The Dead’s Best: The Sweetest “Eyes Of The World”

by Peter Wendel
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Jerry on his Travis Bean in 1977

“Eyes Of The World” is on everybody’s short list of favorite Grateful Dead songs. And why wouldn’t it be? It’s got a little something for everyone – transcendent “we are the world” lyrics from the mighty Robert Hunter; triumphant, deeply soulful vocals from Jerry; and soaring, stretched out jams that carry you off to distant shores. Did I mention plenty of room for Garcia to solo? Well there’s that too.

This five-star “Eyes” performance takes place on September 3, 1977 – Labor Day weekend – at Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ (a 30-minute drive from the fabled Jersey shore). There’s a festival atmosphere to the outdoor event with multiple acts performing – New Riders of the Purple Sage and The Marshall Tucker Band were there, in addition to The Dead.

“Eyes” – coming out of a well-played “Estimated Prophet” – starts out buttery smooth with the band delicately building the foundation of what would become (in my opinion) The Grateful Dead’s finest performance of the song from the ’70s.

EyesOfTheWorld_edited-1It comes together in a (relatively) compact 13 minutes of smooth, soulful brilliance. It’s uptempo (no dragging here at all), and Jerry gets to work early, blazing up and down the fretboard of his slick white Travis Bean in jubilant cascading runs. And Phil adds perfectly placed fills from his funky bass line.

The entire band is technically tight with crisp execution from all quarters, including backing vocals from Donna (not exactly perfect but close).

It’s a stellar all-around performance, but the real treat is when Jerry lights himself on fire at about nine minutes in. Leading into the mayhem, he lays down two sweet solos (4:33 and 7:29). Gonna take a whole pail of water just to cool him down. Hearing is believing.

September 3, 1977 – Raceway Park, Englishtown, NJ

Listen to the entire ’77 Englishtown show here at the archive. Don’t miss the “Half-Step” or the “Terrapin” encore.

For the purpose of comparison, give a listen to this monster version from 1990 with Branford on sax.

March 29, 1990 – Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY
The best of the latter-day performances. Jerry’s weathered vocals and Branford’s magical sax meld to perfection. Absolutely breathtaking. One of the last versions with Brent on the keys.

Peter Wendel is a journalist and PR consultant. He's attended hundreds of concerts and festivals, including the Peach, Mountain Jam, the All Good and Lockn'. He's ridden legendary Grateful Dead runs from Ventura County Fairgrounds to Irvine Meadows (CA) from the Nassau Coliseum (NY) to the Boston Garden (MA). Peter is a former U.S. Marine who – after running into trouble with every last one of his commanding officers – received an honorable discharge and a direct order never to return. Born in California and raised in New Jersey, Peter lived in Boston and Joshua Tree (CA) before settling in the nation's capital. Find him on tour at PWendel@SongMango.com.

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