Fillmore East, New York
Set 1: China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Me & My Uncle, Dire Wolf, Smokestack
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
A band called "The Grateful
Dead". A long-gone venue called "The Fillmore East".
A song called "Dark Star". And finally, a date:
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
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
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
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 ©
the Grateful Dead's concert performance on 2/13/70, at the Fillmore
East in New York, NY.