NEW RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE
Friday, October 23, 1970
McDonough Arena, Georgetown University – Washington DC
I remember getting this tape from one of my closest trading partners over the years. He had been trading a lot longer than I had, and got his copy directly from the taper himself, Cary Wolfson, after hooking up with him via an ad in Relix magazine, or some such, back in the late 70’s. He sent this tape to me in our first trade, knowing my preference for audience recordings. This tape was the first *good* 1970 AUD I had heard. There is no known soundboard recording of this show. The show sticks in my brain as the sum of its parts. Every element combines to produce a classic Grateful Dead tape. While I know it is a strange accolade to bestow, it has the sound and vibe of a Grateful Dead bootleg. You come away from this tape smiling, and having really felt something beyond the music itself. Massive musical energy, audience chatter, and 1970 blend together to create a listening experience not to be missed.
Wolfson managed to get the opening New Riders Of The Purple Sage set on tape as well, and it finds the band performing as a well oiled machine. The last five months of touring with the Dead has paid off very well. While the sound quality of the Riders set pales significantly to the Dead’s set, Jerry’s steel playing is fantastic, outdone only by some of the best vocal harmonies I’ve ever heard the band lay down. The entire set is one fantastically sung song after another with the entire band rising to the occasion over and over again.
It’s worth noting that Mickey Hart was still with the band here. Within weeks of this show Spencer Dryden would take over for him on drums. While no one could ever regret the change on drums – Spencer brought a quintessential backbeat and energy to the group – Mickey’s departure marked the end of being able to experience his drumming in a very unique setting. He was easily the most psychedelic country rock drummer ever known – not at all born to back such a straightforward ensemble. The resulting special flavor that his style brought to the band is well featured on this tape as he rolls, fills, drops out, and drops in at his characteristically impossible angles. He always seemed driven to avoid the 1 whenever possible, not to mention the 2,3, and 4. His drumming always lent to that wonderfully “electric” sparkle that this band distilled into every drop of music it produced. This show has it in spades.
According to Cary, it was HOT in the hall for this show. And the energy from the Dead matches the heat in the air from the very first notes. The band trembles with the energy of a great boiler room or furnace set to burst at the seams - the kind of heat that would burn to the touch. One could say that this sort of “ball of fire” energy was pretty commonplace for the Grateful Dead in 1970, and it was. But 10/23/70 gets to another level. It’s a take no prisoners sort of seriousness, as if the band has something to prove. And they prove it every step of the way. They swagger and strut their way through every song.
Everything on this night just works perfectly. Every song emanates the divine essence of what the Grateful Dead were. There’s no easier way to describe it. This tape comes off like the mold of 1970. Check any song, and it can be called archetypical. However, this is not to say that each song on 10/23 is its own best version. That’s not it. Most Deadheads familiar with the tape wouldn’t call any one song a “best ever” version. But every song collectively elevates them all into a noticeably rarified air. For sure, there is no fat to be trimmed off of this night’s music. Again, this tape is about the sum of its parts.
Recorded from about 15 rows back from the stage, the sound quality of this tape is great for 1970, which should be taken with the appropriate 1970 caveats regarding recording gear of the time and the rest of the 1970 AUDs to which it can be compared. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to take much time at all for your ears to acclimate to the sound spectrum of the tape. There’s a tremendous crispness to the highs, and ample thick low end.
They pound out the opening Casey Jones, and immediately the atmosphere is fully charged. The Mama Tried which follows is so spot on you know something good is happening. Needing no time to warm up, the Dead move directly into some heavy hitting material. Hard To Handle is a blast, and the China>Rider is pure 1970 Dead. Bobby's guitar sounds especially fine. There’s a super sweet Candyman as well (perhaps in answer to the song requests earlier in the show?). Interesting to note that the commercial album containing the song wouldn’t be released until the following month, yet the fellow who requested the song sings along almost all the way through. Consulting with some older heads, this is merely evidence that bootlegs from earlier in the year had been circulating among those who searched such things out.
The post Drums section of Good Lovin’ is among the finest on tape. Sweaty, raunchy, and fierce, the jam blazes along. Then they go through many sections of little solo spotlights (not a common occurrence at all) that feature Jerry, then Phil, then Bobby. They build back into a full on jam, and then comeback to this spotlighting once again. Truly, it seems like they are out to prove something. That we know this mini-spotlighting was something utterly unheard of (I can’t recall ever hearing them do such a thing before or after), makes the fact that it comes off so perfectly all the more amazing.
The band launches into the end portion of the show with Truckin’. It seems alright, but really the band is merely catching their breath. The song angles directly into Other One, and the music starts to really shine. Like a crocodile flashing its tail, the band’s strut is back in full force. The first verse appears quickly and coils out into a nice Other One jam. The music is sparse, less of the onslaught you might expect. It’s possible that Bobby busted a string as he drops out and returns out of tune for a moment. This leaves the music open in an explorative way as the band seems to idle along. Bobby gets his act back together and the song heats back up. But even this is only a precursor for what’s to come.
Not Fade Away lays waste to the entirety of the show up to this point. It stomps the ground and leaves a trail of dust in its wake. This becomes a smoldering rendition, pounding out the NFA rhythm on and on. Jerry and Bobby are caught in the same fire, driving the music forward. And then the begin their angling toward Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad. This song first appears in a set list only weeks prior to this night, yet you can absolutely feel the perfection of the transition. It’s as if the band has clearly discovered something that really turns them on. This country-ish jam is reminiscent of I Know You Rider, but completely fresh. When they begin to sing, the cadence of the melody is different than it would become. It lends a terrific nuance to the experience of a classic Grateful Dead tune, a lot like the Sugar Magnolia on 06/24/70. Jerry also spends extra energy on the vocals, clearly enjoying himself completely. All in all this tune exudes “good old Grateful Dead” to the utmost. The lead section heading back to Not Fade Away is sweetly played. They seem to make it back on a whim even though the NFA>GDTRFB>NFA sandwich has been in place since the first occurrence on October 10th.
The crowd howls and cheers the band back out for the Uncle John’s encore which is spot on beautiful. Any new comer wouldn’t be able to help falling in love with the band after seeing them close with this song. Happiness pours directly off the tape. Jerry and Phil work beautifully through the song’s solo section. There’s an ocean of warm low end vibrating the air.
The band bids the crowd a final goodbye after the song, and we are then treated to a fantastic few minute field recording of the taper and his friends exiting the show in pure rapture – absolutely not to be missed, and one of the “parts” that helps sum up this entire tape.
“Did you get it all down?” “Oh, yes!”
10/23/70 AUD etree source info (includes NRPS)
10/23/70 AUD Download (inculdes NRPS)