Today’s show is a mysterious beast with several special guests, a partially missing Jerry Garcia, the final performance of a classic song and two one time only tunes – just the right kind of off kilter 1969 show to keep this project interesting.
Theories abound (and are dealt with in detail in this great post on Lost Live Dead), but many people believe that this is the show that Phil Lesh was referring to in his book when he described a night when the band (other than Pigpen) was dosed with such a strong batch of acid that it was lucky that they ever made it onto the stage at all. Several facts about this show support this conclusion. First, Jerry isn’t on stage for most of the second set, leaving Paul Butterfield Blues Band guitarist Elvin Bishop to play lead guitar during the thirty-five minute Turn on Your Lovelight as well as two blues numbers that the Dead only played on this one night – The Things I Used to Do and Who’s Lovin’ You Tonight. Second, Bob Weir appears to drop off for most of Lovelight too. Third, while Phil manages to stay onstage, his playing – and remember, it’s his book that sparked this discussion – is way out there, even for Phil. In addition, Wayne Ceballos, the lead singer of a Bay Area band called Aum, sings Lovelight, not Pigpen, who instead appears towards the end to introduce Ceballos. Ceballos later confirmed that “we were ALL pretty toasted!” Think about it – while all of this makes for a strange night, the first three songs of the second set are some of the only lengthy non Drums/Space moments of recorded Grateful Dead that you’re ever going to hear that don’t feature Jerry Garcia. Which makes this show pretty unique in and of itself.
The first set of the night, before the drugs presumably kicked in with gusto, is actually a really high quality performance that starts off with an exceptionally engaged and pulsating Dancing in the Streets. The solos here soar and Phil plays right along with Jerry throughout. This leads into a sublime He Was a Friend of Mind, a delicate tune that is lightly played, a nice antidote to all of the heavy music before and after. China Cat Sunflower leads into the fourteen minute final performance of New Potato Caboose, a very complicated song that the band would never play live again after tonight. This is one of the best versions, with a spaced out jam session midway through and some incredible bass work from Phil.
This is a historic night, with some excellent playing mixed in with a whole lot of chaos, which is just the way the Dead liked it. Hopefully you do, too.