Day 318: Dancing In The Street, 5/15/77

Grateful Dead May 1977 St Louis 5/15/77 album cover artwork

I know some folks don’t like the “disco Dead” version of Dancing In The Street but man do I love it!

After Pigpen died there weren’t as many R&B vamps in the band’s set. It always amazed me what they could do with one or two chords, kind of what James Brown was able to do, but in an entirely different context. And this arrangement of Dancing In The Street is just that – a whole new context. If the goal was to get people to dance it seems like this is the song to play. This isn’t your four-on-the-floor disco, but it’s not too far off. And the jam…. goes on and on. It’s like a coda for Pigpen era Dead. (As the strident bluesman of the group I could see Pigpen being a bit nonplussed by this arrangement though!) But the new sound Dancing In The Street was one of the new developments in the post-hiatus Grateful Dead. The song had laid dormant since NYE 1971 until it rose from the ashes as a funky phoenix in June 1976. So with almost a year of funk under their belts by the fabled May 1977 tour we get this iteration of the song — and it’s a doozy.

The highlight of the jam for me is the return to the verse with that little walkdown part. It’s got a similar effect to the signature lick in the jam of Let It Grow in my eyes. I love the way that the rehearsed lines intersect with those composed on the fly and how they (almost) always fit so seamlessly together. So thank you, for a real good time!

The name of the game with the “disco” version of Dancing in the Street is fun, and fun certainly abound here. Phil pounds out a series of fast, funky bass riffs, and Keith throws in a bunch of little trills that mesh quite nicely with the timbre of Jerry’s envelope filter. Just before the five minute mark Jerry flips on another effect and his guitar sounds like some type of space laser gun. Jerry moves on to some bass-heavy playing before dialing in his tone and returning to that funky midrange sweet spot. The jam on this song goes on for quite a while. Fortunately it’s primarily a single chord vamp and this means that the band, but notably Jerry, have ample time and opportunity to try out a wide array of ideas and that’s what transpires here in spades. Listen, for example, to the little riff that Jerry and Bob play together right after the 9 minute mark. That’s the type of on-the-fly composition that makes this just a great jam. Around the 10:30 mark it seems like Jerry is trying to signal to go to the descending jam, but no one takes the bait so he says screw it and jumps right back into the established jam. In fact it’s not until 13:10 that the gang gets the ball rolling on the descending jam. This is always a highlight of the disco Dancing In The Street for me because it breaks up the vamp so nicely, keeps things really interesting, and serves as a phenomenal segue out of the extended jam section. What follows is a vocal jam on the song title that continues for several minutes before a final instrumental push brings the song to its logical conclusion. Phew! And that was only the end of the first set, but what a great jam to end on!

Complete Setlist 5/15/77

Previous Dancing In The Street DFAY Selections

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