Feb 20, 2012

September 27, 1969: Fillmore East


FILLMORE EAST, N.Y. - It was Avalon Ballroom revisited time last weekend as Country Joe And The Fish appeared along with Grateful Dead at the Fillmore. But what should have been a joyous occasion and a musical treat wound up being only a fairly good evening, with moments of brilliance and genuine excitement coming far too infrequently.
Country Joe brought three new Fish to the Fillmore stage. They are Greg Dewey on drums, formerly of Mad River; Doug Metzner (bass) from Group Image, and Mark Kapner on the keyboard from the Peace Corps, a Washington based group which has been around for about eight years.
With Joe and guitarist Barry Melton leading the charge, they soon were into a rocking set and it wasn't long before Barry had launched into "The Love Machine," a number which was accompanied by his frenzied thrashing about on the edge of the stage - activity which, while not always wholly convincing, was consistently pretty funny. More mirth was provided by Mark Kapner's bit wherein a Tiny Tim type ukulele received the full Jimi Hendrix treatment. This has to be some sort of first - going down on a uke!
But such moments of madness and first rate satire were scattered and one couldn't help but wonder whether Country Joe And The Fish were, in general, departing from this type of entertainment in favor of just playing good rock music. Let's hope not. They do both so well.
As for Joe McDonald himself, he completely charmed and cracked up the audience with his hilarious and outrageous "Quiet Days" song, delivered deadpan, with only his own guitar accompaniment, and from the score which he did for a Danish movie which, he confided, "will never be released in the States." In this number, as in no other (and certainly not in his James Brown imitation, which came later) Joe displayed what a really marvelous head he has and how he can reach an audience in a straightforward, good humored way - something which was always a hallmark of the Fish and one of the chief reasons for their impact on the music scene.

Now a word about Grateful Dead. It seems kind of ridiculous at this point to say that Jerry Garcia plays a very fine lead guitar and has a unique ability to capture the essence of a song and render it with remarkable vocal quality. We know this. Suffice to say then that Jerry did not disappoint anyone, particularly with his version of "Don't Murder Me," surely one of the finer blues renditions to be heard around these parts in some time.
We wish we could give equal praise to the amplifiers at the first show Saturday night; however, unless you are really into humming as a necessary part of a good group, then the less said on this subject, the better. Nonetheless, the Dead played their usual brand of uncompromising rock and did it well enough to make it look easy, which of course is far from easy.

Rounding out the bill was Sha Na Na, which recently received an extensive review in these pages. Upon witnessing their act, we weren't sure where they were coming from. We're still not, but someone says it was El Morocco. Okay.

(from Cash Box, October 11 1969)

http://www.archive.org/details/gd69-09-27.aud.hanno.14857.sbeok.shnf (the Saturday early show)

See also the Billboard review:


  1. It may seem odd that Country Joe gets more space than the Dead, but I believe Country Joe was the headliner at this show, and the Dead opened for them.

    (As a sidenote, the Billboard review of the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 also noted that Country Joe & the Fish were "one of the few local groups to have kept an informal sense of humor in their presentations.")

    Note that Robert Christgau had also been struck by Dire Wolf when he heard it at the 6/20/69 Fillmore East show, calling it "a brilliant Garcia original, 'Don't Murder Me'".

  2. Here are a couple more contemporary reviews of the Dead's Fillmore East shows, by Richard Kostelanetz. (These were published in the Fillmore East book, 1995, but I don't think they were printed at the time.)

    26 SEPTEMBER 1969

    I'd not seen the Dead before, though I remember a friend telling me about a fantastic set they did here last June. They turn out to be musically more sophisticated than I imagined (recalling the rumor that some of them studied with Darius Milhaud at Mills). Most of the songs are in a gentle country-western mode reminiscent of the new Byrds, but the show stealer came when a musician known as Pigpen led the audience in a hand-clapping number. It wasn't particularly interesting; and I doubt if anything special would have happened, had he not asked everyone to stand up. From then on he could have sustained his stupid bit forever. He brought it to a halt once, but the audience was too ecstatic to stop. So the chanting continued until Bill Graham himself came onstage and asked the group to stop. Responding to a persistent demand for an encore, they did some gentle western songs, which settled the audience, and then gracefully exited.
    Although I think the Fillmore audience's taste is usually better than what was shown here, I haven't seen everyone quite so high on performance (rather than internal stimulants) since the Sam & Dave show last December.

