For argument’s sake, let’s list the May 8th, 1977 Barton Hall show as the pinnacle of the Grateful Dead’s live existence. Going along with that long held view, then the band’s three-night run in June of that same year contains a palpable afterglow that’s chronicled in all its multi-track clarity on Winterland, June 1977: The Complete Recordings. Compiled on nine discs, these previously unreleased sets from June 7th through 9th at Winterland Arena show a confident group of players on a telepathic journey, as if the acid experiments from years past internalized in such a manner that the Group Mind has arrived in a more potent form than previous incarnations.
Of course, being in the Dead’s world there are the imperfections that remind us of the human element but here they are few and far between. Consistently each note picked is the right choice. Solos run smoothly as if Garcia is simply allowed his fingertips to the do the walking and the transitions from one song to another lock in without hesitation and as delicately as nighttime makes its change into daylight. The biggest obstacle concerns equipment failure, and that only slightly mars the beginning of a couple Garcia sung tunes including “Scarlet Begonias” on the 7th. The multiple announcements – at least one or two each night — by Weir that the band’s “crack staff” is fixing some problem even becomes a good-natured prank when he tells the crowd that an unplanned break allows them to wish Phil Lesh happy birthday. (His actual date rests on March 15th.). Further displaying the musical powers at hand, the time-filling “Funiculi Funicula” on nights one and three breeze by as if they had been thoroughly rehearsed rather than an improvised cover that can sound tentative so often in other situations.
The June 7th show starts off with “Bertha.” The rest of the two sets makes good on the song’s promise for a lively, upbeat performance. This evening drops “Estimated Prophet” and “Terrapin Station.” Over these three shows all but one track from the upcoming “Terrapin Station” release is previewed. Similar to the 8th and 9th, the fluidity and strength of each jam makes the elasticity of minutes feel as if they passed in seconds. The “Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain” finds an amicable pace while the “Help on the Way > Slipknot > Franklin’s Tower” goes off with unbridled ecstasy. On the final night, a “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo” opener doesn’t slow the momentum down at all. The song swings with energy rather then shuffles along. It all culminates in a powerhouse finish that merges the present (“Estimated Prophet” and “Terrapin Station” again) with the past (“St. Stephen,” “Not Fade Away,” “Sugar Magnolia,” “U.S. Blues” and “One More Saturday Night”). During that string of numbers, which also includes a brief “Drums,” the revolving musical worlds that define the Dead coexist and levitate, swirling around Winterland in a vacuum of sound and creation that’s nothing less than jaw-dropping.
In the liner notes, the view of the Grateful Dead as a dance band is emphasized. With the controlled flow of melodies, rhythms and spot-on instinct happening during those June evenings, Winterland, June 1977: The Complete Recordings becomes a reminder of why so many for so long have found their personal movements coinciding with the sounds heard before them, each basking in their own Third Eyes of listening.