Mar 19, 2014

March 21, 1970: Capitol Theater, Port Chester, NY #2 - Catfish / Grateful Dead


I never figured out where all those press people came from. It was a green school bus which we boarded in front of Grand Central Station. While I was waiting for Rick, I talked to a blonde healthy Wisconsin-type girl about education in America, of all things. She was waiting also for two friends.
I never would have pegged them for her friends: they were Lower East Side, fringes, gypsy hair and stars painted on their faces. The three of them embraced joyously and danced and hugged. That was the way it started and that was the way it remained.
The bus was a gas. Rushes of eighth grade. The same old school bus seats with Superior written in relief on the back of each one. Not enough leg room for Rick but before it could become really bothersome we were stoned. Joints coming from all sides. We tried to resist since we were on the job, but not a chance.
Suddenly, everyone realized we hadn’t moved for ten minutes and we’d only gone around the block from Grand Central. Fifteen minutes later we were only at 53rd Street and 3rd Avenue. Ah, New York.
Stoned people passing brownies around. I was speeding a little and playing reporter, so I tried to write down everything that was happening. Impossible in a bus that seemed to have no shock absorbers. Memories of copying over homework on the way to school.
It started getting really loud on the bus. And then the law of averages really did a number on us and everyone stopped talking simultaneously. Except one guy. “You can buy it in any cookbook,” he said, and everyone just broke up. What the hell did that mean?
Lower Manhattan. A hassle which never really reached hassle proportions about opening the window for a girl freaking out. It was cold outside and anyway it wasn’t making her feel any better than before.
Cross-Bronx Expressway and guess what, trees and stars, and a full moon. Much more than we’d bargained for. Cookies were passed out (homemade) and then we were there in Port Chester (wherever that is).
At the theatre we (the press people) were herded into a corridor and prevented from going any further. When Rick and I saw Harry and Larry on the other side of the glass doors (they had driven up themselves), we tried to explain that we were all on the same paper and could we please get through. Sorry, no exceptions. Flashes of the Fillmore.
After ten minutes of riffing with and feeling the elbows etc. of the people around us (I still had no idea who they were, but I did hear the name “Crawdaddy”), we were admitted. We went up to the balcony for the press party – ho ho. Colonel Sanders’ Kentucky Fried Chicken and Coca-Cola, both of which disappeared before you could get seconds.
As we waited for I’m not sure what, someone said, “there’s Sam Cutler.” What do you know, he looked just like you and me. People streaming in downstairs and Sara without an “h” giving us Dots. None of us liked Dots, but Sara was a riot.
Suddenly there was a hassle about where to meet after the show, and before I knew what was happening I was inside and Catfish already on stage. What a mess! No system, no ushers, people running around. I went up to the sixth or seventh row and took an incredible seat and I wasn’t hassled once. So paranoid from Fillmore experiences that I couldn’t believe it.

