Oct 19, 2017

September 27, 1969: Fillmore East


NEW YORK - Two pillars of the underground scene, the Grateful Dead and Country Joe & the Fish, gave strong solid sets at Fillmore East at the first show on Sept. 27.
Country Joe McDonald, with only lead guitarist Barry Melton left from his original group, stuck to music for the most part instead of the shock value obscenities that so often marked his unit's work in the past. There was still some clowning around, especially well into the set, as Melton played and sang while writhing on the stage. Later, McDonald did the same.
There still was some off-color material too, but this was more effective because the audience wasn't constantly beaten over the head with it. Vanguard recorded the weekend proceedings and the label should have much good material to choose from.
The three new members of the Fish all were excellent with Mark Kapner a standout on keyboards. Kapner also sang a camp number with ukulele, which he eventually burned. Kapner also joined McDonald, who sang the title song of a forthcoming Danish film, which will never hit radio. On this, and another selection from the film, McDonald accompanied himself only on acoustic guitar. Both McDonald and Melton will be featured on Vanguard albums as solo performers.
Rock of a vintage variety was offered by Buddah's Sha Na Na, a 12-man group composed mainly of Columbia University students, including three in gold lame. The unit's gentle satires of such numbers as "Teen Angel," "Silhouettes," "At the Hop," etc. are fun to watch as every gesture and pose in the book are used. But, as with really good satire, the numbers are sung and played so well, Sha Na Na may prove a disk surprise.
The Grateful Dead, a pioneer of the San Francisco sound, have added country to their blues and psychedelic elements and the blend worked well. The Warner Bros.-Seven Arts septet has not developed a visual act, but, when things are working well, as they did during the set, the Dead has a euphoric effect that has drawn the unit a legion of devoted fans.
The set ranged from straight country as in "Mama Tried" to the blues encore "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl," the former with bass guitarist Phil Lesch producing a good country vocal sound, and the latter with Ron (Pig Pen) McKernan at his vocal best. Lead guitarist Jerry Garcia also had [a] good set as did organist Tom Constanten and rhythm guitarist Robert Weir. The dependable work of drummers William Kreutzman and Mickey Hart was ideal in the country tunes.

(by Fred Kirby, from Billboard, 11 October 1969)


See also this review and the extensive comments:

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NEW YORK - Bob Dylan is alive and well and living in (would you believe?) Greenwich Village. Or so last week-end's best rumor has it - that he's bought two adjacent houses in the same neighborhood where he got his start back in the beatnik-folk-singer days.
Dylan as a New Yorker comes as quite a surprise, but he's been showing up everywhere around there lately, from the Fillmore to Washington Square (where they have the outdoor folk jams).
One keeps wondering what change Dylan will put his followers thru next. There aren't many folksingers turned protester turned rock poet turned recluse turned country balladeer turned pop-schlock jukebox fodder around, you know.
But he told reporters after his appearance at the Isle of Wight festival that he planned to get back into the personal appearance circuit. And New York's as good a place as any to get started again.

A couple of other performers who had dropped from the scene in recent months also showed themselves very much alive and well in appearances here last week.
Country Joe MacDonald reappeared at the Fillmore with a new set of Fish, retaining only guitarist Barry Melton from the old group. Joe is, thank heavens, making music again instead of his protest gibberish, which had gotten just too smug to be believed.
But there's no group around capable of laying down such driving, melodic lines as the Fish when they're really together. And they were Friday night.
But being "together" and being relaxed aren't always the same thing, as evidenced by former Lovin' Spoonful member John Sebastian's solo gig at the Bitter End. Sebastian put on a low-key, folksy show, dressed in bleached-out psychedelic-splattered denims, but it wasn't exactly the kind of performance (as a visiting friend from Chicago put it) that would make you want to go out and buy John Sebastian records.
He said things like "I feel about as local as a fish in a tree," and the audience laughed a lot. But musically the show just wasn't there.

Equally as jagged and sloppy was the new country sound of The Grateful Dead, also on the bill with the Fish at the Fillmore. After about an hour they finally got things together, returning to their old driving, hard rock bag. But that first hour.
There's no excuse for a group as talented as The Dead are to dish out such an amateurish start to a show - and this is the third time I've seen them do it. If it takes them an hour to warm up, they'd better find a loft someplace down the block in which to do so.
Unfortunately a lot of garbage is being sanctioned under the label of "country-rock." At least we have a few first rate groups like the Flying Burrito Bros. (also in town last week-end, for concert with the not-so-good Byrds in Carnegie Hall) and Crosby-Stills-Nash-Young (who had a brilliant New York debut the week-end before at the Fillmore) to prove that it doesn't have to be disconnected slop.

