The Wall of Sound made its way to the City of Brotherly Love on this night in 1974. And the Dead get things going with a ripping Bertha. Then there is a quick Mexicali, preceding a righteous stand-alone Scarlet that is top shelf material, though Donna haters should beware. A dark and sweet Black Throated Wind sidles out next, before a tight Deal. A song later, a slow and absolutely luscious Peggy-O comes out. And, as good as the Bertha and Scarlet was, it is at this point that the boys finally get the Wall dialed and really lock in. The jams in Peggy-O are languid, but so rich and textured, everyone adding a distinctive piece to the beautiful whole. And the seething Jack Straw that comes next is at least as heady with some inimitable runs from Jerry and a lengthy jam. The only bad thing about it is that it is not nearly as long as it appears, because there are several minutes of tuning afterwards before a solid stretch of Loser, El Paso, and Row Jimmy. Then we get America’s favorite fun game: Take a Step Back. All of that opens some space for an epic Playin’ to see the set out. This jazzy, raging beast - twenty-five minutes strong - is one of the best standalone versions and bears repeated listening.
Phil and Ned rip Seastones during the intermission, before another round - one of the most inventive - of Take a Step Back. And after a little tuning, Jerry takes it into Ship of Fools. Although the return is somber, the music is spectacular, with Jerry and Keith both playing sublimely. Big River, Loose Lucy, and MAMU come out afterwards before a choice It Must Have Been the Roses. But that is only a prelude to an incredible Weather Report Suite. The music is simply otherworldly, and the jam off the back - if we might take a crack at describing it - is some sort of traveling carnival from the cosmos that sets down in Philadelphia for a spell. Wharf Rat grounds us again in the dark aura of the foggy waterfront, and the jam crackles and smolders before launching into US Blues. Sugar Mags then comes in to close the set on a pair of high octane ragers.
The stage announcements at the beginning warn the audience not to light matches, sparklers, or fireworks because of the fire danger. The building itself was actually cement and stone. But much of the interior, including the basketball court, where the Sixers had played in the sixties, was wood. The Civic Center was an art deco design, completed in 1931 in the early years of the Great Depression. Four times the building served as the site of national political conventions and hosted, in addition to professional basketball, college sports and pro hockey. But by the time the Dead played there in ’74 (and even more so when they returned for a three-night stand in 1984), the Civic Center was in the midst of a long downhill slide, which the opening of the Spectrum in 1967 had precipitated. Eventually, the city tore the Civic Center down in 2005. The University of Pennsylvania built a medical facility on the site a few years later.
Portions of this two-show run in Philly were released as Dick's Picks 31.