    3 JANUARY 1970

    They first became famous as the Community Band of Haight Ashbury... Rumor has it that the legendary Owsley himself bankrolled them as a vehicle for promoting psychedelic drugs. One rock journalist reports that the group is now heavily in debt.
    I admired their spirit, which got the entire audience dancing, but didn't care much for their music, which struck me as far too close to country-western for my taste. (The Band puts me off for the same reason.) This time they seemed just dull. For their climax they resorted to a symphony in feedback that I found oppressive, if not vulgar. The best musician here is the lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, who has developed a style that is neither blues nor country but perhaps as fundamentally indigenous as any playing can be to that new pop mode called rock.
    This time I saw the early evening show that is customarily inferior to the later one beginning at 11:30 PM.

    (He saw the late show on 9/26/69, which we don't have on tape - only part of the early show with the Dark Star medley - so all we know is that they did Lovelight & some of their new country-style songs; and the early show on 1/3/70, which ended with the Alligator>feedback jam that he found "oppressive if not vulgar." He wasn't too impressed with them, finding most of their material dull, but faithfully reports that the rest of the audience was thrilled.
    To put this in perspective, his reviews show that he rarely liked rock bands at the Fillmore East very much. For instance, he found Country Joe & the Fish so dull he walked out on their shows; said Jefferson Airplane was boring, inept & amateurish; thought Moby Grape was terrible; and complained about Quicksilver's drawn-out "loud tuneless droning sound." He loved Sha Na Na, though.)

  3. One audience member recalled this show recently - his first Dead show:

    “27th of September...I am at the Fillmore East, to see the headliner, Country Joe & The Fish.
    The second act on the bill was, yes, The Dead, just beginning to move into their Workingmans period.
    It was a typical Fillmore night, when all three acts did an early and a late show. My true first introduction to The Dead was that evening's early show. Something about the way Garcia & Weir's guitars came together just clicked for me... I enjoyed them so much, I barely remember CJ's set.
    Garcia 'apologized' to the audience for not being able to play too long because it was the, and I quote, 'chickenshit early show'. From that point on we decided we would see these guys again, and never at another 'chickenshit early show'.”

    1. Yes, I was that audience member, and this was my first Grateful Dead show, other than for taking them in briefly at a free concert in Central Park prior to this show. I was not particularly impressed that sunny afternoon in the park, but was wowed at the Fillmore show, which did feature some of the yet to be released Workingman's Dead tunes. If not for my love of CJ & The Fish, instilled into me due to the constant playing of their first LP on WBAI, I may have never gotten the introduction to the Dead that left me a life long fan.

      As for Sha Na Na, having grown up in NYC as lover of the Doo Wop sound, I thoroughly enjoyed their well rehearsed, fun set. Their take on the music was quite enjoyable, and typical of what made those Fillmore Shows so good... three acts, often in an eclectic mix, and for a top ticket price of just five buck! Today that five spot would not even cover the 'service' and/or 'facilities' fee!

      After seeing so many great acts in the intimate that hall the Fillmore East was (seating about 2,500), as you may imagine, the arena and stadium shows that the success of most of the Fillmore Era artists necessitated, only remind those of us from that era, of a special time that could never be duplicated.

      But we are quite fortunate that in the case of the Dead, recordings of most of those shows survive, allowing both us, and new generations of fans, to hear what inspired us to become lifers with the music, , also giving us the opportunity to 'go back in time' and enjoy it as desired, something my parents could not do with the big bands they cherished. We hardly realize our good fortune!

  4. New Yorker writer Alec Wilkinson recently wrote a brief article on Bob Weir in which he mentions attending the 9/27/69 late show. His account is a little vague, understandably, but gives an idea of the show's atmosphere:

    "I saw the Grateful Dead for the first time, at the Fillmore East, in the fall of 1969, when they were still essentially a regional California attraction. I had gone with friends to the Saturday-night late show to see my favorite band at the time, Country Joe and the Fish, who were the headliners. Bill Graham announced that the order of the concert would be reversed, and that Country Joe would play first. This was to accommodate the Grateful Dead, who were known to play for hours.
    The Fillmore was a small theatre. I was sitting in the third row. Not long after the Grateful Dead took the stage, at around one or two in the morning, I fell asleep, for how long I have no idea. I tried not to, but I was seventeen years old, and not used to staying up late. I kept feeling my chin fall forward, and then I would open my eyes to a different tableau, which gave the concert the atmosphere of a dream. Country Joe had performed as a band. The Grateful Dead took the stage like a troupe of minstrels. There were seven of them: two drummers, two guitarists (Weir and Garcia), a bass player, a man who played the piano and the organ, and Pigpen, a small, slight figure in denim, with a thin beard and a crumpled hat, who sometimes played the organ, sometimes the conga drums, and other times just wandered around the stage, standing in front of the other musicians and pointing a camera at them. Sometimes, one of the drummers got up from his kit, walked over, and struck a gong or shook bells, like a shepherd. A man who looked like a gang biker came from the wings now and then, and knelt and held a cigarette lighter to a tube on the floor, and an arrow of flames shot toward the ceiling, like those flames on top of gas wells. The fronts of all the amplifiers were covered with elaborately tie-dyed fabric and were lavish and arresting to look at, like something from a bazaar in a country it was difficult to reach and a little scary to visit. An intricate wooden sign, embedded with lights, descended from the ceiling. It read “Grateful Dead” in the same curving, mysterious, psychedelic font as the cover of their album “Aoxomoxoa,” a nonsensical palindrome.
    I was a senior in high school. The spooky flames, the disorder that seemed only half under control, the carnival atmosphere, and the powerful, serpentine music were my first awarenesses that the world was deeper, more capacious, and more thrilling than I knew. I thought that the music I was hearing would need hieroglyphs, not notes, to represent it. Weir played his guitar as if he were exploring it, with curiously studious gestures. Rhythm guitarists in those days strummed. Weir, however, appeared to be apprehending and enacting possibilities within the fabric of the music. The band itself seemed like the exemplification of a mystery, and the musicians like sorcerers. They were young men then, all in their twenties, and they had a great deal of energy. My friends and I had gone into the theatre a little before midnight, and by the time the concert was over and the doors had opened, the sun had risen. People who had slept all night were walking on Second Avenue in their day clothes. The sudden transit from darkness to daylight made it seem as if I had emerged from a forest or a tunnel."

  5. Though our tapes of these shows are very incomplete, the various accounts give us a glimpse at how the shows went. At most of the shows, the Dead opened for Country Joe:

    9/26 early show - no info, but the tape has Dark Star>St Stephen>Eleven>King Bee>Death Don't.
    9/26 late show - some "gentle country-western songs" (probably the new Workingman's Dead material), and a long Pigpen handclapping number (probably Lovelight); Bill Graham came out and asked the band to stop, but the crowd kept chanting for encores.
    9/27 early show - a partial tape exists (mostly the "country-western" tunes); a review mentions that the amplifiers hummed; Garcia apologized for not being able to play too long because it was the early show
    9/27 late show - the order was reversed and Country Joe opened for the Dead, who apparently played til dawn; deadlists suggests that Schoolgirl & Midnight Hour were played.

    Rob Hall also attended the 9/27 late show, but according to him it followed the usual order of Dead - Country Joe, and did not quite go til dawn:
    "9/27/69 @ fillmore east. late show. made it home to the island 5:15 am. directly from the venue. sha na na opened. then one long, very long, dead set. I swear midnight hour took at least an hour. finally giving way to country joe and the fish,who were huge at the time."

    According to one person on setlists.net, on 9/26 "the Dead definitely opened -- played an incredible set, everyone started leaving when Country Joe came on and he was pissed off, complaining about people leaving. I think I heard that Joe & the Fish opened the next night."
    This is partially confirmed by one person who says his parents went to the early show on 9/27, sat through the Dead's set and walked out in Country Joe's second song.... It may corroborate that the Dead & the Fish switched for the last show.

    As additional confirmation, one dead.net reviewer of the 9/26 late show recalls:
    "Country Joe had top billing, Dead went on 2nd, couldn't play as long as usual at this time, so show was tight and to the point. I think it was "around and around", the lyrics said it all: "Started moving my feet and clapping my hands, rose outta my seat, just had to dance". Poor Country Joe, they just couldn't equal that set, despite the higher volume, we sent them good vibes, but didn't have the same enthusiasm, I think they reversed the order the next night. I'm sure it was the late show, there were 2 shows a night, always went to the late one."
    This definitely supports the other memories of the audience standing & clapping through the Dead's set & not welcoming Country Joe too much after that. So it would certainly make sense if Country Joe wanted to switch places in the following night's late show.

    Bruce Scotton also wrote a lengthy review for these dates in Deadbase; not specifically about these shows, but more about the Fillmore East scene in general. He also mentions "the huge sign over the stage that spelled Grateful Dead in Aoxomoxoa-style letters and flashed on and off in time with the music," and the crowd demanding more encores.

    1. Wow, what a fabulous characterization, and some great sleuthing around these mysterious shows! I bet some collector would pay a handsome sum for that wooden sign.

      Now I want to listen to these shows again.

    2. It's a pity the tapes are only 45 minutes each; 9/27 is in superior quality to the muddy 9/26 tape; and alas, apparently no tapes come from the late shows. NYC tapers were not on the ball yet!

