Grateful Coogs

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The Grateful Dead’s seemingly bottomless music vault will ensure live releases long after the band actually resembles their skeletal doppelgangers in the “Touch of Grey” video. But their most recent issue has an H-town connection sure to spur memories of packed seats (and packed bowls) all across the city.

Unlike the long-running Dick’s Picks series, which presents full shows, the newer Road Trips cherrypicks choice cuts from several concerts played around the same time. The just-released Volume 2: October ’77 features five tracks from the band’s October 14 gig at U of H’s Hofheinz Pavilion: “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo,” a cover of Marty Robbins’ “El Paso,” a 17-plus minute “Playing in the Band,” “Brokedown Palace” and a reprise of “Playing.”

In addition to being the coolest year ever in the history of the universe because it saw the release of Star Wars, 1977 saw the Dead’s profile reach a pretty high level - albeit not often to the liking of their diehard fans.

There was the release of the meandering The Grateful Dead Movie and the Terrapin Station album. The latter was a particularly odious entry in the band’s canon, as it was a definite move into making a more mainstream rock record with potential “hits.” This included an abysmal, disco-fied cover of “Dancin’ in the Street,” the equivalent of very bad weed (although it did also give us “Estimated Prophet”).

Onstage, though, it was a different story. Returning to gigging after a years-long hiatus the year before, Jerry, Bob, Phil and Bill were joined by returning second drummer Mickey Hart and keyboardist Keith Godchaux and his vocalist wife Donna. By the time of these shows, the group is a well-oiled, but still loose, machine playing with a lot of skill and vigor.

The 2-CD set is available only from the band’s official web site (www.dead.net). Early orders also receive a third bonus disc of nine tracks, including “Loser” from the Houston gig. Fire ‘em back up, Coogs; just be sure to clean your pipes. There’s nothing worse than the taste of stale bongwater. – Bob Ruggiero

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