Grateful Dead – May 14, 1978 Providence, RI – ‘Listen to the Thunder Shout’

by | Feb 10, 2018 | 0 comments

The Spring of 1978 is a time in Grateful Dead history that
presents a multitude of unique and exciting musical moments. When examined as a whole, its easy to discern that the tour rides the rails precariously, always close to spiraling out of control. But with this daredevil attitude the band in turn creates a number of delightfully devastating musical masterpieces. While often obscured in the shadow of the
monumental 1977 tours, the Spring of 1978 finds a different and even looser band than the previous year. The band can be heard jamming nightly, all the while
balanced delicately on the edge of chaos and musical magic. A number of official releases from the Dick’s Picks and Dave’s Picks series have now been culled from April and May of 1978
( DaP 7 4-22-1978, DaP 15 4-24-1978, DP 25 5-10/11-1978) and offer the listener
a glimpse into the power and still occurring nightly experimentation by the
band.
Jamming today in the ‘rock room’ is the Grateful Dead’s May
14, 1978 performance from the Providence Civic Center, released as the sole representative
of the year 1978 in the expansive 30
Trips Around the Sun
box set covering the band’s entire career and released
in 2015. In the ‘rock room’s humble opinion this particular performance is
the best of the May leg of the tour and was rightfully chosen by vault
archivist David Lemieux for inclusion on the band’s career spanning collection.
One thing about this particular concert and similarly to the
other surrounding shows on the tour is the patience, tempo and positive vibes
exhibited by the band. In direct contrast to some of the measured and tentative
playing during some dates in 1977, by the Spring of 78 the band was ‘going for
it’ musically and vocally on a consistent basis. There was a conscious collective
attitude to be bigger and badder than previously and the group was thrashing
through East coast sheds as a rock and roll fire breathing beast.
The Providence concert opens with an amped crowd and the aesthetic
of a warm Betty Cantor soundboard recording. The band plays with a
calm focus right from the get go, Garcia is particularly sharp and Godchaux plays
expressively throughout. You can tell that there is something different going
on by the subtle interplay and animated vocal expressions sprinkled
throughout the set.
The opening ‘1/2 Step’ is locked in and by the first solo
section Godchaux and Garcia climb the framework of the song together as hearty
multi limbed musical vine. They dance one another across the stage as this ‘1/2
Step’ plays itself toward perfection. ‘Cassidy’ follows and again offers the
band an early chance to open things up. Continuing the first set theme thus far
the group is playing inventively and crisply. Easily one of my personal
favorite performances of ‘Cassidy’ follows with the only misstep being no vocal
reprise upon the return from the mid song jam, but they hit it perfectly so who
cares?! Garcia’s guitar is big and brassy with every note fired hitting its
mark. While Lesh’s playing is understated at this point he too is placing
perfect fingers.
Following this breathless beginning a buoyant ‘They Love
Each Other’ plays with pluck and pop. Garcia’s
vocals are emphatic and invested culminating is a well paced and excellent
rendition.
There now comes a mid set space for introspection as the
band takes a moment to collect themselves following the opening series of home
runs. An all time version of ‘Looks Like Rain’ and a similarly expressive
version of ‘It Must Have Been the Roses’ take the air out of the set slightly
but are so damn good you have to shake you head at the musical quality being
put forth by the band.
A typical for the era ‘Uncle and Big River’ combo comes next
and stokes the crowds fire quickly with a high speed ‘River’ that percolates
into a foamy rapid rather quickly. Before anyone can catch their breath two
additional ‘all time’ versions close out the opening set.
First Garcia busts out a kinetic and high speed ‘Brown Eyed
Women’. Weir is playing with a particular attention to detail and I would be
remiss if I did not mention the excellent and dynamic playing by the drummers.
Bill and Mickey were playing really well in mid-1978, illustrated by the
expanding drum segments that were soon to become a second set fixture. The
tempo is snappy for ‘Brown Eyed Women’ and prods Garcia into taking a few
rounds on his solo spot and developing a perfect melodic story between verses.
A fine version.
Crowning the first set is the longest stand alone ‘Let It
Grow’ the band ever performed. Quantity does not always mean quality but in
this case the band has a lot to say and makes sure they pack it all into a top
5 version of the song. Patience is again exhibited by the band as each nook and
cranny of the songs arrangement is explored for opportunity.
Once the songs verses are harvested Garcia sets the chugging
groove with wiry rhythm strokes. He begins soloing with a heavy distorted tone
but soon cleans it up and begins his exploration. Lesh keeps things in the
lower register and latches on to the rolling tempo picked up by the drummers. At
around 8 minutes the jam is moving by its own inertia with syncopated cowbell
strikes and Godchaux’s rapping and succinct piano exclamations.
Garcia begins to wail extended one note over driven notes,
