The opening notes of Promised Land send the audience into pandemonium while simultaneously setting up a tremendous night of music. The whole band comes firing out of the gate for this tune, especially Keith, whose keys are blazing. Next up is Sugaree, filled with airy imagery and some really sweet guitar licks. A nice Cassidy and TLEO follow, the latter ripe with more sizzling runs from Jerry. Phil unleashes and Billy and Mickey throw down some killer beats throughout a ripping Music Never Stopped. Brown Eyed Women glides effortlessly out of the previous tune before an expansive Lazy Lightning> Supplication. Jerry brings us back to earth with a heart-wrenching Row Jimmy, featuring some elegant slide guitar. An energy-packed Big River comes next, once again sending the crowd into a frenzy. But all of this is just window dressing around the Mission In The Rain. Jerry’s vocals are absolutely breathtaking, and the whole band rises up into the heavens and delivers a raw and emotional rendition. Mission is such a gorgeous song, and it is a real shame the Dead only played it five times, all of them here in ’76. The Looks Like Rain that comes out next is tasty too with some lovely contributions from Donna. Regardless, the band sends it into Might as Well to end the set with another crowd-pleasing rocker.
The second half begins with the percussive-heavy beat of Samson. And while the Samson might not be the most powerful version, Keith and Jerry add some sensational runs on top of Phil and the drummers mighty beat. A short pause follows before the first notes of Help on the Way sidle forth, and we are off on another trip altogether. Jerry sizzles through Help, sending out two different solos that the crowd answers with an appreciative roar. As the band transitions into Slip, the darkness and depth of the jam is on full display. And just when you think you have been consumed by its hypnotic power, Franklin’s Tower shines forth and you enter another level of ecstasy. Let It Grow follows, almost orchestral in its grandeur and complexity, though the drum solo in its midst, which the band drops into and surges out of, is a bit jarring. A nearly ten-minute Friend Of The Devil puts in a rare late second set spot in this show, and it fits together beautifully. Here, the music is so righteous and pure, especially the lengthy jam in the latter half, belying the lyrics. A short Playin’ follows, transitioning into an insane spacey jam that surveys the most distant galaxies before suddenly sidling right into Dancin’ to close out the show with another crowd-pleasing rocker.
Just four shows into their return from hiatus, the band is returning to form and then some. The sound is mellower, more pared down than '74, which makes sense. But they also seem like they are actively trying - not always successfully - to hone the music, polishing what was already the rarest of gems. And as they searched for that more refined, even sophisticated, sound throughout the year, the music could be uneven or oddly experimentive, like the drum solo in the midst of Let It Grow on this day. But the playing was always stellar.