AN EVENING WITH THE GRATEFUL DEAD
We change and our changings change, a friend said once. It sounded true, but it seems too that through it all we stay the same. That obscure rumination takes us to, of all places, backstage at the Fillmore West, a spot that has mutely witnessed its share of changes and has gone through some of its own. Backstage used to be literally that, a few murky closets with just a few inches and a thin wall separating them from the amps. Now the car dealer on the corner has gone through his changes, and Bill Graham got extra floorspace for a dressing room as big as the lobby of a grand hotel.
No palms but a lot of sofas, on one of which sat Jerry Garcia as if he owned the place. Which he once had, sort of, when it was the Carousel, changed from an Irish dance hall to a mad den of psychedelic thieves who for a few months put on a series of dances the likes of which hadn't been seen since the early days of the old Fillmore.
Jerry Garcia had played over there too -- he had been a founding member, so to speak -- but he had never owned it. Bill Graham had owned that Fillmore and now he owned this one and Jerry was working for him one more night. There was a time when Bill Graham was always on hand when the Dead were playing, but this night he was in New York on business (the next night in LA), and a second or third generation of underling, a soft-faced young man named Jerry Pompili was watching the clock and counting the heads on behalf of Fillmore Inc.
It was just past eight-thirty, showtime, and Jerry P. approached Garcia and asked if they were ready to go on.
Jerry G. was deep in one of his eyeball-to-glittering-eyeball monologues, but he paused long enough for a glance around that indicated he was the only musician present and accounted for. "The other guys will be here in a minute, man," he said, "Phil's the only one who might be late."
"Well," said Pompili, "what happens if Phil is late?" allowing into his voice a hint of his hope that the Dead would find a way to start without him, to be nice for once. A hopeless hope.
"Nothing happens," said Jerry G. grinning deep within his hairy tangle. "We'll start whenever Phil arrives."
"Okay," said Pompili, shrinking like a tired balloon, and Jerry geared back up to rapping speed, instantly oblivious of the interruption.
Everything had changed, and nothing too. After over five years of extra inning play, the celebrated Fillmore (and all of rock and roll show biz) versus Grateful Dead game was still a nothing-nothing tie. For five of those years the Dead took their lumps, always scraping through but never out of trouble. In the past half year, however, their tenacity has finally begun to pay off (perseverance furthers, says the Book of Changes). The years of weathering cosmic crises have given them an unshakable musical and group foundation (and even an odd sort of financial stability) and on that they are building afresh.
Typically, their luck waited until the last possible moment to change. 1969 ended with the near disaster of Altamont. The Dead family had been crucial in its organization, and they were as responsible as anyone for the sanctioned presence of the Hells Angels. That day -- they did not even get to play in the end and do their best to save it -- was, says Jerry, "a hard, hard lesson," and while they were absorbing it in early 1970, they had an epic management crisis. Their manager, whom they had chosen because of his honesty and earnestness, was irritating some family members who did not trust his ingratiating manner. Weeks of tense encounters led to a showdown and the manager was let go. Only then did the band discover that he had been bilking them all along; by that time he had disappeared and no one had the time or heart for a suit.
Then they got busted en masse in New Orleans (their second time, the first in the fall of '67 in San Francisco). That has now turned out to be just an inconvenience of time and money, but in March they didn't know that. In the middle of all of this they had to do a record. Something complex was out of the question; Jerry and his writing partner Bob Hunter had some tunes, so they walked into Pacific High Recorders in San Francisco, and banged it out in nine days.
The result was Workingman's Dead, one of the best of the few good records released this year, their simplest production since their first LP, and their most popular release so far. "It was something," said Jerry, "all this heavy bullshit was flying all around us, so we just retreated in there and made music. Only the studio was calm. The record was the only concrete thing happening, the rest was part of that insane legal and financial figment of everybody's imagination, so I guess it came out of a place that was real to all of us. It was good old solid work. TC (pianist Tom Constanten) had just left to go his own way, and with his classical influence gone, we got back to being a rock and roll band again, not an experimental music group. Man, we had been wanting to boogie for a long time."
Workingman's Dead is just about as good a record as a record can be. Easy on the ears from the first listening, it gets mellower as it grows on you; a lot of different rhythms but one sure pulse. In it they tap the same rich emotive vein that the band has reached, and have made from it story songs with down-home feel hiding sophisticated structures, but the Dead's molding of the material is a lot more raw and driving. The Dead look at the world from the outside edge, and their song heroes are losers and hardworking men. "A friend of the devil is a friend of mine," they sing at one point, and the closest they come to "I Shall Be Released" is:
One way or another,
One way or another,
One way or another,
This darkness got to end.
That's a long way from the messianic enthusiasm of "Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion" ("See that girl barefootin' around, she's a dancin' and a singin' she is carryin' on"; remember?), but it's won them more friends. Sales haven't been at hit proportions, but enough to make Warner Brothers friendly for the first time since they were trying to sign the band up.
"Of course we still owe Warners money," Jerry said, "but we're getting the debt down to the size where it's more like a continual advance." A family member, John McIntire, is now the manager, some old friends are watching the books, and the days when organs got repossessed five minutes before showtime have receded, at least for the present.
"We're feeling good," Jerry went on, "really laid back, a little older and groovier, not traveling so much, staying at home and quieting down. We used to push ourselves and get crazy behind it, but now we're all getting more done but not having to work at it so hard."
No one could say when the turn from the old Grateful Dead to the new began, but the key was opening up the band's structure. The Dead's complex personal changes are as legendary as their public ones, and they ended only when they decided that they didn't have to be just the Grateful Dead. They could also be Bobby Ace and the Cards from the Bottom, a reentry group led by Bob Weir, or Mickey Hart and the Heartbeats which [did] a lot of golden oldie rockers. At the same time (spring 1969) Jerry got a pedal steel to fool around with and ended up commuting down to Palo Alto twice a week to play Nashville style in a little club. That group became the New Riders of the Purple Sage and other Dead members sat in from time to time.
All that country music got them singing, something for which they had not been noteworthy in the past, and hours of three-part harmony rehearsals got them back to acoustic instruments. Less noise made them less wired. The small quiet groups could and did do club work, around the Bay which meant gigs without touring or equipment hassles. All that ended up with the groove that made Workingman's Dead possible and has created a unique musical experience which they call, rather formally, An Evening with the Grateful Dead.
Phil arrived, sweeping in with madman-long strides, a few minutes before nine, and the latest evening began before a happy crowd of oldtime heads. They opened with the acoustic part (there's no other name). Jerry and Bob Weir on guitars, Pigpen on piano, Phil on electric bass, and Bill Kreutzman (who alternates with Mickey Hart) on drums. The first tune was "Juggin'," an easy going autobiography of a band's life on the road, dotted with busts and bad times and long gone friends like Annie who they've heard is "living on reds, Vitamin C, and cocaine, and all you can say is 'ain't it a shame.'" It went on like that for an hour, music soothing to weary hearts and hard-driven minds because it understands that state of mind only too well. Jerry and Bob shared lead guitar and vocals, Pig doodled around when he wanted and just sat there when he didn't, and Phil and Bill just kept the beat. David Nelson of the New Riders came in about half way through on mandolin, and Jerry switched to his Fender, and it was all very sweet and funky. They ended with "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," and believe it or not, the Grateful Dead looked angelic at last.
The New Riders came on after the break -- Jerry on pedal steel, Mickey on drums, David Nelson on electric guitar, Marmaduke lead vocal and acoustic, and Dave Torbert on bass. They opened with "Six Days on the Road" and that too set the pace for a rolling set of country rock that probably sounded a lot like the Perkins Brothers when Carl was working honky tonks around Jackson, Tennessee. Except that Carl Perkins never had a drummer as tense as Mickey Hart, and while Jerry most often was tastefully traditional on the steel, he allowed himself some short freakouts banshee-style seldom heard below the Mason-Dixon. They ended with "Honky Tonk Women" which was a gas; Keith Richards, from a film clip in the light show, watched them without cracking a smile.
