1977 is not the greatest year for Grateful Dead concerts. 10/09/77 is not the Deads finest night, it is not even their best from 1977 or their best night from October. The Music Never Stopped is a good song. It is not a Great Song. But what the band does to it this night is what the Dead could do to just about any song. They make it Great. It begins no better than any number of versions they played throughout the years. All cylinders are popping right on time. Bob sings with his usual gusto. The verses and chorus sound good, but it is after the last chorus that things really get going. 3.24 the music begins its breakdown. The songs structure is shed. Garcia plays like two snakes intertwined, dancing through each other. Bob follows his trail, throwing loopy, curved rhythms. Lesh hops along on behind on bass like a kid on a pogo stick. The drummers keep their pace. Garcia speeds up the race moving his fingers like a jack rabbit on acid. The pace quickens, all melody and structure are thrown away, for a moment their is no longer a song, hardly what anyone would call music, but it is magic. An exciting pulsing beast. Garcia’s snakes eat each other and explode into something new. Phil thump thump thumps into the highest reaches of atmosphere. Bob is no longer playing anything like rhythm, unless it is the rhythm of some cosmic god. This lasts for two or three minutes, then without warning every musician, as if on cue, bangs back into the beat. I, wearing my headset at full volume, tense up as if a bomb has been dropped. I begin to open my mouth half expecting to sing a long with the next verse or the chorus. The boys seem to expect this to, playing the melody outright for a moment before realizing there is nothing left to sing. There are no more versus to sing, the chorus has been done. Garcia takes that cue to soar to the heavens again. The rest of the band continues to hammer out what remains of the song. The melody is there in the backbeat. Phil has it in his bass, the drummers pound it out on the skins, even Bob is back into the rhythm. But Garcia, sensing the cosmos around him wants nothing to do with the conventions of song. He skates, dances, weaves through a new song. Something the audience, as cosmically charged as Dead audiences get, must understand. It is Garcia taking us along for the ride, headed to outer space and salvation, held back only by the melody and rhythm of that song. No longer dancing, Garcia charges ahead to break free. Faster, faster, louder he plays. Like a rocket flaring to break through the atmosphere, but at last the gravity of the song still being played pulls him down. The band senses their victory and as if toying with Garcia break out of the mold of the song and begin the fast beat of the end. A crescendo of noise followed by the crash of a song ended.
No, 1977 was not the greatest year for live Dead. December was not the greatest month in 1977 and October 9 was not the Deads greatest night of October. The Music Never Stopped is not the Dead’s finest song. Yet in this year, this night and on this song the Grateful Dead created magic. Just like they did for 30 years over different year, different months and different songs.