Godchaux responds in kind and a unique impov develops over familiar themes. The
detailed jam moves like smoke until Weir interjects some cool chord ideas
around 11 minutes. Lesh continues to lather multicolored paste into the cracks
and stays submerged growling in the lower registers. Garcia repeats a beautiful
cadence before using it a springboard into another room and discovering there a
poignant finger picking pattern. He circles around the drummers riding a
circular pulse that Weir dissects and Godchaux drizzles sweet notes on top of.
At almost 15 minutes the band returns to the chorus briefly before
exploding out of it with a series of ‘Caution-esque’ alternating guitar scrubs. Garcia
stacks trills on top trills initiating the band into a proper peak and well
timed expression of intensity that had been building throughout the set. High octane. Garcia
botches the landing slightly, but all is forgiven after the preceding expression
of musical prowess. Wow, one of the finest sets you could ever want to hear
from the band. A highly recommended performance.
Obviously, the band has lost no momentum during the set break, returning
to the stage as playful as they were for the opening set. As fans of the Dead
we know that the set list in no way reflects the strength of the playing which
is the case for the beginning of set 2 which begins with the oft played ‘Samson
and Delilah’, ‘Ship of Fools’ duo. Here, ‘Samson’ is filled with the exaggerated
and growling vocals that epitomize shows of this ilk. The groove is intricate
and the interplay is top notch, Garcia, like has been previously stated is on
the prowl for new expressions of well traveled melodies. ‘Ship’ is not a  Persian dirge
and is played with terrific energy, and is an enjoyable version which again
comes from an era in which there are a number of well played renditions.
The centerpiece of the second set is a beautifully paired ‘Estimated
Prophet/Eyes of the World’ pairing that spotlights measured playing and attentiveness
to the muse. The ‘Estimated’ never strays far from home, but offers an extended
outro jam that flows effortlessly toward a crystalline movement toward ‘Eyes’.
While not ‘rolling’ like other ‘Estimated’s’ of the period the band only probes
at the improvisational possibilities before Garcia signals an excursion into a high
tempo ‘Eyes’. While played quite fast the music takes its time. Here the band coalesces
into one unit playing a great version where all respective parts contribute equally.
The song’s journey into drums is slyly understated yet musically intoxicating.
Garcia and the drummers toss ideas back and forth for a bit as the rest of the
guitarists leave the stage for drums.
If you are familiar with 1978 you know the drums are long,
intense, tribal and crazy. This one is no different. Every implement on the
stage is used to bang on something. Billy and Mickey eventually thump their way
into the familiar ‘Not Fade Away’ beat.
An imposing and extended post
hiatus ‘Not Fade Away’ coagulates out of the aforementioned drum madness.
Keeping with the theme of the whole show the band takes their time in exploring
each space in this long performed classic. The pre verse jamming finds Garcia
throwing out as many different melodic variations on the Bo Diddley beat as he
possibly can. Here the playing is more laid back than explosive allowing for 7 minutes
of grooving before the verses are sung. Weir coaxes some gritty strumming from
his ax during this segment shifting the drummers approach.
In direct opposition
to a version like the one from Englishtown, NJ 8 months earlier, here the
intimate interplay is critical and the musical carpet bombing of the crowd found in the aforementioned is secondary.
The energy spikes when the verses are sung and the first solo segment is
highlighted by Garcia’s thick Mutron licks and Lesh’s rubbery lines.
The second jam segment following
the verses shows Garcia hitting on a lick that almost lands into ‘Nobody’s Fault
But Mine’ which Lesh then takes an interest in and  Weir joins in on with some (tasteful!) slide
playing. The jam turns bluesy and becomes a very enjoyable and uniquely sweet march that
Lesh and Garcia soon twist into a somewhat rare for the era version of ‘Goin
Down the Road Feeling Bad’
‘Goin Down the Road Feeling Bad’
tears out from ‘NFA’ and takes the place of a usual post drums Garcia ballad.
Weir adds some slide guitar, Lesh lets go with a few detonations and the rest
of the band takes the song to a higher plane. The crowd is ecstatic and the
band responds in kind. ‘GDTRFB’ slams into the side of an incendiary 1978
version of ‘Around and Around’. The band basks in rock and roll glory as they
stomp through the songs stops and starts and sprint through the double time
conclusion. Woah.

Garcia screams his way through a celebratory
‘US Blues’ encore and just like that the band is on the bus to Chicago. In an era that
sometimes fluctuated between musical epiphany and sluggish repetition (sometimes in the same set); May 14,
1978 touched upon the musical grail that the group tried to grasp on a reoccurring basis. Though
this show did not take place in a vacuum, as there are a number of worthy performances to be found in the surrounding dates. This one is at the top of the list
in the humble opinion of the ‘rock room’, check it out for yourself.

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