By 1977, the Grateful Dead were a phenomenon. The band grew from a psychedelic obscurity into a powerhouse of musicianship, taking the world by storm with their unique business model and approach to live improvisation. By the late 1970s, the band was a well-oiled machine, picking up new fans wherever they roamed. “Deadheads” flocked to shows in the thousands, and the music was never better.
Just when many fans thought that the Dead’s songwriting had peaked, the group debuted two of what are arguably their best compositions. The first, which actually opened the show, was a little tune called “Terrapin Station”. Written by Jerry Garcia and longtime lyricist Robert Hunter, the song evokes classical poetry with lines like “Inspiration, move me brightly” and “in the shadow of the moon.” “Terrapin” is certainly one of the more renowned works by the Grateful Dead, moving through numerous key and time signature changes on its way toward a climactic finale. That they opened a show with a brand new song says volumes of their confidence in the song’s ability to move us brightly.
Just three songs later, the band broke into another new tune, this one penned by Bob Weir and his longtime friend/lyricist John Perry Barlow (who sadly passed away in February 2018). Titled “Estimated Prophet,” the song’s unusual 14/8 time signature creates a bouncing groove that’s too funky to resist. This one also features some classical imagery, with references to Moses’ parting the Red Sea (“the sea will part before me”) and a “fire wheel burning in the air.”
Both “Terrapin” and “Estimated” would later be officially released on the Terrapin Station album in the middle of 1977, but not before fans had a chance to hear them in the live setting. Fortunately, a full recording of this remarkable performance still exists!
Listen to the whole show below, as taped by AlphaDog:
Setlist: Grateful Dead | Swing Auditorium | San Bernardino, CA | 2/26/77
Set One: Terrapin Station*, Minglewood Blues, They Love Each Other, Estimated Prophet*, Sugaree, Mama Tried, Deal, Playing In The Band > The Wheel > Playing In The Band
Set Two: Samson & Delilah, Tennessee Jed, The Music Never Stopped, Help On The Way-> Slipknot!-> Franklin’s Tower, Promised Land, Eyes Of The World-> Dancin’ In The Streets-> Around & Around
Encore: U.S. Blues
*first time played