THE GRATEFUL DEAD
Fillmore East, New York City
This was the fifth engagement by the Grateful Dead at Fillmore East since the first of the year, yet every show was sold out. That's the way Grateful Dead fans are - they can't ever get enough. Even after five hours of music, they were still hollering for encores.
Recent performances by the Dead have been like a three-act play. First on the program is a rather quiet set of Marin County (where they live these days) acoustic/electric folk music. During this set, the Dead, minus one of their two drummers and plus such added friends as Dave Torbert, Marmaduke Dawson, and Dave Nelson, go through such standards as Deep Elm Blues and such contemporary material as Juggin', a Dead biography-itinerary-diary, and To Lay Me Down, a journey into the black soul-gospel where so much of today's music originated.
Act Two presents the New Riders Of The Purple Sage, with Jerry Garcia switching from acoustic guitar to pedal steel guitar and Mickey Hart replacing Bill Kreutzman on drums. The rest of the New Riders are Marmaduke Dawson, vocal and rhythm guitar; Dave Torbert, bass; and David Nelson, lead guitar and mandolin. The sound is more or less Nashville and revolves around Nelson's mandolin playing and Garcia's steel guitar. Garcia is not a traditional steel guitar man. You can forget all the country slides that have been heard so often they've become musical cliches; Garcia has made the steel guitar a creative instrument. At one point in the finale, the Rolling Stones' Honky Tonk Woman, I was looking around for the horn section only to discover that what I had heard was Jerry's steel guitar.
It should be just about time for the New Riders of The Purple Sage to do an album. They have some really fine material, especially Somebody Robbed The Glendale Train and Henry (who turns out to be a pusher spreading joy and destruction). I still find Marmaduke not as communicative a lead singer as I'd like to hear, but then I guess it's in the Nashville style to be detached from the music, and he is warmer than he was when I heard him here two months ago.
There is nothing uncommunicative about the Grateful Dead, by which I mean the original San Francisco band that closed this evening. Garcia has long been acknowledged and accepted as the founder of the San Francisco style of rock guitar playing. Sure, Jorma Kaukonen of the Airplane and some others may have taken it further, and it is also true that Jerry learned a lot from King Hendrix the First, but Hendrix is dead, long live Garcia - and if Jorma's done something good with it, at least he remembers where he got it.
Bob Weir is officially listed as rhythm guitar, but there's a lot more to Bob than that. Especially in the first act he does a lot of the singing, and there are moments of double guitar lead when it is questionable whether Garcia is leading Weir or vice-versa.
There are a great many good bassists in the business. Phil Lesh has been around longer than most, and plays as well as just about any. A bass player forms a foundation for a band that should be both a bottom layer of sound and a rhythmic assist to the drums. Bass players can get their solo breaks too, but for most of the time they belong in the background driving the band...pushing up from underneath and forward from behind...like Jimmy Blanton, Charlie Haden, and Phil Lesh.
Ron McKernan, the beloved and loveable "Pigpen," can usually be found at the piano or organ - though he's been known to assist on drums - and his harmonica work is an important fixture in today's Dead. Mainly Pigpen is a singer, a catalyst, a performer who can be counted on to get an audience in motion and emotion.
Bill Kreutzman and Mickey Hart are the drummers (individually in acts 1 & 2; in tandem for act 3). Together or separately, they are always driving and always swinging. That's the Grateful Dead. They started as Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions and worked as The Warlocks before they got where they're at today...and where they're at today is very together.
From the opening Morning Dew, it was obvious that this was to be one of those nights when the magnificence of the performance was to be surpassed only by the excitement of the audience. The Dead freak in front of me was on her feet with the first sound from her favorite band. From then on, for anything I wanted to see I would have to rise to the occasion as well.
For more than another hour, San Francisco's finest went through a whole history lesson of the music. From their folk (or neo-folk) repertoire came Bonnie Dobson's Morning Dew, Me And My Brother, and Cold Rain And Snow. From the new Workingman's Dead album came Easy Wind. From their rock and roll repertoire came Good Morning Little Schoolgirl and Not Fade Away. From Live Dead, which many consider their best album, came the whole first couple of sides: Dark Star, St. Stephen, Turn On Your Lovelight, and a couple of snatches of Feedback.
It was on Turn On Your Lovelight that Pigpen really took charge. Before he finished doing his thing the entire audience is caught up in it...clapping, dancing, singing along, screaming, shouting, involved - yes, involved. Involved with the apex of street bands that can get it together on stage at the Fillmore, at a street dance in Berkeley, at a be-in in Central Park or Golden Gate Park...just so long as the crowd is simpatico and the vibes and the drugs are right.
So after they had played for five hours (a few short breaks to attend to necessities) the crowd still screamed for more and booed when they were told they weren't getting more, only to be admonished by Pigpen: "Why don't you go home and ____?"
We finally did.
(by Joe Klee, from Down Beat, 26 November 1970)