While the year 1977 typically, and justifiably, gets a lot of the attention in Grateful Dead lore, the previous year has its fair share of gems too. With the Godchaux tandem now firmly entrenched and the return of Mickey Hart, the band was approaching the peak of its collective power in 1976. A slew of new live material that was unleashed the year before and earlier this summer was proof of this. Today marks the anniversary of the fourth ever appearance in Rochester for the Grateful Dead, last playing here in 1973. A rowdy Upstate New York crowd greeted the Dead for this performance at the War Memorial (now known as Blue Cross Arena) – one that’s filled with a distinct blend of classic songs and some fresher material still relatively new in the live setting.
Tonight’s performance gets a true “rock n’ roll” opener thanks to a lively cover of Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land” that has the Rochester crowd clapping along in time. A couple of impressive guitar licks early on from Jerry Garcia show he’s adequately warmed up and Bob Weir executes the vocals to perfection. Instead of pushing the pace even further, after some brief technical delay the Dead move over to the slow lane for “They Love Each Other.” They still manage to find their way into a nice early groove though, aided by another Garcia solo and some delicate piano work from Keith Godchaux.
After some more extensive post-song tuning, the band then does a slow build towards the intro of what turns out to be an emphatic “El Paso” with Weir once again manning the vocals. This gives way to another first set staple in “Deal” that gets some harmonious assistance from Donna Jean Godchaux on the chorus. She also adds some delightful harmonies to the emotional “Looks Like Rain” that follows and features another organic, slow build of communal energy.
The Dead keep in a similar mode for the slow, near plodding, tempo of “Row Jimmy” that comes next and elicits a few more emotionally-charged guitar solos from Garcia as well as supplemental dulcet tones from Donna Jean on vocals. Once completed, Weir implores the crowd to take place in “America’s Favorite Game: Take A Step Back” to prevent those in the front few rows on the floor of the War Memorial from getting further squished. This seems to call for another cover song and the choice is made for “It’s All Over Now,” a song popularized by The Rolling Stones more than a decade ago.
The first set staples then roll on, this time with “Loser,” another Garcia-dominated number. The soulful, introspective lyrics are matched by a guitar solo that has the Rochester crowd in mass, loud approval. Once completed, the Dead then introduce Rochester to the most recent of their traditional song pairings. This time, it’s the relatively new “Lazy Lightning” and “Supplication.” With both songs making their live debut just months earlier in 1976 at shows in Portland OR, this was undoubtedly the first time this sequence was able to experienced for some East Coast Dead Heads. “Supplication” hasn’t even been given lyrics yet and is played as a sturdy instrumental that the Rochester crowd eats up.
The opening set comes to an end with an interesting pairing of songs. First, it’s a rather unusual late set placement for “Brown Eyed Women” that has some early vocal flubs from Garcia on the intro but then wastes no time rounding into form with the crowd once again lending on-time audible support through applause. “The Music Never Stopped,” another newer song that just came into its own this year which features more vocal interplay between Weir and Donna Jean, then closes the book on the first set.
The second one opens with another relatively fresh tune, this time it’s the Garcia and Robert Hunter composition “Might As Well,” another song that made its live debut just months earlier. It’s supported by another bouncy guitar solo and gets a welcomed reception from the crowd. Afterwards, the recognizable drum beat that begins “Samson and Delilah” ensues and the Dead are off and running with another newer song that’s still finding its footing in a live setting. Weir nails the Biblical lyrics and Garcia provides more than enough support with some fiery guitar licks with bassist Phil Lesh competently holding down the bottom end.
After another band “huddle,” a drawn out intro to “Help On The Way” ensues with the band almost seemingly throwing in a “Music Never Stopped” tease for good measure before fully diving into “Help.” It feels like a slightly quicker version that’s played a little faster than it’s traditional styling yet, nevertheless, still flows seamlessly right into its traditional running mate in “Slipknot!” with no issues. This latter half of the pairing quickly devolves into a free-flowing, improvisational jam with Garcia and Lesh once again leading the way. This yields some of the more intensive and psychedelic jamming of the evening, a perfect springboard into the “Drums” section which soon follows.
After essentially putting the cart (“Space”) before the horse (“Drums”), the Dead jump right back into a high-octane, free wheeling jam that winds its way perfectly into the beginning of a thunderous “The Other One” that shows the band at their improvisational best.
After reaching a climax, the Dead slow things down considerably with “Wharf Rat” which gets another warm reception from the Rochester crowd. Garcia leads the band through this ballad-esque number with typical aplomb and his signature vocal stylings. In a bit of a twist, once completed they actually go back and play a definitive “Slipknot!” reprise for a few minutes, returning to the main theme and a smooth segue into “Franklin’s Tower” that, along with “Help On The Way,” completes a holy trinity of Grateful Dead songs. The band, and Garcia in particular, take their time with this crowd favorite and it results in 17-plus minutes of euphoric musical composition that the War Memorial crowd eagerly soaks up.
The Dead then bookend tonight’s show in Rochester with another Chuck Berry cover, this time “Around and Around,” sung by Weir in his typical increasingly rambunctious fashion. A “U.S. Blues” that doesn’t seem to have made the recording then wraps up tonight’s Rochester show. The band would continue their Upstate New York travels and play a gig the following night at a different War Memorial, this one in Syracuse.
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Grateful Dead Community War Memorial Auditorium – Rochester, NY 9/27/76
Set 1: Promised Land, They Love Each Other, El Paso, Deal, Looks Like Rain, Row Jimmy, It’s All Over Now, Loser, Lazy Lightning-> Supplication, Brown Eyed Women, The Music Never Stopped
Set 2: Might As Well, Samson & Delilah, Help On The Way-> Slipknot!-> Drums-> The Other One-> Wharf Rat-> Slipknot!-> Franklin’s Tower-> Around & Around
E: U.S. Blues