This very popular Grateful Dead show from 1970 features so many firsts, onlys and lasts, which are important historically but don’t contribute too much to the musical magic of the night, that I’m going to list them before getting to the heart of the matter.
Keep in mind as we go along here that the Capital Theater was a legendary venue for Grateful Dead shows, with an extraordinary number of epic performances taking place within its hallowed halls during 1970 and 1971. In fact, its energy is so important that it is one of the only venues where Phil Lesh still regularly plays. (I’ve already written about two other shows from this run, November 5th and 6th, along with the February 18, 1971 show, and I still haven’t gotten to my favorite Capital Theater performance – June 24, 1970. Stay tuned). In any event, there is always magic in the air here, and tonight is no exception. Now, on to the list:
- This is the Grateful Dead’s first performance of Around and Around, a classic Chuck Berry song that was originally released as the B-side of Johnny B. Goode, another song the Dead played to death. In the case of Around and Around, the Dead played it 419 times after tonight and they almost never did anything interesting with it, but, like everything else Dead, there are exceptions to the rule – 8/5/74 and 2/4/79 are particularly inspired versions.
- This is the Grateful Dead’s first and only performance of Mystery Train, a Junior Parker song made famous by Elvis and perfected by the Band. The Dead don’t completely ruin it. This song leads into . . .
- The first and only Grateful Dead performance of My Babe, written by Willie Dixon and made famous by harmonica master Little Walter. Jerry’s vocals are really low on this recording, but musically it’s fine.
- This show features one of only two performances of New Orleans>Searchin’ in the Dead’s repertoire (the other was 8/29/69). This combo offers the chance to compare Bob Weir v. Pigpen singing soul songs – I’ll let you guess who pulls it off.
- This is the final performance of Operator, a great song that the Dead only played live 4 times, all between August and November 1970.
- Tonight is the final performance of Wake Up Little Suzie, a song that never made sense in the Dead’s arsenal. I think they probably played it as a dare to see how well they could harmonize. The answer, at least for tonight, is not so bad.
- This was the last time that the Dead played The Main Ten, a musical set piece that evolved into Playin’ in the Band, which would debut in this very venue during the aforementioned 2/18/71 show. More on this in a minute.
- Finally, and most importantly in the grand scheme of Grateful Dead history, tonight was the band’s last official acoustic set until the acoustic/electric shows in 1980. While I love the band’s output during the 70’s (who doesn’t), it would have been pretty amazing to hear some acoustic music every once in a while. Can you imagine what that would have sounded like in 1976, for instance? Good stuff.
Having disposed of the trivia, lets talk about the rest of this show. Like most Dead shows during 1970, this one was acoustic and electric, as described above. Tonight, the Dead played an acoustic set followed by a New Riders of the Purple Sage set (it’s appended at the end of this recording) and then a long electric Dead set. The acoustic performance is typical 1970 acoustic Dead with some great stage banter. The highlight for me is probably Uncle John’s Band, which closes the acoustic set. This song doesn’t always work when performed on electric instruments, but I think it holds up really well on acoustic. The boys also do a good job with the harmonies.
After the break, the band comes out and just explodes into one of the best Morning Dews I’ve ever heard. I don’t think this version reaches the full-band heights achieved by the canonical 5/8/77 version, but Jerry’s playing here is amazing. His runs send shivers down your spine and his guitar tone is perfect (and this is coming from an audience recording to boot). If you want to hear exactly why Jerry Garcia is considered a guitar hero, this would be a good place to start.
What is a band to do after opening a set with a performance like that? Well, because this is the Grateful Dead, they follow it up with cowboy songs and some blues and a Bob Dylan cover before getting down to business with Truckin’. You can tell right away that things are going in the right direction now, and then Dark Star takes over. It begins normally, but after the first (and only) verse, everything becomes incredibly quiet. Little by little the band fills the theater with sound – atonal rumblings, drums in strange places, squawks and squeaks of guitar and chimes(?) which could be keyboards or may actually be chimes. Who knows? This swirls and builds and then suddenly changes into The Main Ten, a very intense exploration of rhythm that rises out of the chaos. After several minutes of syncopation, a gentle jam takes over and transports us into Dancin’ in the Streets. This is a perfect moment. Dancin’ ensues, but soon the band moves as one into another amazing set piece, a Tighten Up jam for the ages. The audience audibly gasps. (You can hear just how riled up everyone is when the recorded changes sources in the middle of all of this). This beautiful sequence resolves back into Dancin’ and we come down to earth for a moment.
But the Dead aren’t done. After catching their breath, they’re on to Not Fade Away>Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad>Not Fade Away>Good Lovin’>Drums>Good Lovin’ to close things out. There are two Mountain Jam teases here, one in the middle of the first Not Fade Away and then a more obvious one during Goin’ Down The Road. Jerry also sings an additional verse during this song, making it a rarity on a night filled with them. Good Lovin’ brings the house down and the cries for more ring out as soon as the last note dissipates.
This show is a long ride, but it’s an amazing performance. The combination of crazy, one-off covers, new material, acoustic songs and sonic exploration is really hard to beat, and it is almost impossible to find in any year other than 1970, which is why so many fans love this time period. But this show also signals the end of the acoustic Dead and ushers in a new era, which many consider to be the band’s best. For a group that is constantly evolving, tonight marks another turning point on that long, strange highway they’d ride for another 25 years.
Listen to the complete, amazing audience recording here: https://archive.org/details/gd1970-11-08.aud.weiner.28609.sbeok.shnf/gd1970-11-08d3t02.shn