Ever since I learned how to play it, I’ve loved Ship Of Fools. Of course I’m a sucker for Jerry ballads though, too.
This particular version came early in the song’s history, being only the 16th time the band played it. Appearing on 1974’s From The Mars Hotel, it was obviously a new song that year but still it’s a bit surprising that it made an appearance in the encore slot. Don’t get me wrong, if the goal is to wind the crowd and send them floating home peacefully it’s a solid choice. I don’t know how often Ship of Fools was played as an encore, but I’m willing to wager it wasn’t very frequently.
Ship of Fools tends to be more of a typical song than a jam vehicle. That is part of the appeal to me. For this type of song it is easier to focus on the song and what the song needs. Yes, Jerry was the dynamic fulcrum for the Grateful Dead in many ways, but here he generally lets others add color and nuance to the song as he focuses on his vocal duties. His simple guitar, if not typical for this song, guitar solo speaks to this idea as well. (Of course, “simple” for Garcia is a relative term. Even in simplicity he was often light years ahead of other guitarists. That was part of his genius.)