Like yesterday’s show at the Fillmore East, tonight’s show from the Carousel Ballroom (soon to become the Fillmore West) often appears on lists of best Grateful Dead shows, and with good reason – the Alligator>Caution (Do Not Step On Tracks) from the second set of this show encapsulates everything that was brilliant about the Grateful Dead in the late 60’s. It’s a raunchy, exploratory experience of such pure bliss that it’s hard to find its equal in the catalog.
But there is so much more going on with this show than just this one segment. For starters, while the Dead played the Carousel Ballroom once in 1967, this was their first show at this venue since they decided to run it as a collective with Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Big Brother and the Holding Company. So, obviously, the boys wanted to blow the hinges off the doors at their debut performance, and they succeeded with flying colors. Second, the band was using material from this show (among others) to assemble Anthem of the Sun, their second album, so they were likely trying hard to capture a certain “something” for the album. What that something became, apparently, was parts of the Alligator found on Anthem, but not a lot more.
Getting into the actual music, the opening combo of Morning Dew>Good Morning Little Schoolgirl is a powerful way to begin. Schoolgirl, in particular, accelerates for what seems like hours until everyone comes together in one enormous blues explosion near the end. After a short Dark Star, the band plays China Cat Sunflower into The Eleven, a combination that the Dead only attempted a few times during the first months of 1968 (and once in May 1969). This is an exciting transition, especially if you’re not looking for it, and it could have held up on its own over time if the band had kept it intact, although I’ll take China>Rider and St. Stephen>The Eleven over this any day.
The second set is just one long exercise designed to push the audience’s sonic framework to as close to the breaking point as possible without actually shattering minds. It opens with a mighty The Other One>New Potato Caboose and then this twists and turns through Born Cross Eyed and into an elaborate Spanish Jam, which begins sparsely and ends up sounding like Metallica playing Grateful Dead tunes for one of the longest Spanish Jams I can remember. All of this pinwheels into the aforementioned Alligator and then things really hit the stratosphere. Suffice to say, the Dead leave nothing on the shelf here – this is unbridled playing, uninhibited by anything or anyone – the music is truly playing the band. After almost ten minutes of what is called Feedback (it should really be called Deep Space) Pigpen comes back out to lasso the crowd with In The Midnight Hour. The band is gassed at this point, but the song manages to hold together until, finally, they bring things to a close ten minutes later.
If you are not used to 1968 Grateful Dead shows, this one is going to shock the senses. The band’s tone is so much rawer than it would ever be again (even in 1969) and the energy is through the roof (see Jerry’s first short “solo” on Midnight Hour as a classic example). But once you hear this, you can never go back to who you were before. This is ear-altering stuff.