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 &
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
pretty much like the album, which was being released at this time.
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
"Morning Dew" --
a fine start, and a fine performance.
"Me and My Uncle"
-- contributing to its most-played status
--> "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
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.
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.
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 ©
the Grateful Dead's concert performance on
Capitol Theater - Port Chester, NY.