August 1, 2007
Listeners who don’t like Live at the Cow Palace should just give up on Grateful Dead music. The band was rarely in finer form, and they cherry picked a terrific set list from their songbook (“Uncle John’s Band”), band member solo albums (“Deal”), and numbers that had yet to appear on vinyl (“Samson & Delilah”). They deliver innovative arrangements of staples (“Bertha,” “Round and Round”) and unfurl satisfying jams (“Eyes of the World,” “Morning Dew”).
The overall sound isn’t far from Europe ’72, although Keith Godchaux’s keyboards are barely audible and there is, of course, no Pigpen. The long exploration of textures and timbres in “Playing in the Band” remains engaging and never strays far from tunefulness, whereas “Slipknot!/Drums” is fully deconstructed. Phil Lesh’s bass is particularly inspired, driving up-tempo tunes and punctuating spare interludes with precision and authority. Garcia’s guitar shows hints of an aggressive style (“Wharf Rat”), and use of effects (“Scarlet Begonias”), that he would develop more fully in the years to come.