Then it was time for the Grateful Dead, and everyone was on their feet moving as they began as they used to begin with "Dancing in the Streets" ("It doesn't matter who you are, as long as you are there"). After that came the lovely "Mama Tried" that the Everly Brothers had on their Roots album, and then Pigpen took it away with an all-out dramatic rendition of "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World." Out of that into "Not Fade Away" (quite a repertory that night, huh?) and it was past one thirty; Jerry Garcia was still going strong after four hours on three instruments but the Fillmore floor had gotten to me and we wandered out with that Bo-Diddley-by-way-of-Buddy-Holly beat pounding on and on and on ("My love is bigger than a Cadillac . . .") It wasn't one of those weird nights when, acid-blitzed, they gushed out music as hypnotic energy; it was more legible and, if not as spellbinding, more open music. Very fine indeed.
Those weird nights are surely not gone forever, but the Dead are a bit more careful these days. "Altamont showed us that we don't want to lead people up that road anymore," Jerry had said before the show, "taught us to be more cautious, to realize and respect the boundaries of our power and our space." The Dead never called themselves leaders, but they were high-energy promoters of the psychedelic revolution. On one hand they know now that it's not going to come as quickly as they thought; on the other, they know it is already too big for them to direct. They are now just helpers, like the rest of us. "At last the pressure's off," Jerry said.
He is disturbed, however, about what he calls the "politico pseudo-reality that we find when we go out on tour. Dig: there's a music festival, but because there are people there, radicals say it's a political festival now, not a music festival. I don't want to take over anybody's mind, but I don't want anybody else to take over anybody's mind. If a musical experience is forcibly transferred to a political plane, it no longer has the thing that made it attractive. There is something uniquely groovy about the musical experience; it is its own beginning and end. It threatens no one."
The San Francisco energy of a few years back has become air and spread everywhere. It was the energy of becoming free and so it became free. But the political energy, the Berkeley energy, has assumed a serpentine form, become an armed, burrowing, survival thing. It's even still on the firebrand, 'To the barricades!' trip that I thought we had been through in this century and wouldn't have to will on ourselves again.
"'Accentuate the positive' though, that's my motto," he said with a gleam in his eye, "and there are more heads every day. Heads are the only people who have ever come to see us, and it used to be that if we played some places no one would come out because there weren't any heads in the town. Today there is no place without its hippies. No place."
With that Phil had come and the band had to start juggin', playing for the people and hoping to get them high. "We realized when we started out," Jerry had said a few minutes before, "that as a group we were an invention, as new as the first chapter of a novel. We started with nothing to lose. Then suddenly there was something, but always with the agreement that we could go back to being nothing if we wanted. So nothing that has ever gone down for the group has ever been real except for the fiction which could be made unreal at any time. A lot of times when we were at that point, we consulted the I Ching, and the change we've gotten has always said push on. So we have; there's not much else we can do until the next change."
