Grateful Dead
"Road Trips Vol. 4 No. 5 Boston Music Hall 6-9-76 "

Originally released at the end of 2011, this midyear 1976 performance documents the Dead’s return to steady touring; it was their third gig of 1976, the first pair were in Oregon. At that time they also decided to perform in concert theaters as opposed to larger arenas. After their supposed farewell (five-night) stand at San Fran’s Winterland at the end of 1974, the band performed sporadically (and only near their San Francisco backyard) during 1975. Once at Kezar Stadium on March 23rd, Winterland on June 17th, at the Great American Music Hall (also a nationwide radio broadcast featuring their brand-new “Blues for Allah” album) on August 13th, and at Golden Gate Park on September 28th. Prior to 1975 Deadheads were accustomed to a minimum of one-hundred live concerts per year; rightfully they refer to 1976 as their comeback tour.
This three CD box-set is the last entry (of seventeen releases over four years) from the original (long out of print) “Road Trips” series distributed by Rhino Records and at (I’m figuring Real Gone Music will reverse release the entire “Road Trips” series in similar fashion as they did when they reissued (last to first) the entire Dick’s Picks series (named for Dead vault archivist Dick Latvala) thirty-six volume catalog.
During that period Mickey Hart had returned to the band after a five-year hiatus. I will never consider Hart’s return as second drummer a smart decision for the Dead. Especially since hearing how much Bill Kreutzmann grew during the years when Mickey disappeared. (Note: Hart abruptly departed when it was found his father, Lenny the-money-manager, absconded with over one-hundred-and-fifty-thousand-dollars of the bands profits. Within two years Lenny was busted, spent only six months in jail, and died in 1975; he was fifty-five. The Dead’s “He’s Gone” is based on Lenny’s criminal embezzlement and disappearance. Not a pretty legacy.) That being said it’s clear that Kreutzmann is held-back and hampered by having to accommodate Hart as their unnecessary second drummer, the dynamics of the band deteriorated, and continually worsened during their forthcoming and remaining years.
Disc One: The traditional “Cold Rain and Snow” is kindly covered as the opening tune for the first set; the band sounds receptive to each musician’s nuances setting up what should be a fine night of music, plus the sound from the old Boston Music Hall is sweetly captured by the extraordinary recording engineer Betty Cantor Jackson. “Cassidy” (Weir/Barlow) is taken out for a pleasant and leisurely spin – it’s a little short, but fun. “Scarlet Begonias” (Garcia/Hunter) is also breezy and laidback, it’s here that Mickey Hart gets on my nerves overplaying his irritating cowbell, though at least Donna Godchaux doesn’t get into her usual vocal howling ritual. By the way: this “Begonias” doesn’t segue to its typical pairing with “Fire on the Mountain.” It took four songs to start covering new tunes from “Blues for Allah” (1975) the (Weir/Barlow) “The Music Never Stopped” is floated out, finally there’s some fire in the outro jam that mostly smolders from Garcia’s bent note guitar solos; again it’s a short version with a brief exit jam. Also from “Blues for Allah” is the reggae styled “Crazy Fingers” (Garcia/Hunter) plods on and on for over twelve minutes, but if you can endure the first seven-eight minutes there’s a heady little jam at the end that (thankfully) doesn’t return to the intro reggae theme. Johnny Cash’s “Big River” is the fieriest tune covered so far as Garcia amps up the volume and pours needed octane-boost onto this first-set stroll, but it doesn’t last when Garcia dredges up the tedious “They Love Each Other.” Moseying along to “Looks Like Rain” (Weir/Barlow) eventually ignites (slightly) midway, with pretty vocal passages between Donna and Weir that sets a picturesque ending. Another of my least favorites “Ship of Fools” (Garcia/Hunter) causes me to fast forward to the set-ending “Promised Land” (Chuck Berry) that feels compulsory yet enthusiastic. Leaving me wondering; what might the second set bring?
