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:

Today in Grateful Dead History: November 8, 1970 – Capital Theater, Port Chester, NY

skeleton&rosesThis 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 . . .
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. This is the final performance of Operator, a great song that the Dead only played live 4 times, all between August and November 1970.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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:

Today in Grateful Dead History: June 6, 1970 – Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA

skeleton&rosesHold on to your heads – this one is loud.

As we always do when we discuss Grateful Dead shows from 1970, we have to briefly talk about the structure of these performances.  Typical Dead shows from this time consisted of a set of acoustic Dead, a set from the New Riders of the Purple Sage (with Jerry and Mickey) and then a set of electric Dead to close out the night.  On this particular night, it appears that Southern Comfort also played in addition to the New Riders, making this a very looong show indeed.  Unfortunately, the full Dead show isn’t public, so we have a few snippets from the acoustic set and then the entire electric explosion, which is all you really need.

That’s not to say that the four acoustic songs aren’t good.  They are, especially Friend of the Devil.  But the magic takes place later.

The band starts off the electric portion of the evening with Morning Dew, which is just the shot of whiskey before things really get moving.  Two songs later, we get the first ridiculous blast of power with a killer Dancin’ in the Streets that gets rocked way out.  This is followed by a soulful Next Time You See Me and a decent China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider.  Then things start to really take off with a Good Lovin’ sandwich that contains one of four known performances of New Orleans, a song that seems to be a perfect fit for the Grateful Dead (Bobby sings it here but it would have worked for Pigpen too).    Calm sets in with a stellar, all-time good version of Attics of My Life and a fun Dire Wolf.

Not satisfied yet?  Good, because all of this was just the warm up before the explosion that is Alligator>Drums>Jam>Turn On Your Lovelight>Not Fade Away>Turn On Your Love Light.  This hour-plus segment, especially the Alligator>Drums>Jam, is a perfect distillation of the ragged, full speed ahead, barely contained but yet somehow a lot “cooler” than 1969 recklessness that was the Grateful Dead in 1970.   Add into the mix a very good Lovelight with some outrageous passages before we even get to Not Fade Away and you have just a stunning display of how good the Dead were during this incredible year.  (And just so that any thorough listeners can’t complain, I know that I’ve said before that I can’t deal with super long Lovelights.  This one is different because, 1, it’s divided by Not Fade Away and, 2, there is a lot of fully formed jamming and not just a ton of endless noodling from both band and Pigpen).  Just plug this thing in and get out of the way.  It’s a top-notch Alligator – probably one of the better ones, and it needs to be played loudly.

You can hear the electric set here: and the acoustic moments here:


Today in Grateful Dead History: October 4, 1970 – Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA

skeleton&rosesThis show was billed as Quicksilver Messenger Service’s final performance and it featured that band (obviously) along with Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead.  (The New Riders of the Purple Sage and Hot Tuna were both rumored to have played tonight too, but no confirmation, recorded or otherwise, exists).  Because of the full bill, the Dead had about an hour to perform, so they had to make the most of it.

Short set aside, the most unusual aspect of this show was that it was broadcast quadraphonically – something that had only been done live several times before and might never have been attempted since.  What this entailed was broadcasting the show on two separate radio stations at once and then tuning two separate receivers, each with two speakers attached, to the different broadcasts.  Since each broadcast was in stereo, this allowed you to manipulate all four channels at the same time.  To top this off, the performance was also broadcast on live television, so you could watch the bands and listen to the quadraphonic mix all at the same time.  (For more on the Dead on the radio in 1970, and this show in particular, you can read a great post on Lost Live Dead here).

This recording came from KSAN-FM’s stereo broadcast, so you’re not getting the full quad experience.  This obviously creates an unusual mix, with Phil and the drummers louder than they might usually be.  Additionally, the levels on Phil’s bass keep topping off, creating a semi-distorted tone that you won’t hear very often on normal recordings.  Thankfully, Phil is full of great ideas throughout the night and it’s a pleasure to listen to him.

The rest of the show is filled with shorter songs – the closest we get to “jamming” is during Good Lovin’, which is split by a six minute Drums.  Most of the short songs are all well done, with a very wide open transition between China Cat Sunflower and I Know You Rider and a wonderful, up-tempo (electric) Brokedown Palace.  Historically, tonight is one of only six performances of Till the Morning Comes, all of which took place between September and December, 1970, so it is worth tuning in just to hear that song.  Things begin to break down by the end of the show, with a very sloppy version of Casey Jones turning into a slightly less sloppy shot of Uncle John’s Band.  Still – this is high energy, good-time music.

This show isn’t going to win any awards, but if you want a short, fun listen and you’re in the mood for some serious Phil Lesh, then this is a great bet.  Listen here: