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F. West ' 69
6/5-8, 1969
MSG '90
Boston '91

Grateful Dead reviews of 2/13/70 - Fillmore East


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Grateful Dead reviews of 2/13/70 - Fillmore East

The Grateful Dead
Fillmore East, New York

Set 1: China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Me & My Uncle, Dire Wolf, Smokestack Lightning

Set 2: Monkey and the Engineer, Little Sadie, Wake Up Little Susie > Black Peter, Uncle John's Band, Katie Mae

Set 3: Dark Star > Cryptical Envelopment > Drums > The Other One > Cryptical Envelopment > Lovelight, E: We Bid You Goodnight

Most of this show was released officially between Dick's Picks 4 and Bear's Choice.

A band called "The Grateful Dead". A long-gone venue called "The Fillmore East". A song called "Dark Star". And finally, a date: "2/13/70".

A generation or two after the fact, it's easy for fond memories to become legends, locations become landmarks, and times gone turned golden. Although only a few thousand people actually attended this event, many thousands more have cherished the tapes, traded & spun like all things fine & precious. Pieces of 2/13 & 2/14 were even issued as official band releases, performing a great public service if consequently decreasing the mystique.

Nowadays, informal surveys of the DICKS PICK series find other concerts taking the top honors more often than the once-coveted 2/13/70; such are the changes wrought by abundance & familiarity. Nevertheless, 2/13/70 & 2/14/70 are generally regarded as being among the top "must-hear" shows, and there's no time like the present to give it a listen & find out why.

First of all, there are two shows labeled as 2/13 -- the 'early show' also circulates as being from "Ungano's", and dated 2/12. Maybe that's what happened, maybe it isn't; maybe Bear is right, and all the dates are spurious. No matter -- we're only concerned with how the music sounds, and it sounds fabulous!

Our kickoff begins rather rudely, as we fade in on a "Cold Rain" already in progress. While competently played, it only hints at how the evening will go. More representative are the two songs that follow ["Beat it on Down the Line" and "Good Lovin"], both of which are played with that vociferous energy we associate with their earliest years. By contrast, "Mama Tried" is delivered so gently it sounds almost like another band -- or as if it were taken from another, less driven show. The band then coasts a bit through "Black Peter" and "Hard to Handle", though it must be said that "Peter" benefits from full-band backing. "St. Stephen" then picks things up again where "Good Lovin" left off, pouring us straight into a long, pulse-pounding "Not Fade Away" that clearly gives the audience their money's worth. "Casey Jones" closes things up, and Jerry thanks the audience to end a fine warm-up set.

Now, these two-show deals usually let people hang around for the second show as long as there aren't too many more people waiting to get in. I sure hope that was the case on this evening, because anyone who left at this point would be kicking themselves for the rest of their lives. Probably one guy did, muttering into his beard how they just weren't the same since they started playing 'country' songs; now he's probably in a Tibetan monastery, living off bean cakes and yak's milk. But I digress.

The next set finds us coming in during some stage chatter before the band is introduced, and they soon kick into the newly paired "China > Rider". Band interaction is solid, confidence is high; this pairing was a keeper even then, so it's no surprise they kept it for so long. "Me & My Uncle" brooks nothing noteworthy, but "Dire Wolf" benefits from an intro vamp as the band sets a mood before launching into the song proper. This may have been good or very good; I can't remember now, because it is followed by a monster "Smokestack Lightnin" that showcases all the subtle intuition of the band's instrumental prowess. You could probably listen to this five times straight & hear something different every time -- both a standard & a harbinger of what's to come later.

Not surprisingly, this ends the electric portion of the set. After some more stage chatter, we find our intrepid ensemble reduced to the duo of Bob & Jerry, and they run though some nice if not stunning performances, including another "Black Peter". A run-though of "Uncle John's Band" is cut short by tape running out, and an inferior alternate source gives us Pigpen's solo introduction. Then we're back to Owsley's wonderful master for Pigpen's performance of "Katie Mae", already familiar (as is much of this) to those who bought the BEAR'S CHOICE album.

