something to happen.

Eventually, as always, it does. The jam becomes beautiful and it carries you downstream, dumping you safely on the sand bar of “Uncle John’s Band.” It’s a relief. Phil is feeling it. It pays to listen to this with headphones; you’ll catch a lot of what makes Phil special here.

We get a mercifully short Drums — about 6 minutes. It’s difficult to say anything meaningful about any particular Drums. This one is notable though because — as this is just a year after Mickey rejoined the band — the drummers aren’t really sure what Drums is yet. It’s a for-real 6 minute drum solo. Mickey does not, for example, have a train whistle.

What emerges out of the thundering is “The Wheel.” This is easily one of the best versions of the song you’re going to find. It’s a very groovy, fairly tight 7-minute version in which Donna actually seems to lead the vocals for most of the way. The interplay between third grade music teacher voice and Jerry’s lead pays off in a big way. The group sounds like they really mean it when they sing in unison “Bound to cover just a little more ground.”

I like to imagine that was cathartic for a hardcore touring band in that moment.

The demanding “The Wheel” slows into “China Doll,” and boy oh boy—this is what you, unlikely reader, have been waiting for. This is the end of a fantastic medley. Even though I know there is a return to “Playing” coming, “China Doll” for me is the real ending of this show.

This is “The Suicide Song” and I’ve got lots of feelings about that. You probably do too.

The song is heavy and beautifully played, particularly Keith’s childish tinkles and Jerry’s sorrowful guitar. It’s the Dead’s Irish dirge. “Take up your china doll. It’s only fractured—and just a little nervous from the fall.” The crowd knows this one is special. If you’re reading this, go listen to it.

The band, perhaps invigorated by the feeling of that “China Doll” or desperate to see the sun shine again, makes its way back to “Playing in the Band,” but the show is over. Oh sure, it’s an interesting rebuild to get there. The band takes nearly 7 minutes just mustering up the courage to play with excitement again, and there’s some beautiful runs there. But for me, it’s like adding a post-credits scene.

Regardless, I love this show. It’s like my childhood home for me — familiar, a little sad, but precious all the same.

— Ed Arnold

The Other One

I’ve been working from home with my wife and our two small children for a couple weeks, so my mental space for culture consumption has been, shall we say, tightly constrained. But. Here’s a song that I’ve loved since the record came out last year: “UFOF” by Big Thief.

The second “F” stands for “friend.”

— Kevin Lipe