Here’s Catfish with this larger-than-life lead singer who takes me right up there with him. Warm and fine. “I feel so goddamn good,” he says. Goddamn! So do I. He’s so strong that I know where he’s at in a minute. He’s got the blues idiom down pat: the Sam Lay-type raucousness, the scatting style of singing, and the patter between songs. Nasty blues. But he knows it’s just an idiom.
He never falls prey to what so many other white kids (especially British) do when they play blues. He never tries to make us believe that he’s been sharecropping for thirty years. He knows that the blues is just a form and he accepts it as such with a sense of humor.
Always in command of his medium, the man, the warm man he is, comes through shining; and, when the song is over, I find myself cheering and wishing I could whistle.
Catfish is drums, bass guitar, and organ and/or piano. The musicianship is amateur at best, but it doesn’t matter because Catfish is giving the show to us and the theatre people aren’t hassling us. Everyone’s on and at the close of this next song, “Stormy Monday,” people are literally howling.
The next song sounds as if it came out of the acid-heavy period and my disappointment is keen because the strength of the vocals is diminished. But good things are still happening. I’m so glad I’m being spared an assault by ego-tripping pop stars. An unembarrassed roadie comes on stage to fix a mike.
Mistakes notwithstanding, the piano player shows the same understanding of the blues idiom as the singer, and after standing and clapping to the song, he suddenly catapults himself to the piano.
Balloons floating around the audience. Shades of San Francisco. Someone on stage calls for the piano mike to be turned up and then the singer introduces the next song as one about his girlfriend, a “300-pound mama.”
The piano player’s real tour de force comes in this one; as soon as he finishes his piano solo he races to the other side of the stage to do his organ solo without missing a beat. Although the musicians are individually poor, the group is really tight as a whole. I realize later that each of Catfish’s flashy stage moves is part of a wonderful plan to win us.
After the solos there is clapping and I wonder if people are clapping for the solos or because the singer is back. I know why I’m clapping. The Big Man is back out front shaking his big sweaty head back and forth talking blues to us.
“I’m gonna get me a bottle of Ripple, a bottle of Thunderbird, a bottle…” “We’re gonna get fucked-up,” yells the bassist. Laughter, “Something for the head,” someone shouts out and the singer concurs.
Now that he’s got the juice, “I’m gonna throw you on the bed.” I resent the male chauvinism implicit in the remark, but I’m carried away and I remember that the idiom was defined years before N.O.W. anyway.
This is just the beginning of a whole scatological bedroom thing: “If I can get up enough will… That’s what I call him.” We’re with him all the way and he ends the song, “God bless you.” Which is all he ever really meant to say.
With everyone screaming and clapping and me with goose pimples, he moves right into “Down the Road.” “Don’t you people know how to dance!” he goads us and I’m just waiting for the electricity to rip this place right open.
But here’s where the ground plan is working. Catfish lets us down for a while, talking to us in strange arresting images. “I dreamed I was a hummingbird.” And in the next verse a conflict between a pussycat and a chicken hawk. The guitarist and organist change effects for each animal.
The tension is increasing again, gradually but solidly. Now a bass solo. The bass player may not be much but he’s playing a Fender that sounds like it’s been rewired. I can’t see what’s driving it but it sure as hell must be a lot, because this cat’s got fantastic tone. Real definition with a lot of bottom and volume – no distortion.
Next a guitar solo on top of a bass run. Not too funky because Catfish really isn’t competent enough to handle tricky syncopations, but fast and driving.
Excitement building and a drum solo next. I really don’t expect much but I’m surprised. In fact, the drummer turns out to be the best musician in the group. Tight, if a little slow, but I’ve heard worse. And he knows how to handle an audience.
Before you know it he’s standing in front of his drums doing rim rolls and they’re really clean. Now he’s beating on the mike stands, now on the floor, now on the front of the stage, now on the bass guitar, now on the guitar.
People are already clapping, but he’s not through. Back at his drums again, he never exceeds his limit, but what he plays, he plays well.
The singer is back “startin’ to feel it…community…touch.” And so are we. Fuck my notebook; he’s got me standing on my seat dancing and clapping. He’s got us holding hands with our neighbors and singing echoes to his “down the road.” Back and forth, it’s rocking like a field holler.
Community…touch. This place has finally exploded. Kids are jumping on the stage, girls and boys. A mean motherfucker stagehand jumps out from nowhere to kick them off and I think, oh God. But in the periphery I see the lead singer embrace one of the kids. Right on.
This is the end but we can’t help shouting for more and Catfish is out again doing “Whole Lotta Shaking Goin’ On.” Which is just what we do. One hundred per cent stoned hysteria, clappin’, screamin’, movin’, dancin’, holdin’. We have come together.

The 1930’s flick which follows – look-alike white ladies dancing in formation – is more absurd than it would have been at any other time. Reality. Love. Two assholes entwined in each other’s arms singing to each other / cut to baby birds with mouths waiting for food. Romance.
Now there’s a lull and piped-in Neil Young. I’ve got a chance to see what the theatre’s like. About two-thirds the size of the Fillmore and rounder. Same ornate decoration. The kid next to me just turned me on for the hundredth time. “Take a sister by the hand.”

On stage there is some hidden activity. Tone settings made by flashlight. I get a glimpse of painted grills of Fender amps. The nervousness of anticipation erupts into a standing ovation as the Grateful Dead arrive on stage.
The first song is low-key. Two drummers – Micky Hart and Bill Kreutzman – and this number tells us why: solidity without overkill volume. Quiet, precise, and honest. There is no movement on stage. The Dead are the total antithesis of Catfish and yet the audience is reacting in much the same way. It will devour the Dead.
Never having seen the Dead before, I am at a loss to understand this, so I remain as observer. The next song is the old Martha and the Vandellas hit, “Dancing in the Street.” I find myself slowly being moved along by their simplicity of manner and everyone’s obvious joy in them. Not adulation, not Ten Years After at the Fillmore, but joy. And when Bob Weir tells everyone to dance, it’s as if he’s asking us to join him on his trip.
The instrumental break and I’m really impressed by Phil Lesh’s bass playing: the bass line stands on its own as melody. I’m thinking this is more listening music than dancing when I suddenly realize that I’ve become more and more involved without knowing how it’s happened.
The Dead’s music is rhapsodic. So dynamically subtle you can’t pick out just what’s making it rise. In this break alone they’ve made three or four wonderfully smooth changes in rhythmic texture.
The effect is full: the warmth is unconditional. People are dancing free, forgetting the steps they’ve learned, just moving in the natural ways their bodies know. Lonely outstretched hands finding other hands to hold. Garcia’s solo is mournful and understanding. When he looks at us he is part of his own melody. His phrasing may be less than brilliant but his vibrations are pure rock ‘n’ roll.
Back to the verse of the song and everything that’s been said with all that intricate motion is re-stated right on and simple, “dancin’ in the streets.” The Dead have won me.
The next song is pure genius structurally, with a rhythm change from a syncopated 4/4 to a slow bluesy 3/4. So fucking complex and absolutely the smoothest and tightest change of this kind I’ve ever heard. I had expected the Dead to be competent but never brilliant.
But it is not their music itself that moves me, for it is not really my kind of music, but their warmth. And yet, I am wowed again by their structural tightness when Jerry Garcia and Bob Wier do a double lead which is better integrated than any of Clapton’s recorded three-track leads.
While they are setting up for acoustic numbers, Bob Wier suggests that everyone turn to his neighbor and shout the worst insult he can think up. I call the guy on my left a dirty motherfucker and laugh my ass off doing it. There’s a chorus of “down in front” and Wier says, “Shut the fuck up.” No one’s insulted ‘cause he’s just another cat, you know, and he can say anything we can.
Garcia sings this beautiful folk song with neat bass counterpoint. Neil Young go home – even if you can sing and Garcia can’t. This song’s as wistful as the Lovin’ Spoonful and then some. Next is “DiBellum Blues” with Garcia and Wier harmonizing. Sounds a bit better than Garcia alone.
The kid next to me turns me on to some white chocolate. Sweet, sweet. “Don’t Ease Me In,” an old song in a fast swing. I remember this one from folk days. Another song in a swing beat, but this time it’s slow, really slow. Garcia intense and tender. “Just want a place to die and a friend or two at hand.”
As the bass player joins in for a quiet harmony with Garcia, the thought hits me that the Dead really want us to relax for a while. Joy need not be jumpin’. It can even be sad.
When Garcia and Wier sing “Wake Up, Little Susie” I wonder why they are doing a song that the Everly Brothers did so much better, but the warmth wins out again. Bob Wier smiles. Me too.
The next song is in a calypso rhythm with 3-part harmony and a bass guitar. Pigpen and Hart are off at the side doing a thing with some terrific South American rhythm instruments. I hear echoes of Steve Stills in the harmonies. (I’m told he’s been working vocally with the Dead.) Now I know what Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young would sound like if they had any balls. I mean the Dead were looking at each other.
Bob Wier asks Pigpen to come out and do one. No Pigpen. “You guys wanna hear Pigpen?” he asks us. Applause. We have to beg a little more, but he finally comes out and does this John Lee Hooker-style blues. He has a tremulous warm voice and could be a great singer with a tiny bit more control.
Back to the band for a slow 2/4 with some neat Chuck Berry riffs in it. Garcia’s grinning at us and the whole group’s taking me by surprise again, grabbing me from behind.
Recognition applause for the next song which has a hard country rhythm. The rhapsodic quality is here again: a quiet part and then a powerful organ part. Then the line, “One man gathers what another man spills,” and something explodes on stage. Literally. A prescription for revolution? They’re playing the song again. Waves of sound. Ever-changing textures. Dancing Children, pressing against the stage, arms raised. Garcia making love with his guitar.
Now “Not Fade Away” Bo Diddley rhythm with Bob Wier screaming. “Midnight Hour” with Pigpen screaming. It ain’t Wilson Pickett but, then again, does it have to be? The guitar fill is a beautifully melodic Dead improvement on the original.
I’m digging the dancing to “Midnight Hour.” Never black cool cat. White, California, ecstatic, original. Appropriately the melodic line at this moment reminds me of Butterfield’s “East-West.”
Suddenly I’m tired and think maybe I feel it around me too. It’s been a long set. Maybe Pigpen knows it too, because just about now he winds up an ad lib sex patter saying, “You can do it too.” The key.
Everyone is screaming now. The group starts doing “Shine on Me,” an ecstatic gospel song and my fatigue melts. The outstretched arms, some fists, some peace signs, some open hands. This is the peak, the rhapsody of orgasm.
But the excitement has not been entirely eased and the crowd cries for more. The Dead return and with perfect sensitivity do a song wishing us good night. Three-part harmony a cappella. They’re letting us down easy, tucking us in. There’s some singing in return. Me too. I want to say goodnight to them.
When they leave there are scattered shouts for more, but these are only the spasms after orgasm. It is complete. Immediate Dylan over the house P.A. “Tonight I’m staying here with you.” Oh yes.
A girl waiting at the drinking fountain smiles at me. And a guy walking by gives me a friendly scratch on the back as he passes by. Afterglow.

(by Rosa Schwartz, from Zygote, unknown issue)

Thanks to  

Casey Jones
Dancing in the Street
Easy Wind
Friend of the Devil
Deep Elem Blues
Don’t Ease Me In
Black Peter
Wake Up Little Susie
Uncle John’s Band
Katie Mae
Cosmic Charlie
St Stephen >
Not Fade Away
Midnight Hour >

See also other 3/21/70 reviews: (Harry Jackson, Zygote) (David Reitman, Rock)

* * *

Press announcement:



Due to overwhelming reaction to our first historic press bus ride, Howard Stein is recreating the event for his new Capitol Theatre. You and your guest are invited to:
A) Board one of our fabulous school buses at 420 Lexington Ave. (between 43rd & 46th Sts) at 9:30 on Saturday night, March 21st.
B) Groove with other members of the press as they sing "99 Bottles of Beer" and hundreds of other camp songs.
C) Enjoy brownies and things as we make our way to lovely downtown Port Chester, N.Y.
D) Before we reach the theatre, scarf up buttons and bumper stickers and other implements of promotion.
E) Join the Grateful Dead for a modest party of good vibes, Kentucky fried chicken, beer, soda, coffee and other treats. There will be a brief autographing session and the group will pose for snapshots.
F) Dig the late show of Catfish and then the Dead.
(NOTE: some stage seats for the most ardent fans will be available.)
G) Watch the sun come up. (You know how the Dead are.)



  1. A second, very detailed review of the 3/21/70 late show. This reporter has a different perspective: she didn't get to go backstage, or see the early show. She also has a feminine point of view, which is rare in these early reviews (chiding blues sexism, for instance, while obviously enthralled with the "warm and fine" singer).
    There are a couple brief comparisons to the Fillmore, which is mentioned as a strictly disciplined place where people are "hassled" and can't go where they want. She's happy to find that the Capitol is looser.

    It seems odd to me that she'd narrate the press bus ride to Port Chester as well, but it adds a little feel for the environment, and we also get an unusually lengthy review of the Dead's opening band, in this case Catfish. Other audience reviews of this show I've seen hated Catfish - for instance, Blair Jackson's memory: "The first act that night was an annoying blues-rock band called Catfish....nobody seemed to like them very much, and everyone got fed up with Catfish's constant pleas for us to get out of our seats and boogie.... When the Dead hit the stage, everyone in the place leaped to their feet and started dancing."
    This reviewer, while admitting that Catfish was poor, "amateur at best," barely competent, and prone to stage tricks, was a lot more forgiving, and they won her over more quickly than the Dead did. (And the audience did boogie.) It's also interesting to see the parallel between the Catfish singer and Pigpen.

    The main value of this review is that she did not know the Dead's music at all - not even St Stephen - and didn't expect to like them, yet was ecstatic by the end of the show, raving about "the rhapsody of orgasm."
    At the start she's hesitant - "I had expected the Dead to be competent but never is not really my kind of music" - and curious why the audience is so joyous about this non-flashy band. But she's drawn in by the band's warmth and "simplicity of manner," and gradually she finds herself immersed: "I’m thinking this is more listening music than dancing when I suddenly realize that I’ve become more and more involved without knowing how it’s happened. [The music is] so dynamically subtle you can’t pick out just what’s making it rise." She's "taken by surprise," repeatedly amazed by how smooth, tight, and melodic the solos are - as a group, better than Clapton! - and how they keep changing the rhythmic texture. (I'm not sure she even knew they were improvising.) And it turns out it is dance music after all.

    Some of her responses to individual songs are interesting. For instance, Black Peter: "The Dead really want us to relax for a while. Joy need not be jumpin’. It can even be sad."
    Friend of the Devil is a wistful, "beautiful folk song." Uncle John's Band aptly reminds her of CSNY (only better) - she notices Hart & Pigpen on percussion, though I suspect she's mistaken Kreutzmann for Pigpen.

  2. I don't know which issue of Zygote this was in - perhaps the same issue as the last review? Sometime in April.

    A news blurb in this issue says that the Woodstock record set is due in late April or early May. There's also a brief piece titled "Tsk, Tsk Jerry" about Garcia's run-in with the FCC (Rolling Stone also ran a story about that in an April '70 issue).
    "The Federal Communications Commission fined Philadelphia radio station WUHY-FM $100 for broadcasting a taped interview with Jerry Garcia in which he used the word "shit" ten times and the word "fuck" eight times. The commission stated that: 'the speech involved has no redeeming social value and is patently offensive by contemporary community standards.' ...I wonder who did the counting?"

    The Beatles' press rep also talks about the upcoming Get Back documentary, and is asked if they're breaking up - of course not! "They're absolutely together and always will be. They're just branching out on their own particular Zen things."

  3. Other writers on the press bus also wrote reviews of this show - David Reitman did a review for Rock magazine, and Arlene Brown wrote a piece for Rat which the GD Bibliography summarizes: "The band is seen as fitting into a male dominated rock 'n' roll machine. Pigpen's comments during several songs are criticized as being sexist."
    I don't have those reviews, though.

    1. Actually, I already posted David Reitman's review in Rock - forgot about that!

  4. Harry Jackson's review mentioned that the Capitol Theatre had "only been running rock shows out in Portchester for a few weeks, and the big crowds aren't coming in yet. So they really went out of their way to pull the press out to see the Grateful Dead."

    I came across Howard Stein's press announcement and decided to add it as a postscript here, since it's cute and this reviewer describes the press bus ride.
    Oddly, this is said to be the "2nd annual Grateful Dead bus trip," though I'm not sure when the first one was. Most likely it was the July '69 shows at the Pavilion in Flushing Meadow Park, which Stein produced. The Dead's shows were the "opening weekend" of a summer-long "music festival" at the Pavilion, so Stein may have heavily promoted that event as well.

    Apparently there weren't any band autographs & snapshots for the press, as promised - at least it isn't mentioned in these reviews - and there wasn't much of a party either. This reviewer writes: "We went up to the balcony for the press party – ho ho. Colonel Sanders’ Kentucky Fried Chicken and Coca-Cola, both of which disappeared before you could get seconds." (I guess nobody was worried about being dosed!)
    Ironically, Harry Zackson (who also wrote for Zygote) went on his own to catch the early show, and managed to hang out backstage and talk for a little while between shows; apparently the reporters on the press bus didn't get that opportunity.

    Note that it was expected the Dead would play til sunrise - their Fillmore shows already had that reputation! As it was, they were perhaps a little tired from all the backstage hubbub (Jackson calls them "completely drained" and found Pigpen asleep) and their late show was only a couple hours long, going til about 3 AM.

  5. From Cash Box magazine, "Short Takes," March 21, 1970:

    "Dominic Sicilia and Portchester’s Capitol Theatre are arranging to bus the press out to the Capitol for a performance by The Grateful Dead on the 21st. The bussing will be done for the late show and all those aboard will arrive in time for a party in honor of the Dead which will take place before the last show. All those interested press people can contact publicist Sicilia’s office, MU-6-0262."