After listening to this show at an absurd volume for a workplace, I’ve deduced the following: on February 15, 1969, Jerry Garcia really, really wanted to play a ton of guitar.
This whole show, from start to finish, is really just one very long guitar exhibition. I can’t recall, off the top of my head, another pre-1970 show of this length with this much soloing. The only moments of respite take place during Dupree’s Diamond Blues and Mountains of the Moon, which are played back to back to open the second set. Every other single song the Dead play tonight features Jerry just shredding repetitive trilling runs all over the fretboard at earsplitting volume with no concern for anything else around him. While this approach could play havoc with a lesser band, everyone else seems willing to at least try to keep up. They aren’t always successful, but that’s probably because they’re just as thunderstruck as the crowd.
I’m not exaggerating the amount of guitar, or the sheer force of the playing. Are there highlights? Sure – Cryptical Envelopment>The Other One>Cryptical Envelopment in the first set is a dank, dark, dangerous version. St. Stephen>The Eleven is huge, but it’s also cut up. But the coolest section, for me, is the end of Alligator moving into Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks), where Jerry plays the what one source calls a And We Bid You Goodnight Jam. This is the music that usually comes towards the end of Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad. Tonight, Jerry explores every possible iteration of this melody, the rest of the band contributes and the effect is a gorgeous, powerful display of playing during a night that can easily be overwhelming to listen to straight through. And then there is this titanic Caution which is wild and threatening and, it must be said, pure awesome.
If you want guitar, this is your night. There are other peak Jerry shows, but this is definitely in the pantheon.