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6/5-8, 1969
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Grateful Dead reviews of 11/8/70


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Grateful Dead reviews of 11/8/70

The Grateful Dead
Capital Theater - Port Chester, NY 

Set 1: Dire Wolf, I Know You Rider, Dark Hollow, Rosalie McFall, El Paso, Operator, Ripple, Friend Of The Devil, Wake Up Little Susie, Uncle John's Band

Set 2: Morning Dew, Me & My Uncle, Mystery Train > My Babe, Around and Around, New Orleans > Searchin', It's All Over Now Baby Blue, Casey Jones, Truckin' > Dark Star > The Main Ten > Dancing In The Streets, Not Fade Away > Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad > Not Fade Away > Good Lovin' > Drums > Good Lovin'

First set acoustic

Boy is this a lot of music! We can read that the Dead would play an acoustic set, then they'd have the New Riders, then the Dead would come back electric. But it's another thing to actually hear it -- four hours of music really does fill up an evening, and they cover a lot of ground: folk, country, rock & roll, psychedelia, and just plain rhythm & blues.

These being Audience recordings, we might also add the audience themselves: a more significant quotient than in larger venues. When the band talks, they talk back; sometimes they talk even during performances (a rather direct response in itself), and sometimes they clap along (despite the gripes of the recordist). These may be the very reasons many prefer Soundboards, but the fact is that this is a much more honest representation of the show as you would have heard it, had you been there. It is, after all, exactly what was heard by the recordist -- and here's what he heard:

"Dire Wolf" -- Jerry blanks on some lyrics. Some things never change!

"I Know You Rider" -- declawed from "China Cat" and reeeeaaalllyyy sssllllooowww. This allows Jerry the Slowmeister to put more effort into his phrasing, to beautiful effect. Very nice.

"Dark Hollow" and "Rosalie McFall" -- also very nice. I don't think performances of these songs differ much.

"El Paso" -- not only slower than later on, but also much appreciated by the audience.

"Operator" -- pretty much like the album, which was being released at this time. Final performance.

"Ripple" -- audience claps along, to recordist's disgust.

"Friend of the Devil" -- recordist (or someone VERY close by) sings along on chorus, to our disgust.

Then comes a guitar vamp for another song, which they stop short of singing -- admitting they haven't learned all the words. The audience seems to know what song it is, but I'm not sure; my best guess is the traditional song about "Stagger Lee", which would be interesting in light of Hunter & Garcia's later composition.

"Wake Up Little Susie" --despite electrifying the audience (and recordist), this is the last known performance.

[side note: Despite having enjoyed this song for years, I notice that the lyrics don't quite seem to make sense: where could two people possibly fall asleep watching a movie that isn't at home, and wouldn't result in anyone waking them up? Unless they parked on a street adjacent to (but not in) a drive-in; otherwise I expect the theater employees would have cleared them out at the end of the movie. ??? Perhaps the answer lies in the phrase "looks like we goofed again": if this isn't the first time, perhaps it's implied that something else happened between the boring movie and their falling asleep??]

There follows a brief "Casey Jones" tease, and the audience shouts several requests (including, ultimately, "Casey Jones"), to which the band responds with a solid "Uncle John's Band".

End of set; bring on the New Riders! These songs, more than the Dead's, seem to be a window into the prevailing worldview of these traveling musicians: being on the road ["Six Days on the Road", "Truck Driving Man"], women ["Portland Woman", "Cecilia", "Louisiana Lady"], love negotiations ["If You'll Share", "Fair Chance to Know", "Whatcha Gonna Do", "All I Ever Wanted Was Your Love"], telling stories ["Glendale Train"], vague grasp of ecology ["Last Lonely Eagle"], and of course general partying ["Honky Tonk Women"]. Not that the Dead don't have any songs like these, but Marmaduke's songs have a stronger sense of being from the perspective of a young man on the road in the USA: easy travel, no-strings-attached relationships, simple cause-and-effect circumstances, spiced with lots of idealism. And a megadose of optimism, which -- then, as now -- was sorely needed :-)

All are played very well, and sung beautifully. As far as I know, they were still backed by Jerry, Phil & Mickey at this time; it certainly sounds like Jerry on the pedal steel. Special mention must be made for David Nelson's roadhouse guitar, which I suspect influenced Jerry's own approach to songs like "Cumberland Blues". Working my way backward as I have, Nelson just sounds like Garcia's more bluegrassy playing to me; I assume that if Nelson sounds like Garcia in reverse time, then Garcia must be sounding like Nelson in forward time. Speaking as a guitarist, I've found this to be the more challenging side of copping Jerry's licks -- it's a lot easier to imitate his ballad approach, the Chuck Berry doublestops, or even the semi-aimless jamming (I mean just the general style, not his supernatural sense of direction). But you aren't really able to 'cop a Jerry' until you can handle "Cumberland" and "Big River" without breaking a sweat, and those seem to be right out of Nelson's bag (often called "Bakersfield" guitar).

