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Dead of the Day: October 19, 1974

Winterland Arena
San Francisco, California

For our Dead of the Day, we go back to the Winterland run of ’74. At this point in their career, the Dead had grown into such a behemoth institution with the Wall of Sound and massive road crew along with a large number of other employees - some 40 or 50 altogether - that the boys were losing money at every turn. They also felt that within the confines of the Grateful Dead they were increasingly unable to continue to explore musically in the way they wanted to. So, they decided to do the only thing they could think of, which was call it quits with a five-show run at Winterland.

From the very beginning of what was to be the second to last show ever for the Grateful Dead, the band plays hot and tight with a wonderful version of Mississippi Half-Step, followed up by a snappy, quick Me And My Uncle. Every song here in the early going is special, but the Must Have Been The Roses is possibly a best ever version because it is so painfully heartfelt and emotional. The Black Throated Wind is also worth a mention with Bobby’s amazing vocals and Jerry’s incredible guitar work. But the crux of the first set is definitely the Eyes, which is masterful and immensely beautiful. There is some great jamming throughout it and Jerry’s guitar is so bright and lucid while the rest of the band, Phil especially, provides a rich and textured canvas for him. While the transition into China Doll is subtle, the latter song itself is, as usual, haunting and wonderful, the darkness of it providing a powerful counterpoint to the joyful Eyes.

Ned and Phil’s work is more separate than it was the previous night with a clear break between their interlude and the Uncle John’s that follows. In fact, it is not clear whether Ned and Phil are actually a set unto themselves or the opening to the second set. Regardless, the second set gets rolling in earnest with that Uncle John’s. After that, it is really just a warm-up to the Sugar Mags, though we do get the last Tomorrow Is Forever, a seldom played tune, which Donna puts her mark on with her backup vocals.

The Sugar Mags starts off the final set and is somewhat more subdued than normal. Here, though, it kicks off a heady stretch of He’s Gone> Truckin’> Caution Jam> Drums> Truckin’> Black Peter> Sunshine Daydream. The playing throughout is imaginative and intensely impassioned, especially that Caution and long jam back into Truckin’. Knowing that the band saw this as their penultimate show, it is not hard to imagine they were reflecting on everything that they had been through together as they went through this stretch of biographical music. Whatever was happening, it is so hot and tasty. 

Of course, the Dead filmed this show, along with the entire Winterland run, for the Grateful Dead Movie.

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