Friday, April 24, 2009

Grateful Dead - To Terrapin: Hartford ’77 (Album review)

My experience with the legendary Grateful Dead is limited. Outside of listening to a mixed bag of both live and studio recordings from the group and the stories my father has told me of my uncle’s own time spent as a Deadhead following the band (he supposedly spent Christmas day in Billings, Montana en route to Oakland), I’m still relatively unfamiliar with the legend that is the Grateful Dead.

After the death of lead guitarist Jerry Garcia in 1995, members Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann formed a band that would eventually find its name to be The Dead. In celebration of The Dead’s current tour, a new live recording from the Jerry Garcia days has surfaced and been released. It just so happens that it’s a date at the local Hartford Civic Center, which was the location of the final show of a legendary 26-date east coast tour in the spring of 1977.

My initial post-listen reactions: I wish I had been around in those days. If you don’t understand the appeal of the Grateful Dead before listening to this recording, one that lasts nearly three hours, you will halfway through. And take this from the perspective of someone who just loves music and the live experiences it brings with it, not a hardcore following fan of the group.

The epic recording brings forth some of the Grateful Dead’s most notable tracks, including a scorching first set packed with tunes such as “Bertha”, “Sugaree” and “Candyman”. Interfused between the meat of the songs are the absolutely legendary jams the band has been known for ever since its incarnation. It’s presumable to assume that it is both Garcia and Bob Weir that absolutely tear through guitar solo after solo while the rest of the group follows suit. The second set spectacularly ends the show with perfect versions of “Playing in the Band”, “Terrapin Station”, and “Wharf Rat”.

Part of the appeal for me, as a 21-year-old who will never be able to experience the band the way the people in the house did that night, is the mystique of the event. There’s a high energy level that doesn’t drop once after the start of the show. Performances like this are a thing of the past for the most part. Even The Dead isn’t the same without its legendary front man Jerry Garcia.

Those that enjoy themselves a little psychedelic blues-infused rock and roll every now and then would be doing a huge favor by giving a listen to To Terrapin: Hartford ’77 in terms of expanding your knowledge in the history of music. This is a landmark quality recording from an absolutely legendary group of musicians. Those members that have passed are remembered and those that continue to create mind-spreading music are still celebrated to this day.

The Grateful Dead is a band most loved and known for its live recordings. That said, To Terrapin: Hartford ’77 would be a fantastic way to infuse one’s mind into the legacy that is the Grateful Dead. You might not become a Deadhead yourself after listening to this recording, but you’ll certainly understand why some spent their time following this iconic group around.

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