Today in Grateful Dead History: March 7, 1970 – Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica, California

skeleton&rosesThis forceful performance from 1970 runs very short and it’s clear that at least one or two songs are missing.  Since the Dead were on the bill with at least one other band tonight (it’s all, apparently, very murky), it’s quite possible that this recording really represents most of the Dead’s performance, but there’s always the chance that there’s a whole other chuck of this show out there somewhere.  So, if you’re reading this, and you have your hands on any other music from this night, I’m begging you, put it out there, because the show that we do have is sweet from start to finish.

This period of 1970 marks such a massive transition for the Grateful Dead, as their raucous, ear-splitting sixties sound was ever so slowly morphing into a somewhat quieter, subtler kind of music.  This shift would take all of 1970 and some of 1971 to come to fruition, so we’re just at the cusp of a lot of momentous changes for the band, changes that really began in earnest with the departure of Tom Constanten in February.

What this means for the music tonight is that you’re still going to get the raw, blistering sound of 1969 Grateful Dead, applied in some cases to much calmer songs like High Time and Black Peter.  If this doesn’t sound appealing, then your mind needs to be slightly adjusted, which this recording will likely accomplish right off the bat, as the aforementioned Black Peter swings through.  Yes, it’s still the same old Black Peter you’re familiar with.  But the tone is rugged.  You’ll know what I mean as soon as you hear it – Jerry and Bob sound like they are trying to tear the strings off their guitars, just pulsing out the chords.  China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider is very fast and almost overwhelmingly loud, but stupendous all the same.  High Time is a revelation – the boys are screaming the chorus as if they mean every single word.

After some horrible cuts, we’re dropped into the middle of the rest of the show, which is Not Fade Away>Drums>Good Lovin’>The Other One>Not Fade Away>Turn On Your Lovelight.  Crazy, no?  The Good Lovin’ into The Other One is obviously the weirdest thing about this sequence, but, not surprisingly for the Dead at peak early 70’s form, it works great – a throbbing bass line, the guitars join in and then the tempo changes completely to get us into The Other One – this requires everyone to be in perfect sync and the Dead deliver.  This Other One, by the way, is a tour-de-force.  It’s only six and a half minutes long, but that’s because there’s just no way the boys can keep playing this quickly for much longer.  The power never waivers during the transition back into Not Fade Away and then we’re just launched into Turn on Your Lovelight.  The crowd goes bonkers, and rightfully so, as the Dead just continue to wail away on this piece until Pigpen does the Pigpen thing and we reach even greater heights.  Unfortunately, the song (and the show) cuts off before the end, but the twenty-four minutes we’ve got are mind-blowing enough.

As I write this, I’ve already listened to this whole thing twice – I’m considering just leaving it on repeat for the rest of the day.

Listen here (it’s an interesting AUD):


Today in Grateful Dead History: February 13, 1970 – Fillmore East, New York, NY

skeleton&rosesI wish I had more time to talk about today’s show from the Fillmore East in 1970 since it’s one of the best Grateful Dead concerts of all time.  But things got a little hectic at work today, so this is a going to be a fairly short review.  You don’t need a lot of words: just go listen to the show.

The Dead’s shows from this era at the Fillmore East were actually two separate performances – an early show and a late show.  During this run, the early show was often short and the late show usually stretched out a bit longer.  On the same bill tonight – the Allman Brothers Band.  What it night it must have been…

There aren’t a ton of jams in the early show tonight – it’s mainly a warmup for the main event.  However, the Good Lovin’ achieves liftoff and everything else is incredibly tight.  The Dead are playing exceptionally well here and the recording quality is almost studio-esque.  All of the instruments stand apart from one another and the vocals are strong.  This is a wonderful appetizer.

After the break, the boys come back and light into a smoking China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider.   A couple songs later and we get one of the best, if not the best, Smokestack Lightnings you are ever going to hear.  Pigpen kills it here and the band simply slaughters the jam, which is extensive at 23 minutes.  After the song concludes, the Dead swap in their acoustic guitars and perform a few shorter numbers, climaxing with Pigpen taking a guitar and sitting center stage to sing Katie Mae solo.  It’s a wonderful moment.

Once Pigpen is done wooing the audience the boys plug back in and lay down an epic Dark Star with hints of Cosmic Charlie throughout.  I’m not going to be able to describe this one well – it needs to be heard in full, and don’t sleep on the simply outstanding ending that melts into The Other One, another insane performance that stretches for 30 minutes, just like the Dark Star that preceded it.  Again, the band just lays everything out there on this one and they continue to melt minds by transitioning into a 30 minute closing Turn on Your Lovelight that brings the house down.

