Day 21: Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo, 9/3/77

I was driving home from class last night and was listening to Dick’s Picks, Vol. 15 when this version of Mississippi Half-Step came on. Maybe it was all the green lights that I hit that made me able to concentrate, but as I was driving along I started to notice just how long this song lasted, and the longer it went the more I liked it.

So without further ado, here’s my breakdown of what’s going on this night in New Jersey.

Who is Saddy? With a title as lengthy as “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” I think we can forgive Jerry his flubbing of “daddy” with “saddy.” I mean the title alone is enough to get one tongue tied.

Everything else starts off as one would like. The mix is good here and everyone is pulling their own weight. Garcia takes his first lead and Phil moves briskly along as well with a really full, warm bass tone. Keith skips down the keyboard as they go return for verse 2. Bobby throws in some really cool licks in the 2nd half of that verse. All three vocalists, Jerry, Bobby, and Donna sound solid on the chorus.

Jerry starts the next solo passage and quickly takes flight, adding in a few quick runs in the upper atmosphere. This is just a standout version in general as everyone is doing something cool.

Around the 4:30 mark they shift to the “Across the Rio Grande-io” chord progression and things really start cooking! At around the 5:45 mark it sounds like Jerry, Bobby, and Keith are all soloing simultaneously and somehow it just works. After building to a fever pitch, they settle down around the 6:30 mark. The song takes on a very laid back feel and Phil takes the dynamic break as an opportunity to exert himself in a few pointed instances.

You can sense that Jerry is getting ready to take off again around the 8 minute mark, and the drummers and Phil slowly take the cue and start to build the dynamics again, but it quickly plateaus and returns to the laid back feel, almost as if the music itself were mimicking the lazy river.

It’s not until the 9:30 mark that Jerry actually starts in with the vocals on the “Across the Rio Grand-io” lyrics, and Donna quickly joins, followed by Bobby. They’re not perfectly in sync, but that’s a minor quibble as they all sound on point and on key. Just before the 11 minute mark Jerry takes another solo. You can faintly detect the melody implied underneath for a while before he states it more acutely. As the song builds Jerry starts to do some of his “fanning” and it sounds like Bobby tries a bit himself at one point.

The number comes to a close with a couple throbbing chords from Phil and Keith meandering into the upper register.

All told this version of Mississippi Half-Step clocks in at 13 minutes. A quick look at my library shows this number typically in the 7-10 minute range so they stretched this one a bit more than usual, and everyone benefits!

Complete Setlist 9/3/77

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3 Comments
  1. Hey Lunchbox,
    Love the new design on the site. Haven’t had time to post since it changed. Well done.
    Don’t own this pick, but love 77 and own most of the releases. This one has been highly regarded and a little steep for picking up a used copy. My daughter had me sign up on spotify and happy to see there’s a lot of dead on there in the playlist section! with many whole show releases. Listening to this tune as I write and it’s a great version for sure and longer than any version I own.
    The truly amazing thing, from my perspective and a key to the dead to sell their catalogue is how varied and interestingly different they could be from night to night, not to mention from year to year. So many like myself hear a tune that they hadn’t before that is awesome and the mission becomes trying to purchase it. Not sure if you might cover some of the unreleased stuff, like Barton Hall ect. that are owned by most of the folks that hunt down their music.
    I hate to say this, but I think your mission is missing something. Can’t put a finger on it, but have you thought of adding a little history to that show you cover or maybe a note about the sound quality or band highlights from that night. Guessing some who come here might enjoy a little more detail. There’s got to be some that take a look that might not be so versed in all Dead. Anyways, keep up the great work. This site reminds me a little like 30 days of the dead, where you look forward to what’s coming next.

    • Hey Joe! Thanks for swinging by the new site. Glad to hear you like it.

      You have some good suggestions here. By all means keep them coming!

      I think some of the issue of being able to compare versions will take care of itself in time. For example, I’m itching to get 3 or 4 Scar/Fires a good close listen, but I want to make sure different versions of the same song are spread out. I’m trying to find a good mix of tunes (it’s hard sometimes to get away from the Jerry stuff), eras, personnel, etc., and not just play favorites (although I’m sure my biases will inevitably creep in).

      Something may indeed be missing and thanks for the ideas. I will certainly try to incorporate more of that type of information, at least when I know it. I would love to be able to put in the research time to contextualize every post, but that’s just not feasible. But I will certainly try to get more into the details when I can. I’ll try to think about what I can reasonably incorporate. I just don’t want to get into the habit of hashing out the same things repeatedly, especially since I’m confining myself to a defined, although sizable and growing as more material is released, set of songs. If I start including unreleased stuff I’m afraid it will be too overwhelming.

      I really appreciate the comparison toe 30 Days of Dead. That hadn’t even dawned on me, but I, too, love that every November. Hopefully, I can help satiate the masses the other 335 days out of the year.

  2. This here song was three or so years old by this time, and it still had a pretty good shine on it. Garcia sings and plays and means it. As with many of these first-set tunes, the focus is not razor-sharp but the sheer joy of it all matters more than that. This is definitely one extreme of the band (the mopey, introspective one being the other) and it is great to hear it. Everything is swimming along as the transition to the outro section begins. They take just the right amount of time setting this up given the hot vibe prevailing. By that I mean that they take a long time and not a note is wasted here. This is for anyone who thought the band was past their prime by this time. Hot! Around 6:30 it all settles down in preparation for the “Rio Grandio” crossing. Or does it? It seems to build again after a couple of minutes. This mini-climax indeed gives way to the sweet harmonies that will end the song, but not before Phil throws in a few choice notes. Jerry begins quietly and is joined by Bob and Donna with in-kind harmonies. These are not perfectly sweet, and Garcia perhaps decides more soloing would serve the song better. It does. He builds it back up from scratch, finally giving the fretboard a good scrubbing while the others make big noise. Phil strikes some off-notes as if to suggest a transition, but no one bites. It ends peacefully.

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