Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Grateful Dead – Fillmore East 2/12/69

At their core, The Grateful Dead were a rock and roll band which performed best live – they were like the rock and roll equivalent of Sonny Rollins, making some great records in the studio, but their greatest work came in the hothouse environment of the live concert setting. This is one of the reasons they developed such a rabid following and that their concerts were so well received. What I downloaded from the Internet of the concert from the Fillmore East in New York City was just a small portion of what was undoubtedly a long and epic performance that evening, but it gives a sense of what the band’s live performances were like during this period.

We only get to hear a few minutes of “Dark Star” which is particularly moody on this night before moving into a well executed version of “St. Stephen.” The band was probably playing at its highest level at this point and it shows in the tight arrangements and harmony vocals. “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” is taken out of its normal blues context, but still maintains a mournful, melancholy feel. I think that Jerry Garcia’s voice was most well suited for slower tempoed and ballad material, and he wrings every ounce of emotion out of this old tune.

Things pick back up with an epic uptempo jam – Pigpen shakes the house down with “Alligator” moving into a duo drum conversation and then concluding with a blistering version of "Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks.)" Garcia’s rampaging lead guitar is pushed into the stratosphere by Phil Lesh’s pulsating bass, Pigpen’s swirling organ and the twin drum kits. The concert concludes with the traditional gospel tune “And We Bid You Goodnight” followed by Bill Graham bidding adieu. Whether it was out of sequence on my mp3 player or really was an encore, the last tune for me was “Feedback” which comes blasting out like an Albert Ayler improvisation.

The band was truly at its peak during this period and most of the concerts of this timeframe betray the notion of the Dead as a peaceful troupe of hippie minstrels. At their best they were a truly blasting rock and roll band who drew on a number of diverse influences to create and new and original synthesis.

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