Trust me here – if you could only preserve 90 minutes of Grateful Dead music, you might very well pick the end of this show – there is probably no greater Dark Star>The Other One out there, and the Lovelight is the icing on the cake.

Listen – please listen – here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: January 31, 1970 – The Warehouse, New Orleans, LA

skeleton&rosesThe Grateful Dead were busted by the New Orleans PD after last night’s show (the event that led to the famous line in Truckin‘), but the band, troopers that they were, still made it to their show at the Warehouse tonight.  Unfortunately, after playing 8 songs, Phil’s bass amp exploded and the boys were unable to continue playing as a full band.  So Jerry and Bob, with a little Pigpen, played an impromptu acoustic set for another 45 minutes and then everyone called it a night.

Obviously, the acoustic numbers, plus the early-morning arrest story, give this show something of a legendary reputation, but when you evaluate it simply on the music, there’s not a ton going on here, which isn’t surprising since everyone except Pigpen was in jail over night.   There are some serious rarities in the acoustic set, including Seasons of My Heart (5 times played), Saw Mill (first time played out of 8 total) and Old, Old House (2 times played, this is the last), but since these aren’t normal Dead tunes, they aren’t really that great – it’s more like the boys sitting around a room passing the guitar back and forth. (Some of the other songs are more polished and would hang around for a while).  The cool thing about these tunes is the insight they give into the band’s state of mind at the time – this is the stuff they were immersed in while preparing Working Man’s Dead and American Beauty, and the influences are clear on those albums.  But live, and unrehearsed, it’s more a historical document than a great show.

The actual electric portion of the evening shows promise, especially Hard to Handle, which developed over this year into a pure monster of a tune, and Morning Dew, which was not a subtle song back in 1970 but it almost always works.  If you want to hear what could have been had Phil’s equipment not gone haywire, you can check out tomorrow’s show, which features a 40 minute batshit crazy version of Lovelight featuring Peter Green on guitar.  But for tonight, you’ll have to relax and enjoy the coffee house vibe.

Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: January 10, 1970 – Golden Hall San Diego Community Concourse, San Diego, CA

skeleton&rosesSorry for the missing days lately – you can comfort yourselves knowing that there were no shows available yesterday and Monday’s wasn’t anything great.

That being said, we’re back today with a very short but scorching show from San Diego in 1970.  You know exactly where the boys are headed from the opening burst of China Cat Sunflower, which just accelerates into a forceful I Know You Rider.  Every other song here is just as hyper – Dire Wolf almost goes out there, Hard to Handle should be slightly reigned in, and Mason’s Children keeps improving over last month’s original performances.

The show concludes (remember we said it was short) with Good Lovin’>Cold Rain and Snow>Turn on Your Lovelight, all of which are dialed way up, especially Cold Rain and SnowLovelight finds Pigpen enhorting the crowd to get up, and with a show this catchy, one can’t understand why he has to ask.

Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: January 3, 1970 – Fillmore East, New York, NY

skeleton&rosesToday’s show from the Fillmore East in 1970 is a double shot of Dead, just like yesterday’s offering from the same venue.  And just like yesterday’s show, this is a high octane New York City performance with the band in fine, vintage form.

The first show is anchored by an exceptional version of Alligator.  After the initial theme, the song ventures off into Drums for a few minutes before roaring back into a jam of all jams, incorporating Going Down the Road Feeling Bad, Caution (Do Not Step on the Tracks), China Cat Sunflower (which would be played in full during the second show) and Mountain Jam, all within a few minutes of intense action.  Not only is every member of the band on the same page through this passage that could not have been planned if they wanted to, but everyone is breathing fire and shooting brimstone as the melodies tumble out one after another.  This is quite the sequence and would make the show worth hearing if it were the sole highlight.

But of course there is a second show and the second show features an amazing Cryptical Envelopment>The Other One that stretches the limits of both songs.  These are intense versions, much better than the ones from yesterday, and it really shows how Cryptical Envelopment works as a song that is unique from The Other One and not just a prelude / postlude.  Another highlight of the late show is a smoldering version of Black Peter that sounds completely different from the laid back, almost throw away versions of that song that would show up later on in the year.  After a cool electric Dire Wolf, the band throws the dance party switch with an incredible combination of rockers: Good Lovin’ and Dancin’ In The Streets with an encore of Saint Stephen>In The Midnight Hour, the only time in Grateful Dead history that those shows would be paired together.  If you want to hear the Dead as the dance band they always said that they were, then this is the show for you, as everything here is free wheeling, foot stomping fun.