(by Michael Lydon, from Rolling Stone 66, September 17 1970)
* * * * *
Ed McClanahan wrote a piece about this same show, "Grateful Dead I Have Known" (published in the March 1972 Playboy), which is far too long & rambling to include, but can be read here:
Beneath all the verbiage, it describes the backstage scene and a couple visits with Garcia (with many interesting quotes from him); but I'll copy just the sections on the show itself:
"An Evening with the Grateful Dead," Fillmore West, first set, raw Official
Accuracy Reporter notes considerably refined and amplified after the fact: The
Acoustic Dead lead off, Bill the Drummer and the three guitars (all acoustic, no
electronic augmentation) and Pig, his electric organ temporarily supplanted by
an old upright piano -- they open w. Cumberland Blues, much fine bluegrassy
gittar pickin', good downhome lyrix like "a lotta po' man got de cumberland
blooze/ he cain't win for looo-zin'" -- sounds like it came straight out of
Appalachia (didn't tho -- Hunter wrote it) -- Jerry sings it *just* rite, his
husky tenor a power-thru-gentleness sort of trip, almost unnaturally soft but
with kind of lilting gulp that makes me think of Lefty Frizzell or the way Hank
Williams sings Honky Tonk Blues -- JG's voice's sweetness belies its tuffness,
and is in perfect counterpoint to the uncompromising pessimism of Hunter's lyrix
-- seems to me the Dead are carrying their years in this meatgrinder racket
really well, aging gracefully -- Bobby Weir *still* has the face of a debauched
Renaissance choirboy, beautifully modeled features, thee are moments when he
looks like a dissolute 12-yr-old -- when does backup vocals for JG (or solo, as
on Truckin' and several others) he sings in a voice not quite his own, the kind
of voice that skims across the top of the glottis and comes out sounding like it
never plumbed the depths of the throat at all -- Pig has somehow shed 50, maybe
75 pounds in the five years since that night at Ben's Big Beat, and now stands
revealed as what he was all the time beneath that S. Clay Wilson-ogreish
exterior, a fierce-looking *little* guy in cowboy funk, boots and low-slung
Levis and oily leather sheepherder's coat, a battered Stetson with its rolled
brim cocked so low over his eyes that his touch, pinched little face is barely
visible above his scraggly goatee, Gabby Hayes with teeth -- Phil Lesh almost
never surfaces in the group, but is always working behind everybody else,
providing substance on bass, fleshing out vocals, clowning, goofing around with
little hippy-dippy mouth-breather mugging trips, he looks to be the loosest of
them all onstage -- Bill Kreutzmann is darkly handsome, dour, brooding, solemn,
looks "deep" and plays the same way, hunches possessively over his traps and
seems almost to lose himself in his own rumbling-hoof-beats-in-the-middle-
distance rhythms -- he is *never* flashy; his drumming is as steady as the drone
of a tamboura, a fixed point around which the guitars work their airy
filigrees; tonight's the first time the Dead have tried a strictly acoustic set
on the Fillmore audience, and when Cumberland Blues is over, a scattering of
old-line Dead fans, missing the electronically amplified bedlam of yesteryear,
holler "Play louder! Play louder!" -- but Jerry, smiling beatifically, steps to
the mike and cools them out by explaining, very gently, "No, no, man, you don't
understand, this is the part where we play *soft*, and you listen *loud*!" --
then they do New Speedway Boogie, Dire Wolf (Don't Murder Me), Candyman and two
or three others, mostly from the Workingman's Dead album, then finish off the
set with a reverently beautiful and altogether decorous rendition of that All-
Time Number-One Sike-O-Deelik Space-Music Golden Oldie, Swing Low Sweet Chariot,
everybody *loves* it, crowd really gets off behind it -- a fine rousing set,
looks like a *good* night...
"An Evening with the GD": fillmore west, second set, new riders of the purple
sage: garcia on pedal steel, dave torbert on bass, david nelson on electric
guitar, mickey hart on drums, and most of all, marmaduke, nee john dawson
vocalist-lyricist-acoustic-guitarist, lovely little guy all decked out (unlike
other deads and new riders in the shitkicker roughrider cowboy funk) in high-
style western sartorial splendor, dude duds, hand-embroidered cowboy shirt,
hand-tooled high-heel boots, trimly blocked stetson stop incongruously long pale
blond locks, a psychedelic roy rogers -- they open w. the great dave dudley
truck-driver song "six days on the road", leap blithely from that to the stones'
dope-disease-and-dark-night-of-the-soul song "connection", then to "henry", a