Disc Two: the second set opens with the long-lost “St. Stephen” (Garcia/Lesh/Hunter). The first half of this eleven-minute tune is performed at an excruciatingly slow pace, but during the instrumental second portion becomes fascinating; exceeding anything heard earlier. As they finalize “Can you answer? Yes, I can. But what would be the answer to the answer man?” Garcia’s guitar leads the band into an extended (17:13) “Eyes of the World” (Garcia/Hunter,) and it’s magical especially when the plot thickens via the rare pairing to “Let It Grow” (Weir/Barlow) at a few ticks over eleven minutes. All in all; this second set non-stop three-song opening runs at just under forty minutes. At this point I thought it was an odd choice going with the usually first-set filler: “Brown Eyed Women” (Garcia/Hunter) and thought they could have just leaped to the subsequent pairing of “Lazy Lightning – Supplication” (Weir/Barlow) that purrs and segues smartly. “High Time” (Garcia/Hunter) is another long (9:20) snore, the traditional “Samson and Delilah” is punchy and funky, but “It Must Have been the Roses” (Hunter) bores.
Disc Three: “Dancing in the Streets” made famous by Martha and the Vandellas kicks-off another non-stop three-song jam that’s nearly thirty minutes long. Hey folks this is the mid-seventies and not only are we partying and dancing in the streets, we’re maxing out the soul-groove towards disco funk where my one and only complaint is Hart’s bizarre overuse of his damn cowbell that’s also over-amplified and should have been mixed down and out the mix; welcome back Mickey Hart – not! Funky dancing shifts to the mystical “Wharf Rat” (one of my most favorite Garcia/Hunter tunes) rarely disappoints: let the drama unfurl as it should and does on this nearly eleven minute rendition. Finalizing this trilogy is another rock ‘n’ roller “Around and Around” (Chuck Berry) that seemingly rounds out the night. But there’s an encore and someone must have reminded the band that they should be pushing their new album “Blues for Allah” as they deliver a standalone “Franklin’s Tower” (Garcia/Kreutzmann/Hunter) concluding the evening’s merriments. *Note: Blair Jackson’s fine and original liners report that this “Franklin’s Tower” is the only time in the bands history that they ever performed it without pairing, usually by way of “Help on the Way / Slipknot!”, also from “Blues for Allah.”
Bargain Time: Disc three has at least thirty-one minutes of room left, so why not feature additional music? Fast-forward to the final night (6/12/76,) of four concerts: Bean-town on Saturday night, I know I drove up for the show, that was also broadcast on Boston’s WBCN-FM (I also know because my buddy and I brought a friend who stayed in our hotel room to record the broadcast.) Included are six tunes all authored by Garcia and Hunter, hmmm? Starting with “Mission in the Rain” nearly seven minutes and I’m asking myself why? “The Wheel” also a standalone rarity. Yes, I prefer when they pull this out during a segued / flowing tune late jam during a second-set, yet this version is tangy, sweet and spacey, too. “Comes a Time” (Garcia/Hunter) rolls in from an unspecified jam though indicates it was likely segued from “Wharf Rat,” and while I’m not a big “Comes a Time” fan, this version is quite effective and soulful. The last three tunes are the encore: a kicking “Sugar Magnolia” (Weir/Hunter) coupled with a swinging and pumped up “U.S. Blues” (Garcia/Hunter) back to a rousing and intense “Sunshine Daydream” otherwise known as a vocalized non-instrumental “Sugar Magnolia” reprise. Nice.
Many old-time Dead concert goers of this era were a bit skeptical about the newfound slickness. I recall having mixed feelings, too, but also felt that if the band wanted to continue into the eighties and beyond, their next-generation growth process had to continually evolve. So re-listening to this 1976 graduation class – audio yearbook of the Grateful Dead still works well for me, albeit some forty-plus years later. Enjoy.

For 17 years Bob Putignano has been pivotal with his Sounds of Blue radio show. Hear new Homegrown Sounds of Blue internet radio shows: Previously a contributing editor at Blues Revue, Blueswax, and Goldmine magazines, currently the Music Editor for the Yonkers Tribune & Bob was also the 2003 recipient of the “Keeping the Blues Alive” award (given by the Blues Foundation in Memphis) for his achievements in radio broadcasting. Putignano can be contacted at: