Saturday, May 5, 2012

Grateful Dead Fillmore West 6/5/70 and 8/19/70

 During the summer of 1970, the Dead continued to tweak their concert format. With the addition of the New Riders into the shows, along with the acoustic sets, the Dead could now provide an entire evening of music on their own. However, the June 1970 Fillmore West run of the group was transitional in that the billing followed the traditional Bill Graham three act format, with the poster listing the Dead, the New Riders, and Southern Comfort. My father and I went to the Friday show of the set, which meant dealing with end-of-week traffic that resulted in us getting in a bit after the show had started. Based on the format of previous Graham-booked Dead shows, we pretty much expected the Dead’s acoustic set to be folded within their electric set at the top of the bill. Therefore we were surprised to walk into the Fillmore to the strains of acoustic guitars and Bob Weir singing “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.”  The acoustic configuration of the Dead sounded more polished than it had in April, and again both Hart and Pigpen were absent. The repertoire was pretty familiar, the still unreleased “Friend of the Devil,” “Me and My Uncle” transferred over from the electric repertoire, and two tunes from the recently released Workingman’s Dead: Black Peter and the set closing “New Speedway Boogie,” for which Garcia switched over to electric guitar. Unlike the previous evening’s acoustic set, a tape of which recently surfaced,  neither David Nelson nor John Dawson from the New Riders participated in the evening’s acoustic set,

Following the acoustic Dead set was a great set by Southern Comfort, a band of seasoned Bay Area blues players that included drummer-vocalist Bob Jones, organist Steve Funk, guitarist Fred Olson, and a horn section comprising trumpeter John Wilmeth and saxophonist Rev. Ron Stallings. The group had recently released their debut album on Columbia, produced jointly by Nick Gravenites and soon-to-be Garcia sidekick John Kahn. Their big band blues-rock sound was very much in the style of what Gravenites and guitarist Michael Bloomfield were dishing out in that era – not too surprising as several of the Southern Comfort musicians, notably Jones, Wilmeth, Stavro, Olson, and Stallings, also played in the Bloomfield/Gravenites bands of that era. Sadly, Southern Comfort proved a relatively short-lived experiment, releasing only the one, eponymous album in 1970, but they sounded great live.

Next up were the New Riders, playing what may have been their first Fillmore West run (I have seen the New Riders listed as having played the evening of 2/7/70, but this is unconfirmed and doubtful). The Riders had tightened up considerably in the couple of weeks since I had seen them at Peninsula School, another indicator that David Torbert was a very new recruit to the band in spring of 1970 (see discussion here). No real surprises in their set, which was mostly first NRPS album material augmented by tunes like “Truck Drivin’ Man” and “Six Days on the Road.”

Weir and Kreutzmann 8.19.70 Photo: M. Parrish
The Grateful Dead played a particularly long, expansive electric set, starting out with their most frequent opener of that era, “Cold Rain and Snow.” “Easy Wind” brought McKernan to center stage, and provided an early opportunity for some open-ended jamming, followed inevitably by one of Weir’s cowboy covers, Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried.”

For whatever reason, the Dead rarely played "Dark Star" on their home turf in 1970 (2/8/70 and possibly 4/11/70 are the only verified Dark Stars played in northern California that year), but they seemingly loved to trot out the "Cryptical Envelopment/Other One" suite on home turf. A napkin compilation shows the Dead playing Dark Star once (possibly twice if they played it on 4/11/70) in Northern California out of 24 shows for which complete set lists exist. By contrast, they played  the "Cryptical" suite (or sometimes just "The Other One") at 12 of those 24 shows. By contrast, looking at shows in greater Metropolitan NYC (28 total), "Dark Star" and "Cryptical" were played 11 times each. Needless to say, the long number on 6/5 was again "Cryptical Envelopment" leading into a short drum duel followed by “The Other One" and back into a long, mellow “Cryptical" Coda, which threatened to go into "Cosmic Charlie", but eventually wound down, leading directly into the first hometown version of “Attics of My Life,” which the Dead would shortly be recording for inclusion on American Beauty.  Laced with complex vocal harmonies, “Attics” was always hard for the Dead to pull off in concert, and this version has its share of shaky harmonies.  Neglected mid-set, Pigpen was given two showcases in a row, a rollicking, if flub filled, “Hard to Handle” followed by one of many long, snaky versions of “It’s a Man’s World” that the Dead played between March and September, 1970, when it mysteriously vanished from their repertoire for good. As curfew time approached, the main set wound up with a nice electric version of “Uncle John’s Band.” The encore consisted of a dynamic twofer of “St. Stephen” charging into “Casey Jones.” This show was notable for me as the only 1970 Dead show that I was able to hear all the way to the end although, as fate would have it, I missed its beginning.

Two months later, the Dead announced an early week August run back at the Fillmore West (this time a full “Evening with the Dead with no support other than the NRPS), and I convinced my brother, home from college for the summer, to go up with me for the Wednesday, 8/19/70, show. Contrary to the report in Deadlists, there was no opening bluegrass group unless they played well before the 8 PM start time. By August, the Dead’s acoustic sets had become more arranged and complex, with an acoustic piano onstage and an extended segment featuring Dawson and Nelson from the New Riders. The band was recording American Beauty concurrently with the Fillmore run, and thus it was no surprise that the show featured a good chunk of material from that album, along with a good selection of traditional folk and blues tunes.

Acoustic Dead 8.19.70 Photo: M. Parrish
Weir kicked things off with “Monkey and the Engineer,” a tune he learned (along with “Beat It On Down the Line”) from Oakland one man band Jesse Fuller. Garcia came back with the traditional “How Long Blues” augmented by some gospel tinged piano. The keyboardist was not clearly visible from my vantage point (or in the photos), but my thesis is that some of the piano was played by Ned Lagin (who was visiting the Dead from back east that summer and played on American Beauty), and the rest was played by Pigpen. "Friend of the Devil" was composed by John Dawson, Jerry Garcia, and Robert Hunter in late 1969, and became a hallmark of the Dead’s acoustic sets from late February. Friend of the Devil had entered the acoustic dead repertoire early on, but was much more polished in its incarnation that evening, thanks in part to the addition of the piano part. Weir, whose compositions on American Beauty consisted of "Sugar Magnolia" and a co-writing credit on “Truckin,” dipped back into the public domain for the bluegrass chestnut “Dark Hollow.”

8.19.70: Acoustic Dead - Kreutzmann, Nelson, Garcia, Weir Photo: M. Parrish

Another Garcia-Hunter ballad, “Candyman” had shown up in March, and formed the first part of a three song medley of American Beauty tunes, rounded out by the combo of “Brokedown Palace” and “Ripple,” merged the way they are on the album. These two songs made their live debut that weekend, and "Ripple" flowed effortlessly out of "Brokedown Palace." Curiously, this pairing was apparently abandoned as an in-concert vehicle following the August Fillmore run.  Best known as an electric tune, “Truckin” had debuted in the Dead’s repertoire as an acoustic shuffle the night before, and was performed that way in concert through September, first emerging as an electric piece at the 10/4/70 Winterland gig. The acoustic version was predictably more concise than the expansive versions that emerged in later years, but was a good vehicle for what was essentially a story song.

The brisk workout on another traditional tune, “Cocaine Blues” was sung energetically by Garcia, and ornamented by some very fine mandolin work from David Nelson. Nelson was also instrumental in driving along Garcia’s version of another bluegrass standard, “Rosalie McFall.” Next Garcia switched to electric for a couple of tunes, “Wake Up Little Suzie” and “New Speedway Boogie,” which also featured piano work that I believe is too nimble to be attributed to Pigpen. 

Gospel Quartet 8.19.70 Photo: M. Parrish
To close out the extended acoustic set, Nelson returned, along with John Dawson, to fill out a bluegrass gospel quartet for a couple of sweetly sung sacred tunes, “Cold Jordan” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”

These shows and the September runs at the Fillmore East were arguably the pinnacle of the Dead’s acoustic sets. They had experimented with entire unplugged shows in San Diego on August 5 and at the Family Dog back in March, but the decision was ultimately made, possibly for logistical reasons, to scale back the frequency of the acoustic opening sets as the year progressed, and they were gone entirely by year’s end, replaced by the familiar format of one or two long electric sets.

After a short break, the New Riders were given a nice long set, comprising some new Dawson material including “I Don’t Know You,” “Last Lonely Eagle,” and “Dirty Business,” which was a showcase for some spectacularly outside Garcia steel playing. By this time, Dawson was sporting a beard, and had traded his Guild acoustic for a Fender Telecaster. 

During the acoustic set, Bob Weir had launched into one of his shaggy dog stories, this time dealing with an encounter with a particularly vicious “Kodiak Woodchuck.” In response to that story, an unidentified emcee introduced the Dead’s electric set with the following into “Out of the wilds of Marin County, sometimes known as the Kodiak Woodchuck Motherfuckers – the Grateful Dead!” Once again, the slow, funky arrangement of “Cold Rain and Snow” kicked off the set, followed by “Me and My Uncle” and “Easy Wind.” 

Garcia and Lesh 8.19.70 Photo: M. Parrish
My brother, who had a summer job at Hewlett-Packard, decided we had to leave at that point. Fortunately, an intrepid audience taper recorded the show, so I know that I missed a unique pairing of “St. Stephen” and an embryonic “Sugar Magnolia” as well as a set closing “Not Fade Away”/”Lovelight” medley featuring guest David Crosby. Unfortunately, this was to be the last time I saw the Dead proper in a live venue during 1970, although I did keep up with their progress during the TV/Radio broadcasts on 8/30/70 (Calebration), 10/4/70, and New Year’s Eve. In retrospect, I wish I could have seen a few more shows from that year, but I was happy to have seen the five I got to attend, and am grateful for the extensive audio archive available from 1970 for the Dead.