On Wednesday and Thursday, May 18 and 19, 1977, the Grateful Dead played at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Fabulous Fox has a cool story. I’ll let the folks at the Fox Theater Institute tell the beginning:
“In 1928, the Fox was originally conceived as a home for Atlanta’s Shriners organization. To create a headquarters befitting the group’s prominent social status, the Shriners looked to the ancient temples of the Far East to inspire a mosque-style structure befitting their stature. Storied architectural gems like the Alhambra in Spain and Egypt’s Temple of Kharnak heavily influenced the building’s elaborate and intensely ornate design. Bursting with soaring domes, minarets and sweeping archways, the exterior of the building gave way to stunning gold leaf details, sumptuous textiles and exquisite trompe l’oeil art inside.
Ultimately, the design was so fantastical, it became more of a financial burden than the Shriners could bear. Shortly before its completion, the Shriners leased their beautiful auditorium to William Fox, a movie mogul who had launched his empire by building theatres across the country to meet America’s insatiable affection for the new moving pictures that were sweeping the nation. By the end of the 1920s, these aptly-named “movie palaces” were an integral part of nearly every community in the country, each one more gilded and exquisite than the next. Developers like Fox spared no expense, understanding all too well that these movie palaces were the gateway to a brave new world, transporting eager audiences to exotic, elegant settings they could only imagine.
With Fox’s financial backing, the 250,000 square foot Fox Theatre was completed, with the crowning addition of ‘Mighty Mo,’ the 3,622-pipe Möller organ that remains the largest Möller theatre organ in the world even today. The Fox opened on Christmas Day in 1929 to a sold-out crowd, premiering Steamboat Willie, Disney’s first cartoon starring Mickey Mouse.
Word about the magnificent new Fox Theatre quickly spread. Its striking red-carpet entryway and ornate gilt work, soaring turreted ceilings and stained glass windows, all leading to a vast cobalt “sky” with a sea of twinkling stars, were the perfect accent for the glamorous productions audiences lined up to see.”
Mr. Fox ran into financial trouble during the Great Depression, and the theater was sold at auction for $75,000. But it continued to be one of the country’s premier movie palaces until it shuttered in 1974. With the theater facing demolition, Atlantans rallied to help, raising three million dollars for its restoration. The theater opened again in 1975.
The Dead played the Fox for the first time two years later. Their debut run came in the middle of what may be the most celebrated month in the band’s history – May 1977. The band even put out a box set not too long ago called May 1977, featuring five complete shows from 5/11 – 5/17. (Full disclosure: 1977 is by far my favorite GD year.)
Needless to say, they were in rare form by the time they got to Atlanta. May 18, however, isn’t quite the barn burner that you might expect. Instead, it’s heavy on the Jerry ballads. Jack-A-Roe is pretty deliberate, almost reggae-fied, but very good. Friend of the Devil and It Must’ve Been the Roses are near perfect; High Time probably is perfect. And there’s a really great Ship of Fools before the big second set segment: Estimated Prophet > Eyes of the World > Drums > The Other One > Stella Blue > Around and Around. (I should do a blogpost about the overuse of the > symbol. It’s supposed to represent a real in-tempo segue, Phish-style, not simply a pause before launching into another song.)
Over to the LMA reviewers. snow_and_rain called this show “overlooked.” jakester76 highlights the Eyes jam: “THIS STUFF IS SICK!!!!!” Teaklee concurred: “The highlight to me was the exquisite 10 minute jam out of Estimated that segues into a joyful Eyes intro jam, which clocks 5 minutes even before Jerry sings the first verse.”
snow_and_rain “really can’t say enough about the Stella Blue from this show. The transition from the Other One and the excruciatingly slow and luscious pace make this 15+ minute Stella an all-timer.” doug_the_dude said that “Set 1 just exudes more of that rock-solid confidence, if not Cornell sublimity,” while “Set 2’s suite is a masterwork – Estimated > Eyes > Drums > Other One > Stella > A&A. Every tune has something unique and beautiful about it, particularly that colossal Other One and the fragile, downright *virginal* Stella – don’t forget about that Brokedown encore, either!”
ECM talked last time about the world-beater Brokedown Palace encore on 5/16/80. How does 5/18/77 compare? Not as good, but still good and generous, which is a nice word to describe how so many May ’77 shows sound. (Most of the credit goes to Betty Cantor, who recorded them, but a little goes to Charlie Miller, who always finds ways to take the tarnish off the gold and leave it glowing.) There’s something incredibly intimate about this music – it sounds so much closer than even headphones can approximate.
Transport to the Charlie Miller transfer of the soundboard recording on archive.org HERE.
The very next show isn’t on the LMA because it’s part of an official release – the front half of Dick’s Picks #29. (That pic of the band is a cellphone pic from the booklet – thanks, ECM. There aren’t any other pics of from the Fox shows that Ed and I could find, and we’re fucking good at that shit. No posters, no tickets. That’s why I’m using the dumbass cd cover as a header image.)
LMA fave dr. flashback labeled his review of this show “favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite” and “top 10!” He riffed:
“Just when you think you’ve heard all the great May 77 shows, along comes another beautiful SHN soundboard mind-blower! Jerry delivers a sweet Sugaree and Peggy-O. The Passenger is hot and raunchy (why did they drop this song?) and Bobby closes with a Dancin that rocks the house. The 2nd Set features the collection of tunes that really showcase where the Dead were at with their collective jamming mind in 1977 – Terrapin > Playin and Uncle John. Throw in Estimated, Wheel and the first China Doll since 1974, and you’ve got one of the best shows of the year. Encore? Forget it, your brain can’t take anymore! The night before is also very good, but this one trumps it for me.”
Embers dad agreed with “the authors of the Deadhead’s Compendium on this one. Best show of May 77. Not to take anything away from the other legendary shows that took place that month, but this one doesn’t have a single let down…not one note.” Whoa. Not a single note? High praise. Andy-O from Fennario mentioned the Sugaree, and added, “Though it’s true that basically all shows from May ’77 rank extremely high in all the important categories, this particular show stands out. It is, quite literally, the best of the best.”
Yeah, guys. This show isn’t messing around. According to Grateful Dead 1977: The Rise of the Terrapin Nation, the Playing in the Band > Uncle John’s Band is the third best moment of May 1977 – #1 is Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain from 5/8, and #2 is Half-Step Mississippi Uptown Toodeloo from 9/3. (Fwiw, this show’s Sugaree was #11.) The author there gushed:
“Pure exhilaration! Out of the cosmic weirdness of Playin’ in the Band, the Boys mellifluously flow into an Uncle John’s Band reprise even though they had yet to begin the song. The music halts, and as if they’d been down this road a thousad times before, the band harmonizes—’Whoa oh what I want to know oh, oh, is how does the song go?’ And whap, they rev it up from the get go–Uncle John’s Band in all its rage and glory, with a Drums > Wheel > China Doll > Playin’ conclusion to the Mother of all loops in the Fox Theatre.”
Or, as ECM, my/our guy, described the segment:
“The Playin > UJB is worthy of all the praise. The entry into UJB is especially unique b/c it begins with the outro chords/jam of UJB and the final vocal reprise ‘Whoa what I want to know is how does the song go.’ With that they launch into the beginning of UJB. I suppose it could be considered an ‘inverted’ version for those who are in the know about the Disco Biscuits.”
I’m not in that know at all, but, if you are, cool.
Transport to the yummy remastered soundboard on Spotify here…