Jun 8, 2013

February 27, 1969: Fillmore West


This past weekend's show at Fillmore West was one of the most enjoyable combinations of various musical strains that I've had the pleasure of hearing in some time.
The program the night I saw it included Pentangle, the British group whose album "Sweet Child" (Reprise 2RS 6334) is such a delight; The Grateful Dead, Shades of Joy, the Sir Douglas group and a juggler.
That's right. A juggler, Jim Rinehart, who has appeared numerous times at the hungry i, completely delighted the crowd and may very well have found an entirely new audience for himself. If he will now drop his corny night club rap with which he accompanies his dazzling juggling, the Fillmore audience (and its counterparts throughout the country) will love him.

The thing that turned me on musically about this show, however, aside from the excellence of the musicians themselves, was the marvelous mixture of influences and styles that were included.
Pentangle, as those who are familiar with its album know, does a wild variety of things, from Charles Mingus tunes to versions of old British folk songs. The group is acoustic, the guitars being amplified but not electric. There are two guitars, John Renbourn and Bert Jansch; a bassist (upright, not electric) Danny Thompson; a drummer, Terry Cox; and a girl, Jacqui McShee, who has a beautiful voice.
The guitars and the bass are voiced particularly interestingly and are played so beautifully that when they are heard over the loudspeakers there is no distortion, just a huge guitar sound. Jansch and Renbourn did a guitar duet, "No Exit," which was a delicate and fascinating blending of the two instruments. Thompson was featured on a bass solo which was really impressive, and Jacqui McShee's voice throughout, both in her solo numbers (she sang "No More, My Lord" from the album) and in harmony with the other voices, was beautiful. The whole thing is done in an exquisitely tasteful manner and includes considerable jazz influences in an unobtrusive way.

Shades of Joy is a local group (a spin-off of several other local units) which features wild free form modern jazz saxophone playing by Martin Fierro, a roaring R&B rhythm section and two voices, Martin and Millie Foster who is much better in this role than as a pure jazz singer. It's an exciting and interesting group.
Sir Douglas is really delightful. He got everybody dancing for once (just as Pentangle had all the musicians listening) doing his standards "Mendocino" and "She's About a Mover" and merging his regular group with some of the members of Shades of Joy.
It is rather a wild experience to see a group featuring a saxophone soloist who looks like the leader of a Third World Student picket line accompanied by a drummer who looks like he just got in from the cattle drive. Is there still hope?

The Grateful Dead are the Grateful Dead, which is to say they are absolutely wonderful. They have one of the most individual sounds of any band and its tone is set by the soft butter feeling of Jerry Garcia's guitar lead. They featured Pig Pen on the blues and they did the long side from their last album, "Anthem to the Sun," which is called "That's It for the Other One."
Despite some technical problems on stage they were warm, mellow and moving, and their voices were much more impressive than they have been at times in the past.
To hear their long instrumental passages with Garcia and Phil Lesh (on bass) weaving lines above the tremendous rhythms of the two drummers, Bill Sommers and Mickey Hart, is a joy. Tom Constaten, a pianist who studied at Mills when Lesh was there, is now with the group and Pig Pen occasionally plays conga drums.
It was - all in all - a truly delightful evening.

(by Ralph Gleason, from the "On The Town" column, San Francisco Chronicle, March 3 1969)

Thanks to Lost Live Dead -
See http://lostlivedead.blogspot.com/2011/03/february-28-1969-fillmore-west-grateful.html
And for Pentangle's effect on Garcia: http://lostlivedead.blogspot.com/2010/03/fillmore-west-february-27-march-2-1969.html

See also this recent memoir of the 3/1/69 first set, with a somewhat different lineup: http://cryptdev.blogspot.com/2010/10/finally-grateful-dead-fillmore-west.html


  1. It's great to have a review from one night of this famous run.
    I believe Gleason attended the first set on February 27, since he mentions the technical problems onstage, a Pigpen blues, and the Other One suite. (There are some technical delays in the 2/27 first set and Garcia protests that "it's too weird up here!")
    Gleason also mentions that Pigpen plays congas "occasionally." (Someone should study the tapes to see just when!) Curiously, he still identifies "Bill Sommers" as the drummer - "Tom Constaten," though, was the typo on the original Anthem album.

    Garcia was quite impressed by Pentangle (note how Gleason writes, "Pentangle had all the musicians listening"). Gleason praises the sound of Pentangle's amplified acoustic guitars, which is funny when you think of how often the Dead complained about their stage sound in 1969-70.
    Coincidentally or not, Garcia would start the Dead's second set on 2/27 playing acoustic.

    It's not known what Garcia thought of Shades of Joy, but he would later become closely involved with the saxophonist.
    Martin Fierro seems to have been playing with both Shades of Joy and the Sir Douglas Quintet. Much later, in September 1973, the Doug Sahm band would open for the Dead's tour, and Fierro would play both in Sahm's band and the Dead, as detailed here:
    It's not known just when Fierro started playing informally with Garcia. I find his story of meeting Garcia very dubious:
    Fierro may well have played at some Garcia/Wales shows at the Matrix in 1970 - he did work on the Hooteroll album with them in 1970-71 - but I don't think there's a live tape of Fierro & Garcia until summer 1973.

  2. By the way, Shades of Joy were not billed for this run, but were an additional band added for one or two nights. They were probably a new band that had auditioned for Bill Graham - they were at least new to Gleason, who wrote that they were "a spin-off of several other local units." Perhaps other researchers know when their first live billings were.
    It seems like quite a coincidence that they landed in the same show as the Sir Douglas Quintet, whom Fierro had recorded with in 1968.

    Gleason seems aware that the lineup was different on other nights that weekend (he writes of "the program the night I saw it") - I'm not sure if he wrote about the bands in the order they appeared, though. It seems not.
    On 3/1/69 the lineup went: Frumious Bandersnatch, Pentangle, Grateful Dead. If the order was similar on 2/27, it would have gone: Shades of Joy, Sir Douglas, Pentangle, Grateful Dead.

  3. This would have been a very early Shades of Joy gig. My first few listings for them are these:

    2/21/69 New Orleans House, Berkeley
    2/22/69 same
    3/7/69 Mandrake's, Berkeley
    3/26/69 Avalon


  4. Ralph Gleason wrote a full article praising Pentangle after seeing them at the Fillmore West, urging readers to listen to them.
    "Recently I had the pleasure of hearing Pentangle at Bill Graham's West Coast Fillmore and it was shocking, to say the least, to see the stage bereft of the usual truckload of electronic equipment...
    "The Pentangle sounds fresh and inventive and the night I heard them they were paid the ultimate compliment by both The Grateful Dead and the Sir Douglas Quintet who were on the same bill. The musicians came out from backstage and stood there listening to Pentangle."
    (from "The Rhythm Section," Honolulu Advertiser 3/23/69, probably printed previously in the SF Chronicle)

    The "Liner Notes" music-news column in the same issue reported: "Newest member of The Grateful Dead is Don Konstantan who studied classical music at Mills College."