Live At The Cow Palace – New Year’s Eve 1976
A flood of live recordings resting idly in the vault, and the keepers of the Grateful Dead flame continue to dig for new and acute angles in which to share the music. The Dick’s Picks Series maintains its unwavering pace of pulling plumbs from the stack, imbuing a timeless, never-ending task of reinforcing the Dead’s inexplicable quest to push the envelope, mostly during the 70s. More recently, Rhino has foraged the coveted catalog, liberating gems like long, lost brothers from the war. Fillmore West 1969, available in two flavors — a three-disc overview of the band’s extended stand from February 27 to March 2, 1969, as well as a limited edition 10-disc ‘complete’ set — fortifies Rhino’s commitment to releasing historical and/or special event shows. Last year, it was Truckin' Up To Buffalo, an entire 1989 Independence Day performance from Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, NY. Live At The Cow Palace – New Year’s Eve 1976, the first Grateful Dead release of 2007, may arouse the most curiosity of them all.
The three discs clock in at more than 180 minutes of the Dead plying out a unique strain of music on December 31, 1976 at the Cow Palace. It’s not unusual that the group, on their home turf at the turn of the year, would go to extra lengths to assure an extraordinary performance. The Dead’s NYE shows were highly anticipated and typically picked up by the local radio station, years before the cable giants to over with Grateful Dead NYE Pay-Per-Views. This particular night marked the end of the band's moderate period, where shows were fewer and studio releases less frequent. That was about to change with the upcoming studio album, Terrapin Station, which would lead the group into a new direction. The Cow Palace show served as a wind-up before the February follow-through of some the Dead’s most captivating shows, featuring new music. As it is, they'd been recording steadily and came out swinging, kicking off with a few crowd-pleasing quickies like “Promised Land,” “Bertha,” and “Mama Tried.” The band stretches out a bit more during “Looks Like Rain” and “Playing In The Band.” But just when the big wave is about to crash on the beach, the Dead, prior to the stroke of midnight, take a break.
Disc two finds Bill Graham counting down the last remaining seconds of 1976 before the Dead re-emerge with an invigorating “Sugar Magnolia.” From there, it's fair game — open territory and headier sonic adventures ala “Eyes Of The World” and “Wharf Rat.” Disc three lifts off with a playful “Around And Around,” a strange, yet effective segue into a “Help On The Way>Slipknot>Drums” jam. A solid workout of “Not Fade Away,” followed by a long, emotional “Morning Dew” ends the set. A three-song encore drives the show home before the Dead call it an era. Live At The Cow Palace – New Year’s Eve 1976 features rare photos and extensive liner notes from Glenn Lambert, one of the DJs covering the show’s original live broadcast on KSAN. If you want to catch the Grateful Dead in mid-flight during one of their most dramatic, transitional periods, this is one that’ll set your mind-a-reeling.
~ Shawn Perry