Saturday, January 2, 2016

Grateful Dead – May to August, 1971

I'm sorry it’s been so long since I have written anything here – hopefully posts will become more regular now.  For this and a few subsequent contributions, I will turn my attention to several Grateful Dead shows that I attended within a given calendar year where I did not take any photographs, starting with 1971. When I graduated from high school, I no longer had regular access to a darkroom for some time, which served to limit, but not completely curtail, my taking pictures at shows.

Winterland 5/30/71. As noted in an earlier post, the Dead show scheduled for Friday 5/28/71 was postponed two days because of Garcia’s illness. He was well enough to play the next night, a show I did not attend, but lives in some infamy as the night scores of audience members were unwittingly and heavily dosed by electric Kool-Aid. Given the ruckus that this caused on the streets of San Francisco after the show, I was not too sorry to miss this one.

There was no Kool-Aid in evidence the following night, which comprised a long show starting with Bay Area folk-rock ensemble RJ Fox, followed by the New Riders and the Dead. James and the Good Brothers, who were advertised as opening the shows, did not perform on the 30th.

The Dead’s two sets were characteristic of the band’s consistently high level of playing in that era, peppered liberally with the new tunes (“Bertha”, “Playing in the Band”, “Loser”, “Deal”) that they had rolled out in early 1971.  Other highlights were a rare first set “Morning Dew” and the west coast debut of the band’s electric revival of Pig’s playful rendition of Lightning Hopkins’ “The Rub.” The one thing this show lacked was an extended improvisational segment, with the second set jam consisting of a fairly standard “Truckin” that led right into a “Lovelight” that featured a memorably raunchy rap from McKernan. The show wrapped up with a nice pairing  of “Uncle John’s Band” and “Casey Jones,” followed by an encore of “Johnny B. Goode.”The second set of this show was given an official release on vinyl by Grateful Dead Records in 2012.

Fillmore West 7/2/71. In late Spring 1971, Bill Graham announced plans to close down both the Fillmores East and West. For the last hurrah of the San Francisco ballroom, Graham scheduled a week’s worth of shows featuring many of the musicians that put San Francisco on the musical map in the late 1960s. When KSAN announced their plans to broadcast all of the concerts, I chose to stay home and tape the shows off of the radio. As it turned out, most of the shows that week were relatively disappointing, with groups like Quicksilver Messenger Service, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and It’s a Beautiful Day having lost much of the magic of their glory days a few years (or in Creedence’s case, only a few months) earlier.  The notable exceptions were a sizzling Sunday night set by Santana (for which the band chose not to allow a broadcast), and a dazzling evening of music on Friday night that saw Jerry Garcia onstage for at least six hours with three different bands.

Opening the show were the Rowan Brothers, Chris and Lorin, who had recently moved from the east coast to Marin, and were in the process of recording their debut album for Columbia. For the Fillmore set, the duo were augmented by a group of heavy hitters comprising Garcia on pedal steel, Phil Lesh on Bass, David Grisman on mandolin, and Bill Kreutzmann on drums. Their brief set fit right in with the evening’s laid back country-rock vibe. For those interested, the bulk of the 7/2/71 Rowans set is available on the duo’s fine 2004 double CD Now and Then.

By this time, the New Riders had toured almost constantly with the Dead for over a year. Although Garcia’s days in the pedal steel chair were numbered, his command of the instrument was at its peak, and these mid to late 1971 NRPS sets were some of the band’s best, mixing material from their as-yet unreleased 1st LP with great covers like “Down in the Boondocks,” “Lodi,” and “Six Days on the Road.”

Although the band only had two songs in the Last Days of Fillmore movie, their entire set was widely circulated in trading circles and through a number of early bootleg records. The band was in exceptionally fine form that evening and, although their set was fairly standard for the era, it included a number of memorable moments, including the ferocious “Bertha” opener, a stand-alone version of “That’s It For the Other One” dedicated by Phil Lesh to Owlsley Stanley, and, as a final encore, a version of “Johnny B. Goode” for the ages introduced by Garcia as “Here’s the one it’s all about.” All in all, a really fine way to bid farewell to the venerable old ballroom where the Dead played so many gigs.


8/14/71 Berkeley Community Theater. Up to these shows, I had only seen the Dead in Bill Graham’s grungy ballrooms, so it was a bit unsettling to see them in this relatively genteel concert hall across the bay. At 3500 seats, the BCT could hold more people than the Fillmore West but far fewer than Winterland, and its configuration, a wide concert hall wide rows of reserved seats and a spacious balcony, made it seem much more intimate and upscale. As was true with most 1971 shows, the New Riders opened with a generous set including both “Garden of Eden” and “Superman,” the two tunes that comprised the original 1969 demo by the proto-New Riders, then going by the moniker Marmaduke and Friends. As was often the case, the Riders set wrapped up with their plaintive cover of the Band tune, “The Weight” with Garcia chiming in on vocals for the last line of the chorus.

The Dead’s set featured two of songs that were new as of the summer tour - Garcia’s “Sugaree” and Pig’s “Mr. Charlie,” both collaborations with lyricist Robert Hunter.  In its early incarnations, “Sugaree” weighed in at a perfunctory 6 minutes, although it soon thereafter became a vehicle for Garcia’s extended soloing.  The rest of the show was relatively standard for that era. One unusual fashion note was that Bob Weir was wearing a tie-dyed tank top very similar to the one he sported in the closing of the Fillmore movie. Another mystery that I couldn’t solve until decades later was the presence of a guest keyboard player who, starting with the Truckin’/The  Other One jam,” shared the bench with Pigpen and played some decidedly more adventurous organ lines than what we had come to expect from Mr. McKernan. The rangy, long haired keyboardist’s identity came to light when Ned Lagin revealed his secret history of sitting in with the Dead in the 1970s (for full details, see Ihor Slabicky’s exhaustive web archive, Nedbase).  The jam itself is distinctive, with a powerful drum solo bridging the two tunes and a beautiful extended jam that departs far from the home base of “The Other One,” led by some particularly assertive bass and lyrical Garcia guitar extrapolations before circling back to the main theme. The show concluded with a chorus of “Happy Birthday” directed at band colleague David Crosby, followed by a double encore of “Johnny B. Goode” and “Uncle John’s Band.”


The Fall of 1971 saw some dramatic changes, with McKernan going on sick leave and replaced on the fall tour by new keyboardist Keith Godchaux, and Garcia-Hunter and even Weir coming up with a strong batch of new songs. I already wrote about the single show I saw with this lineup (11/7/71 at the Harding Theater). Pigpen returned to the fold for a December tour, and I will get to the last show I saw that year, New Year’s at Winterland, in due time.

3 comments:

David Davis said...

Welcome back Crypt. I enjoyed your blog very much. Check mine out at gratefulseconds.blogspot.com; my pieces are a bit later than yours but hopefully as fun David

cryptdev said...

Thanks David! I loo forward to checking out your blog.

Anonymous said...

I wish you attended more shows, as your reviews are great reads!!!