      There are some gorgeous color photos from the 6/20/69 Fillmore East shows, with a great light show behind the band; there's also this picture, featuring what looks like the lit-up "Grateful Dead" sign:

    3. My recollection of the 9/26 and 9/27 late shows is that on the first night the Dead played after Sha Na Na but before Country Joe, and their performance was such that the audience did not want them to stop. When Country Joe came on, their somewhat joke-y performance style seemed especially lame after the Dead's mind-bending psychedelic set and the audience, being New Yorkers, did not hesitate to let them know. The next night, Sha Na Na opened, Country Joe followed, and the Dead closed -- which I assumed was by everyone's agreement and to everyone's benefit: Country Joe would not be overshadowed again by following a heavy-duty Grateful Dead set with their own somewhat lightweight (musically, at least) and humorous act, and the Dead wouldn't be cut short by having another band following them.

    4. Good to have another memory of this! I'm also intrigued that already in '69 some people were going to both Fillmore shows -- at the time most people (most of the witnesses who've written about it, anyway) just went to one show, apparently unsuspecting that the other night could be completely different.

    5. I can't remember when I first realized every show would be different, even if they played the same songs, but it was before 9/26 and 27. Because of that I went to 1/2/70 and 1/3/70; all three nights in Feb. 1970; all of the Capitol Theater shows in March 1970, etc. I think I went to 6/21/69 at the Fillmore East, but can't find a recording in archive.org for 6/20 to see if I went to that, too, and think I went to one -- but maybe both -- nights at the NY State Pavilion in July 1969. I know I saw them perform Slewfoot at least once, which they did on 6/21 and 7/12. I would have thought my memory would be better, especially of my first show or shows, but apparently not.

      When I went to California in June of 1970, I saw some of the same people at the Dead shows that I had seen at the Fillmore East in 69 and earlier in 70.

  6. Barry Melton describes what I think is the 27th show in "The Golden Road" No 5 p 17

    The first time the Dead played the Fillmore East [this wasn't the first time but never mind] we were top-billed, probably because we were one of the first San Francisco bands to play the East Coast; us and the Airplane. I remember talking to [Country] Joe backstage and saying, "We really should let the Dead go on last 'cause they like to play so long." Joe says, "No, no, no. We're top-billed, we have to go on last. There's no question about it. It's our audience." So the first show that night went by - the Dead played an hour or so, we played an hour, and then they turned the house. I went to Joe again and said, "Look, Joe, we really should let them go on last because you know they like to play a long second set." Joe said, "Don't be ridiculous. They're not gonna do that to us, Besides, you know Bill Graham - he'll keep the place open as long as we play." I grumbled and went off on my way. Well, to make a long story short, at 4:30 in the morning when we finally got on stage, there were about 50 people in the audience and 25 of them were sleeping! I didn't have to say to Joe, "I told you so!"

    It's a shame Barry doesn't mention the second night. He does go on to describe a later show he remembers as being in Dallas where the Dead were top-billed but they persuaded Country Joe to close the show "because you guys should really be top-billed." On the Dead's way out Ramrod admits "Yeah, we played somewhere else last night and the narcs have been chasing us across Texas and we want to get the fuck out of here as fast as possible! Sorry to do this to you, but if you have any drugs on you, you better get rid of 'em. Bye!"

    I think the show he's talking about was actually 1970-02-23 Austin, prior to which the Dead had played Fort Worth, San Antonio and Houston.

    1. oops! I meant the 26th of course.

    2. Good find! Clearly following the Dead onstage was a bad idea for Country Joe....

      (McNally also summarizes Melton's stories in Long Strange Trip, p.284-5, though with some different details.)

  7. Eyewitness Legs Lambert wrote:
    'Although Country Joe and the Fish were indeed the top-billed act at those Fillmore shows, they did an amazingly gracious and sensible thing: after the Dead blew the roof off the dump at the first three shows, Joe McDonald voluntarily surrendered the closing slot for the 11:30 show on the 27th and played in the middle instead. He explained from the stage by saying something along the lines of: "We can't follow the Grateful Dead... NO ONE can follow the Grateful Dead. They're the greatest fuckin' band in the world!"'

  8. One audience member wrote:
    "Fillmore East 9/27/69, late show was my first show. I was 14 and had been already been listening from '67 thanks to my older brother. I still still have the program from this show. Some memories of the show are crystal clear, some not so. Much was new to me. I remember them opening with Cryptical>The Other One. I was so thrilled to hear this since I'd been listening to Anthem steadily since I first heard it. Tried learning parts of it as I was learning to play guitar. I remember Jerry playing pedal steel but don't know what song it was on. The Morning Dew was very powerful. I'd only known the version from the first album. This one really blew me away. I don't remember Midnight Hour which you'd think I would since I already knew the song. Schoolgirl was great. I really dug Pig. They finished the night out with Alligator>Feedback and I'm almost certain And We Bid You Goodnight. The show ended around 5 a.m."