Finally, (I should have mentioned this yesterday) this set of New York shows really gives us an opportunity to hear Tom Constanten’s contributions to the band.  For a variety of reasons, TC usually ends up completely overwhelmed in the mix, but during these shows he is really prevelant and his playing adds a lot to the overall sound of the songs.  It would have been very interesting to see what would have happened had he not left the group at the end of this month, but there’s no need to dwell on hypotheticals – let’s appreciate what we’ve got here.

This night is a long haul of a listen, but if you make it 3/4 of the way, the rockers are going to lead you home energized.  Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: January 2, 1970 – Fillmore East, New York, NY

skeleton&rosesHappy New Year everyone!

For some reason, I was under the impression that the Dead hadn’t played on January 2nd, so I was pleasantly surprised to find this ferocious blast of vintage Grateful Dead waiting for me this morning.

Today’s show from the Fillmore East is really an early and a late show all in one, and while it’s the late show that holds the 30 minute Dark Star that will peel your ears back, the early show has its moments too, starting with the opening Mason’s Children, which the Dead only premiered a couple of weeks ago.  A couple of other new songs, like Black Peter and Cumberland Blues, still sound like they are being worked out, but these initial, sparse arrangements work well tonight, warts and all.  The big exploratory piece of the first show is Cryptical Envelopment>The Other One>Cryptical Envelopment, which is not a huge version but it’s very delicate in parts and well done in general.

The second set opens with a very strange, only played twice combo of Uncle John’s Band>High Time which should be heard for history’s sake if nothing else.  After a few starts and stops (and a cut apart China>Rider), the band plays a scorching Good Lovin’ before a couple more throw away numbers like Me and My Uncle and a sloppy Monkey and the Engineer.  But you’re not listening for that, you’re listening for the Dark Star, which is chock full of various familiar themes like the Tighten Up Jam, but it also flows into some very open space that hints more at Feedback than at a solid tune.  Unfortunately, the ending is cut, so we go straight into a rollicking St. Stephen, which, while it isn’t going to be the best one you ever hear, is plenty good enough, and the following Eleven is also a joyous beast.  As if all of that isn’t enough, we’re set for a dose of the Pig, and a massive Turn on Your Lovelight that just seems to get richer and more fun as it goes.  What a second show and what a way to start the year.

Listen to this monster here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: November 20, 1970 – The Palestra, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY

skeleton&rosesThis is a really hot show that suffers from a poor recording in many places and some setlist questions.  But what is certain is this: after the Dead’s main performance, they are joined by Jefferson Airplane’s Jorma Kaukonen for a unique jam session that more than makes up for the issues with the recording.

This is a powerhouse 1970 Grateful Dead show – raw and thrilling throughout.  Good Lovin’, wherever it belongs in the setlist, is a highlight, as is the phenomenal Truckin’> Drums>The Other One>Saint Stephen>Not Fade Away>Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad>Not Fade Away>I’m A King Bee that takes up a lot of space during the second half of the proper Dead show.  It’s a weird thing to hear I’m A King Bee at the end of this sequence, but Pigpen rips it up at a level equal to or greater than all of the rockin’ that’s been taking place around him.

When the real Grateful Dead show concludes, Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, who had been performing elsewhere in Rochester that night, joins the band for a great extended jam session that starts with It’s All Over Now and launches into uncharted waters from there.  Jorma and Jerry sound like two peas in a pod throughout the night, trading licks and other ideas and generally playing at an exceptionally high level considering that they both already played full shows before this jam started.  Things really lock in during the Dead’s first and only performance of Darling Corey, which strays (atmospherically, at least) from its folkie roots.  But this is just the midway point in 30 minutes of spirited playing that also includes a messy version of Around and Around.  Once all of the guitar heroism is out of their systems, the boys settle down and send us home with Uncle John’s Band as the audience claps along.

As I pointed out at the beginning, there is only one flawed audience recording of this show available on the Archive.  Pieces of songs are cut, there are tons of dropouts and flips and the sound quality of what’s on tape is not ideal.  But this is an example of a show that needs to be heard even if it doesn’t sound great – the Jorma jamming alone makes it a keeper, despite the outside noise and the Dead’s full show doesn’t disappoint either.

Listen here: