Aug 5, 2015

January 2, 1970: Fillmore East, NYC


The Grateful Dead Live At The Fillmore East, Jan. 3, 1970.

The Dead: Jerry Garcia (lead guitar & vocals), Bob Weir (rhythm guitar & vocals), Phil Lesh (bass & vocals), Bill Kreutzman (percussion), Mickey Hart (percussion), Tom Constanten (keyboard), Pigpen (congas & vocals), Owsley (good vibes)

It was nearly midnight and the line already wrapped around the Fillmore. We moved slowly, the chill biting our bodies, but feeling the intense high vibrations in the air. We were waiting for the Dead.
Inside, seated, and Cold Blood on first. Big band (horns), fuzz-tone guitar aplenty, a chick singer who digs Joplin. Not much, except loud. Lighthouse next, Skip Prokop's mighty mini-orchestra (complete with string section). Last saw them at Atlantic City where they were just starting, nervous and untogether. Much better now, with more direction and self-confidence. Eight Miles High and Beatle riff (Hey Jude/Give Peace A Chance) left crowd cheering. But we're still waiting for the Dead.
Zarathustra (Theme from 2001) ends as the lights come up from a frosty blue to a glare and... THE DEAD!
Country songs start off the set. Easy ridin' stuff, Garcia smiling out from behind his wire-rimmed beard. Already, impatience colors the crowd: "ST. STEPHEN!" "LOVELIGHT!" "GET IT ON, MAN!" "GOD BLESS THE GRATEFUL DEAD!"
Garcia starts a run on his guitar but it isn't happening. Weir prods him, Lesh pushes, but Jerry can't get it. Lesh, a stoned midnight cowboy, retreats in frustration and sits on his amp. We're still waiting for the Dead.
Pigpen does Good Lovin' and the rush begins. The song socks the Fillmore for two minutes, like a quick hit. Given a taste, we want more. We want the Dead.
Jerry starts again. Still slow in coming, but the energy is starting to bathe us. Weir follows Garcia, blending, going out in front, coming back, his runs teasing Jerry. Weir turns to Lesh and pulls him into the flow. Jerry finds something he likes and works it out; Weir and Lesh feed him. The rest of the Dead wait.
The tempo slows and changes. The lights are back to eerie blue. Distant, angry feedback growls from the stage, Garcia plugged into his guitar. The sound is pure, primitive. Ice-blue lights flood our faces, illuminate the Dead ghostly white. We're standing at the edge of eternity, in a new time, in a new mind.
Instant rush, a mad momentum that pushes us to the Dead. Garcia, a big round circus bear, singing and rocking. Weir and Lesh playing for each other, on their own trip. We're dancin' in the streets.
The Dead are peaking. Pigpen out front. "TURN ON YOUR LOVELIGHT!" They've been playing forever. We're all peaking.
Energy. Music coming from everywhere, bodies flashing, lights dancing. It isn't a song, but music - rock, jazz, folk-country - all coming together over the Grateful Dead, one organism making music. Acid rock. One trip. Ours. My trip, your trip.
Weir, the merry prankster, comes to us and holds out his arms, calling us to the tribe. Into the Woodland of Weir. Clapping begins, a pumping staccato in tempo with the magic on stage. The Dead are smiling. So are we. We're in the Dead's movie. It's like Woodstock, a new world.
An orgy of exchange. Giving and taking. Pigpen and Weir out of their heads. "OH YEAH!" The Dead split, waving and smiling. We dance into New York's frozen six o'clock streets, wasted, but still shouting.
Later, we drank coffee and listened to the silence of the sunrise. It seemed to be the only thing to do. God bless the Grateful Dead. Amen.

(by M. Ferguson, from the NC Essay, 12 January 1970) 

Thanks to (late show)

1 comment:

  1. It's odd to find a review of a Fillmore East show in the North Carolina School of Arts paper, which was well out of the Dead's touring path - perhaps this was reprinted from an underground New York paper. At any rate, it's a good illustration of the audience experience at a 1970 show - in this case, the 1/2/70 late show.

    The reviewer notes that the Dead started with "easy ridin'" country songs, which had become the norm (at that show, it was UJB, High Time & Dire Wolf, which wouldn't be released for months). The New York is impatiently shouting out requests, which was also the norm!
    An interesting passage: "Garcia starts a run on his guitar but it isn't happening. Weir prods him, Lesh pushes, but Jerry can't get it. Lesh...retreats in frustration and sits on his amp. We're still waiting for the Dead."
    This is the kind of thing that's not very apparent on tapes, but it crops up in some audience reviews, when people watching the band could tell that a jam just wasn't jelling or the band wasn't together. (I suppose this was in Easy Wind.)
    But things turn around with Good Lovin', and Dark Star takes the audience to "the edge of eternity." St. Stephen causes an "instant rush, a mad momentum" in the crowd, and in Lovelight everyone peaks, the audience clapping along in "an orgy of exchange," everyone shouting and "out of their heads." You can see in accounts like this why the Dead in that period played those long Lovelights to close every show (which aren't always so uplifting on tape).

    A couple other show tidbits: the reviewer mentions the Zarathustra intro - we have that for the early show (before Mason's Children), but our tape of the late show cuts in with UJB, so now we know the classical intro was played before the late show as well.
    The times are also notable - though the Fillmore late shows were scheduled for 11:30, he says he was still standing in line at "nearly midnight," and got out of the show around 6 am. Probably a large part of those all-night shows was not just the opening bands, but also the inevitable breaks & delays between shows & sets. (Our tape of the late show is only about two hours long.)

    Owsley is listed for his "good vibes." And on a prophetic note, Garcia is described as "a big round circus bear" - Garcia wasn't that round yet in 1970, and bears wouldn't become part of Dead imagery for several more years.