*very* funny rock'n'rollicker by marmaduke, about the travails of a dope runner
("...went to Acapulco/to turn the golden key...") who gets himself involved in a
wild keystone kops car chase after sampling his own wares ("henry tasted, he got
wasted/ couldn't even see...") -- crowd *loves* it, fillmore is jammed to the
rafters with dead fans by now and they're unanimous in their enthusiasm for the
new riders -- marmaduke onstage is really something to watch, he's so fresh, so
ingenuous, so enthralled by the whole rock'n'roll star trip, even backstage he
can hardly keep his hands off his guitar, and out front when the crowd shows it
digs him he blushes and grins all over his face and practically wags his tail
with delight -- new riders do 2 more marmaduke songs, "dirty business" and "the
last lonely eagle" (which yr. reporter, ripped again, keeps hearing as "the last
lonely ego", but fortunately does not fail to note that garcia plays brilliantly
on it despite the fact that he's only taken up the pdal steel seriously in the
last year or so, none of the mawkish, whiny, hawaiian-war-chant rebop; his pedal
steel, like his guitar, is crisp and intense, it *weeps*, of course -- it
wouldn't be a pedal steel it if didn't -- but it's properly *melancholy*, never
merely sentimental) -- then marmaduke does a yodeler that I don't recognize
(*yodeling*? in the *fillmore*?), then they finish off the set by bringing the
whole house to its feet with the stones' "honky tonk woman" -- as marmaduke,
beaming happily, basks in the warm applause, it occurs to me that these guys
rank right up there near the top of the lower order of eternal verities: rock
'n'roll stars may come and go, but there'll *always* be the sons of the
"an evening with the gd," fillmore, third set, full complement dead (garcia,
weir, lesh, pig, kreutzmann, hart), full electronic amplification -- they open
w. "dancing in the streets," a motown-style rocker, follow that w. merle
haggard's tender honky tearjerker "mama tried," then "it's a man's world" with
pig doing a very creditable james-brown-in-white-face, then buddy holly's "not
fade away," working through their repertory the way a painter might put together
a retrospective, displaying their influences, putting the audience through the
same changes the dead themselves have been subject to -- it is eclecticism in
its very best and highest sense, and the audience already thoroughly jacked up
by the first two sets, is flashing strongly to it -- the upturned faces near the
stage, awash with the splashover of swirling colors from the light show, seem
almost to glow with enthusiasm and delight, and each time the band takes up a
different song there arises from out there in the dark a wild chorus of voices,
*dozens* of them from even the farthest corners of the hall, whooping and
howling and yipping like coyotes baying at the moon, aa-ooo-aa-ooo-aaaa-oooooo,
a savage animal, tribal thing one knows instinctively they do *only* for the
dead, in *honor* of the dead -- a christian missionary would get gobbled up in
seconds in such a scene as this -- now bob weir, looking like a full-color,
slick-paper idealization of billy the kid on a dime-mag cover, sings "truckin'".
hunter's leisurely, laid-back ramble about the vicissitudes of life on the road
with the dead ("busted/ down on bourbon street/ set up/ like a bowlin' pin..."),
puts me in mind of those old-timey toddlin' tunes like "side by side," only with
more substance, gene kelly and donald o'connor with soul -- they follow that
with two more hunter songs, "uncle john's band" and "casey jones," and by the
time casey ("drivin' that train/ high on cocaine..."), is highballing down the
track toward that fateful encounter with train 102, the crowd is on its feet and
chugging up and down, it *is* the train, a great joyous surging mass of energy
hurtling headlong into the uncharted darkness of the future -- and it doesn't
stop when the song ends but charges right on into *lovelight* with just the
scantest pause to catch its breath, pig taking the throttle now, strutting
around onstage with his tambourine whirring in his hand and his hat cocked low
and mean, *dangerous*, snarling and fierce ("i don' want it all!/ i jes wanna
leetle bit!"), his exhortations as raw and lewd and laden with insinuation as a
carnival kootch-show pitchman's hype ("git yo' hands outta yo' pockets and turn
on yo' *love* light!"), and every now and then i seem to hear a line of such
brazen unbounded lickerishness ("dew *yew* lak ta fu-u-u-uckkkk?") that i start
and blink and wonder did he really *say* that? -- and the whole thing builds
and builds, 10 minutes, 15, 20, and now the audience is clapping to keep time,
