The Grateful Dead, June 1976, (Rhino)

There can be no doubt that 1974/5 were the darkest two years in The Dead’s three-decade run. As a matter of fact, they had pretty much ceased to exist, and if you look at the literally hundreds of shows they played in 73 it isn’t hard to see why: they were flat-out exhausted. If they had called it quits right there, they would be seen as a psychedelic relic on par with Jefferson Airplane or Hawkwind and not the granite American institution they are now and always will be. Ever the mellow survivalists, thankfully The Dead clawed their way out of their respective Frisco hovels, dropped a few fresh doses, and started rumbling back to life. By 1977 they were laying down absolutely legendary shows that will forever attract new and younger Deadheads as long as the world survives. But the first stirrings began in 1976, a year not often cited in Dead circles, with a pair of shows in Oregon that featured a clearly rejuvenated band with Mickey hart back in the lineup and a batch of heady new songs from the Blues For Allah sessions. In typical Dead fashion, Rhino has done gone and released ALL of this summer run, five shows in their entirety from the West to Philly to Illinois. And each one is a complete smoker, with a couple (here’s looking at YOU Boston Music Hall and Beacon Theater) rivaling better-known ’77 stunners like Cornell 77. Hearing Jerry and Bobby and Phil and Hart/Kreutzmann and Donna Jean and Keith G. stirring to life after many dormant months, stretching out on the very first “Help On The Way/Slipknot”s and “Franklin’s Tower”s is truly a beautiful thing to behold. Plus, the 20-minute “Playing In The Band” from Capitol Theater just may be the definite version. For all you 77 freaks out there, why don’t you to cue up this monster set and feast on some 76 for a change?