But we're here for the big moments, so -- finally -- it's time for "Dark Star", picking up where "Smokestack" left off as if there had been no intermission. And not just any "Dark Star", but one of the very best. Of course, there would be many others -- just as there had been many fine Stars before. But the Dead had a way of altering & rethinking their "Dark Star" journeys, refining new ideas until mined through, then starting anew yet again. 2/13's performance is the crest of a wave that had been building for months -- a summary, if you will. Various intra-Star jams had been devised, soon to be discarded, but are present here in full-blown form: the "Tighten Up" jam, the "Feelin' Groovy" jam -- even the "Spanish" jam makes a brief appearance (albeit in the next song).

But this is only to analyze the things that can actually be discussed ("Oh, look, there's a 'Groovy' jam") -- what can't really be put into words are the subverbal conversations that make up the performance. And they had a LOT to 'say' in this performance -- what you hear, what you remember, will depend largely on what you are prepared to experience. Even more than in "Smokestack" we find immeasurable material for repeat listening, all served up in an 'Exhibit A' performance of Group Mind improvisation: nobody really takes the lead so much as just let it all happen. We are very lucky that there were two separate recordings to be spliced together, and take this gentle sonic journey uninterrupted.

(here, you should really just go listen to it!)

24 minutes after "Dark Star" begins, it's actually surprising when they return for the second verse, but it makes sense: as in any epic, we set forth to strange new lands, but the end finds us back in our own skins -- even if we can't recall how we got there :-)

If that were the end, we couldn't complain; it's a marvelous achievement, and enough for one evening. But it's only the beginning, as the closing chords of mystery are immediately followed by the "Other One" suite, including a seven-minute drum break. At this point, the relationship between the Grateful Dead and the Allman's becomes only too obvious: twin percussionists drumming up a frenzy to launch the next full-band attack. And attack they do, undiminished by the recent departure of T.C. This, of course, is the sort of high-fueled improv that fans felt was missing in the post-retirement eras; they can't even really slow down for Bobby's suggestion of the "Spanish" jam -- ideas are just flying too fast & furious. Finally, there's only one place left to go, and so they do -- to "Lovelight". Well-familiar with the tune, the audience cheers in anticipation.

Can't you just picture it? Big, psychedelic oil & light show on the back wall; the band loosely spread out over a stage not too large nor small; a wall of amplifiers strewn behind the drummers, festooned with tie-dyes. The audience exchanges grins and smiles, knowing just where things are going: they've just spend the last hour or so riding the wilds of the Group Mind, but everyone is back to a familiar place with the introduction of a simple six-note riff.

Pigpen nods slightly in acknowledgement, steps out from behind the organ on stage left. He places a hand on the microphone, wrests it from its holder, and tilts up his head -- squinting against the glare of the spotlight, he lets the brim of his Stetson shadow his eyes so he can look out at tonight's audience. It's THEIR audience -- the kind of people they like to perform to, and for, and they've been having just the kind of evening they like to have. Man, the Allman Brothers Band were great! The New Riders were cool! Every night should be like this. Yeah.

But it ain't over yet: there's just a little more work to do -- one last number, and no reason to hold back. Let's see if everyone's ready: Jerry's bobbing slightly in time to the riff that issues from his guitar, while Bobby absorbs himself in his well-voiced fingerings; Phil's adjusting some knobs on his amp without missing any key notes. Bill sits firm with closed eyes, all limbs in motion while his body remains balanced in the middle. Mickey focuses in fierce intent on a slight cymbal accent here, a gutty drum thump there. Now Phil's back, looking at the others, ready. Tense but loose, everyone waiting -- like Indy 500 racers idling at the line, waiting for the flag to drop. At that moment, Pig might have grinned to himself. "All cylinders firing; time to hit the throttle." He looks down at the stage, toes aside some extra mike cable with his boot. Then he lifts the microphone up, steps forward, and lets it start.

"Without a warning, you broke my heart ..."

Thus begins an avalanche of musical emotion. But I really shouldn't try to describe it, and I won't. You'll have to hear it for yourself (as most of you probably have); it's certainly a performance fit to cap off such a fine night. The a cappella "We Bid you Goodnight" encore is as sure a sign as any that there was nothing left to say musically. No doubt you'll agree.

2/13/70 Fillmore East. This was the Grateful Dead.
Ramble On Joe

Review of the Grateful Dead's concert performance on 2/13/70, at the Fillmore East in New York, NY.   
Grateful Dead reviews of 2/13/70 - Fillmore East


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