they have joined the dead en masse as one enormous synchronized syncopated
single-minded rhythm section, taking up the beat from bill the drummer's tom-tom
and making it their own, *insisting* on it, *demanding* it, and the dead are
delightedly handing it over to them, one by one laying down guitars and
drumsticks and leaving the center of the stage to pig and jerry, first weir,
then hart and lesh, then even bill the drummer, leaving their posts to join the
crew of groupies and quippies and buddies and wives and old ladies at the rear
of the stage back against the light-show screen among the throbbing blobs,
greeting friends and accepting tokes on whatever gets passed their way, beer or
joints or coke or ripple, and just jerry and pig and the audience are left to
mind the music, jerry's guitar weaving incredible intricacies in front of the
rhythmic whipcrack of applause, pig chanting his unholy litany (".... so come
awn bay-beh, baby please,/ i'm beggin' ya bay-beh, and i'm on my knees...") like
a man possessed by a whole mob of randy, rampant demons, and now jerry too puts
down his guitar and leaves, and it's just pig up there along with his tambourine
and his snarl ("... turn on yo' *light*, all i *need*...") and his 3000-man
rhythm section keeping time, *keeping* time, i've never before considered
("...huh!...") what that expression really means, the crowd has undertaken to
tend and cherish the beat until the band comes back ("... i jus' got ta *git*
sum, it's all i *need*...") and resumes its stewardship, the whole arrangement
amounts to a very special kind of trust, we are ("...huh!...") not just audience
but keepers of the flame, we are *of* the grateful dead, *with* them ("...got ta
keep pooshin', all i *need*...") and *for* them and *of* them...
It's the crack of doom or the first shot of the revolution or anyhow a cherry
bomb that Pig has somehow set off just at his feet, a cloud of dense gray smoke
still boils up around him, no longer any doubt about it, he is plainly a satanic
manifestation, and without my noticing them the other Dead have stolen back to
their places and taken up their instruments, and at the signal of the cherry
bomb the song blasts into life again, the decibel count is astronomical, the
crowd is shrieking in one hysterically ecstatic voice and the volume of the
music is so great it swallows up the very shriek itself; by a single diabolic
stroke a multitude of 3000 strong has suddenly been struck dumb, the din is
enough to wake even the moldering spirits of those moribund old poets who once
set myriad toes atapping in the hallowed hall. I can almost see them now,
Vaughn Monroe and Wayne King the Waltz King and Clyde McCoy and Ginny Sims and
the Ink Spots and Frankie Yankovic and Ralph Flanagan and the Hilltoppers and
Kay Kyser and His Kollage of Musical Knowledge and Horace Heidt and His Musical
Knights... a whole host of phantoms, troupers to the last, crawling out of this
old wormy woodwork and rising up from the rankest, dankest depths of the memory
of man to join the living Dead for one last encore, just *listen* to the racket,
Bill the Drummer's heavy artillery is pounding at my temples and Mickey Hart is
laying into his four great shimmering gongs until the pandemonium itself is all
atremble with their clangor and my back teeth taste of brass, and Lesh and Weir
are ripping furiously at the faces of their guitars and the crowd is screaming
as if that enormous palpitating blood-red blob of light behind the band were the
flaming dawn of doomsday, and Jerry's guitar is winding out a shrill silvery
coil of sound that spirals up and up and up until, whining like a brain
surgeon's drill, it bores straight through the skull and sinks its spinning
shaft into the very quick of my mind, and Pig, a rag doll buffeted by hot blasts
of ecstasy gusting up from 3000 burning throats, flings himself into a demented
little St. Vitus' dance of demonic glee and howls the kamikaze cry of one who is
plunging headling into the void, the last word beyond which *all* sound is
rendered meaningless as silence...
* * * * *
Surprisingly, the two writers concur in some details of the setlist, so we have a partial setlist for the show. See:
New Speedway Boogie
"two or three others, mostly from the Workingman's Dead album"
Swing Low Sweet Chariot (last song)
Dancing in the Streets
It's a Man's World
Not Fade Away
Uncle John's Band
Casey Jones ->
Turn on Your Lovelight
(Note how many songs are repeated on the following night. There is an "8/17/70" tape on the Archive; but it's a fake, the songs come from 6/24/70. No tape exists of 8/17/70, unlike the next two nights.)