Saturday, November 8, 1969
Fillmore Auditorium – San Francisco, CA
This show has rightfully been elevated out of the trading circle and into the Dick’s Picks official release series (Vol. 16). One of the finest choices of all the DP’s.
Below is a review I wrote upon request before the official release in early 2000, in conjunction with the SBD master getting into circulation after Jim Wise painstakingly cleaned up some clicking artifacts on the master tape.
There is something overwhelmingly potent about this show. This second set will mine for any possible remnants of psychoactive chemicals in your being whether they were last placed there twenty minutes ago, or twenty years ago. It will even create them out of the pure ether of your life force if you never added them to your mix personally. This show is a spark that lights a technicolor bonfire in your mind. A roaring, pulsing, groaning beast. This is, after all, 1969. And it is completely obvious why Dick found this to be a crown jewel. There is something overwhelmingly potent about this show.
The Dark Star begins with whispers. They ebb out into the air like flowers opening to greet the morning sun. This is the band’s unique ability to give you reason to feel completely safe within their world. No matter what happens, you are being guided by a friend. A brother holds your hand.
Slow passages rise and fall on the way to the first verse of the song. You can sense the craft at work in the band’s collective hand. They have become masters at this over the last three or four years. Gentle smoke rings dance and twist in still air. There are a few moments of slight crescendo before Jerry gets things centered, and the first verse begins.
On the tail of the verse, the drummers open the gates that held back the breezes that would just as easily put ripples into time itself as brush back the hair on your head. Cymbals sing and time signature buckles. The floor opens up and we tumble into a space that is restrained, given what is to come. But we don’t know that yet. Right now, music is gone and the band is running its fingers through our veins and skin. Things climb in intensity. The drummers find a foothold and Jerry returns to earth with his guitar in one hand, and yours in another. Safe again.
Most remarkable about the ensuing music is the myriad of directions being explored. It starts with a nice Dark Star jam that continues to ebb and flow, rise and fall. Phil leads the way into a Feelin’ Groovy jam that acts as the highest peak of the set thus far. The beast is fully awake now, eyes darting in all directions. This peak sets the band at a tremendous energy level. After a brief bit of breathing room, Phil leads the way into Other One.
The Other One was another tune displaying the absolute master craftsmanship of the Dead this year, and this one is up for the challenge. Tremendous. There is a wash of layer upon layer of theme rising out of the surging music, like small fires that ooze and glow from the corners of your eyes. After another mild passage, things build with Phil throwing in the Feelin’ Groovy line again. Things settle some more and we find Phil enter with a hint of Alligator under Jerry’s Other One lines. Then it’s as if three or four songs are being played at the same time. Even a small Me and My Uncle is oozing around. This is unbelievably moving. Finally we get to the verse. But nothing can quite prepare us for the jamming that comes out of the Other One and through the next many miles of road. The interplay of the band is remarkable. With so much being hinted at over and over again, that base of primal chemical life force in your brain is completely melded to the mothership at the center of everything. You are "there". For a long while nothing is happening and it is truly magical. In between Other One and Dark Star we have ascended to a place where the distinction between I and Band are gone. No song is being played. No themes are explored. Everything is just stretched out in all directions. The music just "is". Words fail. Dark Star prevails.
It returns, lilting on a bubbly Garcia, hopping through fields of flowers. Only enough Dark Star to know we are there. There’s more of the Feelin’ Groovy underpinning while colors and lights whiz by.
Not good enough for you? Just another Dark Star ho-hummedly trekking toward St. Stephen? No. What’s that theme? Everyone seems together on it, but I can’t quite pin it down? It seems so well rehearsed. But what is it? Then…
Jerry leads the band through an instrumental verse of Uncle John’s Band that is too good to be true. You will never forget the first time you hear this. Ever! It is a joyride of the highest order. When they eventually get back to that theme you couldn’t quite pin down, of course it’s Uncle John’s. The theme quickly passes into a nice transitional state. Then it is Dark Star completely. Amazingly, it is Dark Star of all songs that is acting as our lifeline to reality. But safe once again we are, all cuddled around the band as Jerry finishes this story of so many things. "Shall we go…?"
It’s St. Stephen, piled on thick. It has a slaphappy feel to it, maybe a tad slower than normal. The Lady Finger verse finds the audience in true silence, and the band plays ever so quietly behind. The riotous build after "One man gathers what another man spills" is real nice, getting almost completely out. But not quite. Fear not, we will get completely out just a little later.
The Eleven is a whip cracking good version, and charges right along. Near the end, as they enter the slightly more bluesy jam after the Eleven theme is explored for the last time, we get the over blending of themes again. Death rears it’s head, but the Dead show no mercy. There is too much raw power coursing through the room. Things start to boil ferociously. The world is about to split apart at the seams. The time signature rolls in and out of 11/8 and then Phil is again hinting at Alligator. The rest of the band is just latching on when Phil gets right into Caution. From here we slide into a nice lazy jam of sorts. You gotta think that they are looking for Pigpen at this point. And sure enough, things truly simmer way down and we hear Jerry call after the amazing lead singer. No luck? Okay, Jerry is content to start hinting at Me and My Uncle. But then Pig must make his way to the stage because the band finds a bit of focus in the direction of Caution again.
This is it. The beat quickens and electricity is brimming all around. This Caution embodies so much of what the Dead were so good at, as really most all Cautions do. They could get a fast paced Bluegrass rhythm going and completely fuse it to the deepest extremes of raw psychedelic space in such a way that you just couldn’t know which way was up. Add in what might be one of Pigpens finest improv raps, and you have yourself one of the best Cautions ever caught on tape.
As promised earlier, the band does make it completely *out*, and right on cue. "Just a touch!" After an amazing drop out into feedback with Pigpen cooing and calling in the background, Caution rebuilds itself one small piece at a time. Amazingly, the beat returns from out of nowhere, Jerry’s licks start rockin’ along, but there is still all this deep groaning and flowing all around us. No matter how far back into the song we make it, there is always this element of deep space hovering like a cat waiting to pounce. We get back in the groove, but it is clear from that last break with reality that this band can get much farther out there than anything that has gone down in the last hour. Hold on.
It’s all gloriously too much. Just when it seems that the song is back for a while they really flip out into Space. But Jerry is slamming out the Caution rhythm even faster now and Pigpen comes right back to the microphone. His inspired rap follows.
It work purdy good
I know it gonna work for you
Ain’t no way
To get around it
This version of The Main Ten is well explored. It has that unmistakable Playin’ In The Band feeling, but it is peppered with all sorts of great tangents. At its end the band seems sure to go into Death Don’t. But then Jerry is beating out an even faster Caution. There really is no better place to go from here. As it climbs its way back, there is an aura taking shape that begins to defy description. The feathery edges of nerve endings are all rippling in a tide of an effervescent ocean. It’s another period in the show where the distinctions between I and Band are lost. Caution Caution Caution. Eventually there are the block step chords, first in threes, then in fours. This kind of things really must have struck home for anyone in the audience who had seen the band over the years, or listened to Anthem of the Sun under the right conditions. The slamming chords erupting out of a sea of madness - altering the structure again by going from three to four could not help but stir up a haunting recollection of having been here before. Then Jerry is shredding the way into Feedback.
It’s some eight or nine minutes long, and I can’t think of any reason to attempt to lend a linear tour through what happens. You are on your own.
And we bid you good night, good night, good night.
11/08/69 etree source info
11/08/69 Purchase Only