So thanks, David, for showing Jerry a way to bring that hard-earned banjo sensibility to the electric guitar!

Two hours of music into the show, but the main course is still to come. It's not what we might expect; this was a band struggling to redefine itself. They'd begun as a terrific R&B band. They'd jumped on the psychedelia bandwagon, and struggled through all of 1968 to carve out a space of their own (richly rewarded by February 1969). They'd peaked & plateaued on the intensely experimental, resorted to country & folk music for new expression, found new sparks to strike on the flint of Hunter's lyrics. Creatively, things were smouldering into new fire from established coals.

On the down side, they'd been busted in New Orleans, and burned by Mickey's dad; they'd fallen deep into debt; they'd just lost their good friend Janis in an apparent suicide. Their soundman/pharmacologist was in jail. Their stage equipment didn't meet their needs, so they had to form a company to develop better technology. Things were definitely changing!

"Morning Dew" -- a fine start, and a fine performance.

"Me and My Uncle" -- contributing to its most-played status

"Mystery Train" --> "My Babe" -- whoa! Here's where the real surprises start, with a pair of only-known performances. The Grateful Dead aren't really this kind of band, and yet they pull it off nicely. The audience is clearly charged by this change of events. Jerry sings both.

"Around and Around" -- not so remarkable to you and I, but very much so to those in attendance, as it had never been performed before. An auspicious debut, as well-received as the Jerry pair that preceded it. Three never-before-heard songs in a row! That's Port Chester :-)

Drums begin, establishing a party beat; soon, shouts of "hey!" erupt at regular intervals. This proves to be an introduction to "New Orleans", with Bobby belting out lyrics like a -- well, like an old-school rock-and-roller. Rarely have they ever come so close to being a 50s-style whoop-and-shout rock-and-roll band, and the audience eats it up. Continuing this vein, they slow the tempo, and Pigpen takes the mike for a segue into "Searchin'" (one of three known performances, according to Deadbase X). It seems a little strange -- even primitive -- but then this is evidently a five-song journey into the roots of the Grateful Dead: the stuff they might have enjoyed before they ever learned to play.

As if to bring us forward to the 60s, Jerry sings a slow, haunting "Baby Blue" -- another keeper. Bobby then acknowledges the unusual musical fare as "a night full of surprises" -- after which they return to their usual material. Thanks, Bobby!

"Casey Jones" -- either you love 'em or hate 'em, I guess, and this one pops the meter just right.

"Truckin'" -- having tried it acoustic (9-20-70 comes to mind), they prove that it's just as effective electric.

"Dark Star" -- OK, parts of this are really, really deep. But the audience is so jacked up by the high-energy rock show they've been getting, they can't quite settle down; instead of getting into it, someone in the audience makes a silly sound during the most quiet part, and laughter ripples throughout. Jerry actually has to admonish them a bit ("this is serious"), but the spell has already been broken; magical trances aren't so easy to start up again. Here we suffer the down side of an audience recording: were there a Soundboard, and the audience were unheard on it, Jerry's comment could be edited out and we could simply enjoy the magnificent mood built by the cymbals & feedback. They do in fact do a fine job of recovering, and soon find more acceptable ground for their revved-up audience with a final "Main Ten" jam, and a long segue into an even longer "Dancin' in the Streets" -- ultimately including a well-explored "Tighten Up" jam. Fine stuff!

Then the jungle drums start up again -- anticipated by the intro we heard earlier for "New Orleans" -- this time for "Not Fade Away", which is predictably wonderful, and just as predictably a lead-in to "Going Down the Road Feelin' Bad". There really isn't much to say about the second half of this set -- it's just about what you'd expect -- except for a couple minor points. First, "Going Down the Road" includes an additional verse not heard later. Also, the band leaves us little time to ponder; when songs do not truly segue, the drums leap in to fill the void. While not perhaps quite as volcanic as an "Alligator > Caution", they certainly keep things moving & exciting -- finishing on a very strong jam in "Good Lovin'".

Four hours later, it's hard to say what we've heard; a bit chaotic, somewhat structured, and all of it "good" to "very good" to "excellent". They may not have been too certain about where they were going, but they sure put a lot of effort into searching -- and incidentally included some fine reminders of where they'd been. Late 1970 sure was a remarkable time!
Ramble On Joe

Review of the Grateful Dead's concert performance on 11/8/70, at Capitol Theater - Port Chester, NY.  
Grateful Dead reviews of 11/8/70


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