Aug 15, 2019

February 18, 1971: Capitol Theater, Port Chester NY


The Grateful Dead opened their first 1971 tour at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York, to a packed house. Once again the Dead asserted that they are probably the best American band.
As a band playing together, they excel as the music created blends and mixes so perfectly that it sounds like a studio recording. As individual musicians, they appear tops in their trade. Jerry Garcia, considered the group's leader, simply because the musicians union requires one, is respected greatly not only because of fine guitar and pedal-steel work, but as the mainstay writer, composing most of the group's music. Teamed with Bob Weir, they form one of the best one-two guitarists around. Ron "Pig-Pen" McKernan is still around to belt out the vocals on cuts which flashed back to the early days. Phil Lesh is often overlooked as mainstay at bass guitar and part time song writer ("Saint Stephen" and "Cumberland Blues"). The Dead also feature two drummers, Micky Hart and Bill K who provide solid background.
The act the band did at the Capitol was advertised as being a showcase for new material. That it was, as the Dead appear to have picked up where they left off on "Workingman's Dead" and "American Beauty," predominantly country with a few hard-rock cuts. The old favorites were also featured. "Casey Jones" brought the audience to its feet, as did "Truckin'" and "Sugar Magnolia." The group also did Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" as their customary rock 'n' roll piece. A 30 minute version of "Dark Star," with the help of some very appropriate lighting, had the mob spell-bound. The show ended with "Uncle John's Band" and left the stage with the crowd at its feet for 20 minutes.
The New Riders of the Purple Sage opened the concert and were received as though they were the featured act. The group, which included former Jefferson Airplane drummer Spencer Dryden, did not perform as well together as their reputation connotes. This was due in part to the lack of experience they have had playing with Dryden and Don Nelson at bass [sic], and to an electrical breakdown which caused Marmaduke's acoustic guitar to sound rather tinny. Jerry Garcia also broke a string on his pedal steel guitar. Still, their country sound trucked through and had the audience dancing.
The Grateful Dead's new album is due out about April or May. It should send the band to unprecedented heights.

(by Ray Trifari, from the Hoya (Georgetown U), 4 March 1971)


  1. Although this is a badly written review, there are several interesting things to note here.

    This is the first review of the Dead's February '71 Capitol run that I've fact, I think the only review of any Capitol show after the well-covered 3/21/70 that I've found so far (unless I'm forgetting something). The out-of-the-way Capitol just didn't seem to draw reviewers like the Fillmore East did.
    Notably, this review is from the Georgetown University student paper in Washington DC. While it was unusual for a paper to review a Dead show hundreds of miles away, it's even more remarkable that Trifari actually taped the show and broadcast it on Georgetown's campus WGTB-FM station a few days later! (Linked.) This is a rare early example of a complete Dead show being broadcast on the radio, not live but from an audience tape - as a student-run station, WGTB felt free to devote four hours to a murky-sounding recording of "the best American band" (and the NRPS opener). Clearly, Georgetown listeners were hungering for more Dead after their show there a few months earlier.

    The review notes that the Capitol run was "advertised as being a showcase for new material," which it was. Back in December '70 the Dead had canceled a weekend at the Capitol saying "they cannot return east until they have new music for the people" -
    I haven't seen the ads for February '71, but the Dead did bring new music, along with a recording crew to capture the shows for a live album. Trifari thinks the album will be out in the spring - I can't tell if he knew the shows were being taped, or (more likely) if he thought it would be another studio album. As it turned out, the Dead were unhappy enough with the Capitol shows to not use anything from them, and the album (from April shows) wouldn't be out til September.

    Ironically, Mickey Hart is listed as a member in his last Dead show for the next three years.
    Song-wise, the review mostly takes note of the rock & roll numbers, which were typically a highlight for reviewers; but we also get a good example of time dilation at a Dead show, as the rather brief Dark Star gets expanded to "a 30 minute version" in the review. It's nice to read that the lighting was "very appropriate" (Candace?) and the audience "spell-bound" in this sequence. Unfortunately Trifari didn't notice Ned Lagin playing onstage!

  2. I hadn't realised Capitol shows were so under reported. But somehow I doubt that Georgetown listeners were clamouring for live Dead as much as they had a rabid Dead Freak on their radio station.

    1. You raise a good question - what evidence do we have that Georgetown had many Dead fans at all?

      This was an east-coast college campus, usually prime territory for the Dead; the concert was apparently booked by the Homecoming committee; it was notoriously jam-packed with thousands trying to get in; the show was well-covered by the student papers; and another live-show radio broadcast followed.
      I took all this to indicate that Georgetown was full of rabid Dead freaks; but it may only mean that a few well-placed fans got the Dead on campus; it only took a couple writers in the papers (who were the same students manning the radio station) to make a lot of media noise in praise of the Dead; and as the university complained, most of the crowd at the show was from the larger area, not the actual student body.
      So it's's not like we can go back and take a poll.

  3. By the way, deadlists notes for 10/23/70, "There was an FM broadcast but no tapes seem to have survived or made it into circulation."
    It's possible someone remembered this later Georgetown broadcast and thought it was of 10/23/70.