Today in Grateful Dead History: September 20, 1970 – Fillmore East, New York, NY

skeleton&rosesIf you’re looking for a great acoustic Grateful Dead performance, look no further than the first set of this show from the Fillmore East.  While the entire night is a first class 1970 Grateful Dead show, it’s the acoustic songs that steal the thunder from a pretty heavy electric performance.

The format for Grateful Dead shows during this tour was pretty consistent – 1 set acoustic Dead, 1 set New Riders of the Purple Sage (with Jerry and Mickey), 1 set electric Dead.  The setlist for the electric set is really interesting, with one of only five Big Boy Petes ever played, one of only 23 Sittin’ on Top of the Worlds and a very early version of Sugar Magnolia.  Caution (Do Not Step On Tracks) is a beast that devolves into a pretty well-deserved Feedback and one of the longest And We Bid You Goodnights that you’ll ever hear.  The arrangement of Not Fade Away is also slightly different than usual, but that seems to be more of a one-off situation than a concentrated effort to push the song in another direction.

With all that being said, the real heart of this show, and the reason that it garners so many accolades on the Archive, is the acoustic first set, which features David Grisman and David Nelson on several key songs.  This is one of the best acoustic Dead sets you’ll hear from this era, with awesome versions of all the key songs, including an Uncle John’s Band opener, amazing harmonies on Dark Hallow and a beautiful Rosalie McFallTo Lay Me Down is about as great a version of this song as the Dead ever performed – it sucks you right in and spits you out, wasted, on the other side.  New Speedway Boogie maintains a brooding, freight train quality throughout its almost ten minutes and Cumberland Blues is awesome as usual.  Finally, a historical note – the Grateful Dead only played Truckin’ acoustically on this tour, and tonight was the final acoustic performance.  From here on out, Truckin’ would be the full-throttle electric version that everyone remembers.  So savor the slow pace and the thoughtful Bob Weir vocals – they won’t be back again.

I don’t have a ton of time to write about this show today, but you don’t need a long review.  Just listen to the first set and, if you can, get your hands on a copy.  This is one you’ll listen to again and again.

Listen here (warning – recording quality is nicht so gut, especially for the electric set):


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