Winterland was one of the focal points of San Francisco's rock scene for ages, and no band was more closely associated with the venue than the Grateful Dead -- making them an appropriate choice to bring the curtain down for the last time. A companion to the
DVD set of the same name, this four-disc, four-hour set, recorded on New Year's Eve, 1978, presents the band's concert in its entirety, and it's an aptly winding trek indeed. The band kick things off by harking back to the jug-band stylings of their genesis, via sweetly swinging, bucolic versions of songs like "Sugar Magnolia" and "Scarlet Begonias," before segueing cleverly into the country classic "Big River." The evening's second set finds the Dead stretching out into more improvisatory territory, notably the stellar unison playing of Jerry Garcia
and Phil Lesh
on "Samson and Delilah" and the hyper-extended medley of "Not Fade Away" and "Around and Around" (which adds John Cipollina to the already potent guitar attack). In keeping with the celebratory nature of the evening, the band took the then-rare step of playing "Dark Star" -- an intense, particularly spacey rendition, with eye-opening sparring between Garcia and Bob Weir
. By the night's end, the Dead had given themselves over to pure party mode, trotting out animated versions of "Good Lovin' " and "Johnny B. Goode" before bidding adieu to Winterland and its habitués with a sing-along "We Bid You Goodnight." Talk about going out with a bang.