(by Robb Baker, from the Chicago Tribune, 30 September 1969) 

Thanks to Dave Davis.


  1. Since these shows were discussed in the other review of this date, just a few notes:

    - Vanguard was recording Country Joe's sets! But no doubt they turned the recorders off when the Dead came on.
    - Lesh's country vocal is praised in Mama Tried... Well, the reviewer didn't know who was who, but he compliments everyone. And he likes the country tunes. (I suspect the early show, with its short catchy tunes, was more ideal for him than the Dead's epic jams would have been.)
    - the Dead have "not developed a visual act." Funny to read, but the reviewer wasn't clueless - he also says they have "a euphoric effect" and "a legion of devoted fans." ('69 is rather early to hear this from a mainstream reviewer, and it isn't said of Country Joe, the headliner.)
    - the encore was Schoolgirl. This is a surprise to hear, because a couple sources state that Schoolgirl was played in the late show. It was rare for the Dead to play a song twice in one day, and very unlikely for this one, so I'm a little doubtful they repeated it in the late show; probably memories were mistaken on this song.

  2. I added a second review, from Chicago. The Dead are only briefly covered in a couple paragraphs, but the article was short and interesting enough to include in full.

    This reporter went to the Sept 26 late show - I'm pretty sure it was the late show since he complains about "the first hour" of their set, and early shows didn't run much more than an hour. There's a Dark Star suite on audience tape from this date, thought to come from the early show.
    One commenter who saw the late 9/26 show wrote, "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 [Lovelight]... [He] asked everyone to stand up. From then on he could have sustained [it] 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."

    This Chicago reviewer is not fond of the Dead's new country sound, which he calls "jagged and sloppy" and "amateurish" - he was relieved when they returned to the familiar Lovelight, "their old driving hard rock bag." (No setlist is known.) With no tape, it's hard to say whether the Dead really did "take an hour to warm up," or if he just didn't like the new material; the band was often sloppy in '69.
    He liked Country Joe & the Fish's set much more. The Dead opened for Country Joe that night, and apparently after clapping through the Dead's set, much of the audience left during Country Joe's set, so the two bands switched in the next night's late show.

  3. Robb Baker had moved to New York a few months earlier and was writing pieces on the New York music scene for the Chicago Tribune. Back in June he'd gone to see the Dead at the Fillmore (with openers Savoy Brown & the Buddy Miles Express), and barely mentioned the Dead in his report, but it's worth quoting an excerpt:

    "...New Yorkers seem to have [an attitude] against anyone who tries to bring softness or tenderness or simplicity back into music. But then, cynicism doesn't leave much room for open-mindedness.
    There are exceptions. Both The Band and The Incredible String Band received tremendous ovations when they played the Fillmore. But then the crowds weren't the usual hard-rock-loving youngish set on those nights either. The people who came were already believers, you might say...
    A disturbing thing happened at that East Village rock hall a week ago last night.
    The program was a pretty good hard rock show on the whole, with performances by The Grateful Dead (who, surprisingly, are getting heavily into country), the Savoy Brown Blues Band, and The Buddy Miles Express.
    But at one point, Buddy did a slow, improvised version of Otis Redding's "Cigarettes and Coffee." (Jim McCarty's abrasive electric guitar and the sloppy brass section, thank God, were silent.) There was only Buddy, singing and on drums, plus soft organ and bass in the background.
    Tho Buddy hasn't completely found himself as a vocalist yet, he's doing some incredibly good things. His voice has a wide range, from whispers to screams, and he succeeds at almost all the touches of jazz and gospel that he tries, tho he's not quite as good when he tries "soul."
    But about half of the Fillmore bunch would have none of it. There were cries of "Get off the stage" and "Go home." Buddy beautifully held his ground - even did an encore - but when he left the stage he was shaking with anger. A standing ovation from those of us who did appreciate what he was trying helped some, but I'm not sure how much..."
    ("A Cold, Cruel New York City Does Have Those Musical Islands In The Sky," Chicago Tribune, 29 June 1969)

    1. Someone on setlists.net who attended the 6/20/69 show recalls "someone yelling during the Dead's set "Get off the stage cowboys" (perhaps put off by all the country tunes), so Buddy Miles wasn't the only one getting abuse from New Yorkers!

    2. Robert Christgau wrote of the 6/20/69 show: "When the Dead set up with Garcia seated at his newest instrument, a pedal steel guitar, and with Weir singing lead on a succession of country songs...some blues freaks walked out, and one ignoramus started catcalling about 'cowboys.'"