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Sunday, December 27, 2009

1970 March 21 - Capitol Theater

Grateful Dead 1970
Saturday, March 21, 1970
Capitol Theater – Port Chester, NY
Audience Recording

"Calm down, you unruly freaks!"

To look at this show on paper, you can't help but raise an eyebrow. No Other One? No Dark Star? Death Don't Have No Mercy as the third song out of the gate? He Was A Friend Of Mine into Viola Lee Blues into The Seven into Cumberland Blues? Midnight Hour into Turn On Your Lovelight? This is just odd. Couple all this together with another outstanding recording from the "usher tapes" legend (Ken and Judy Lee), and you have yourself an intriguing bit of music history.

The night sparkles with energy all over the place, and more than anything this roaring 1970 concert might suggests on paper, the show continually plumbs some of the more majestic, lyrical and picturesque vistas of Grateful Dead jamming. Despite some tape age issues and gremlins that harass the early show, we once again find that the Capitol Theater was a venue fit to produce epic Grateful Dead moments that live on only by the grace of audience tapers.

Walkin' The Dog, Me & My Uncle, Death Don't Have No Mercy, Good Lovin' > Drums > Good Lovin', Dire Wolf, Big Boss Man, He Was A Friend Of Mine > Viola Lee Blues > The Seven > Cumberland Blues

Pigpen 1970The night starts with Walkin’ The Dog as the opener (as far as we know, its debut). It has a wonderful bounce and though they rarely played this tune, it captures the 1970 Grateful Dead vibe nicely with a good, confidant strut. Me and My Uncle follows and afterwards it is clear that the crowd is extremely energized to the point that they just won't shut up. We get the obligatory calls for "St. Stephen!" along with a cacophony of shouts, cheers and claps. Actually, it's been this way since the start of the show. Perhaps as a result the next tune played is Death Don't Have No Mercy. Before it starts, Jerry says "Calm down, you unruly freaks," and it won't be the last time he says so.

Death Don't completely quiet the crowd. Somber and haunting, the band draws all attention into music. Jerry's voice burn with emotion. It lofts into falsetto at the end of lines, and hypnotizes the listener. His guitar solos are strong, almost angry, matching the emotional intensity of his singing.

After applauding the song, the crowd goes completely silent except for a slight murmur. It sounds like respect. But it only lasts about thirty seconds. Someone shouts, then someone (on stage?) breaks the ice by asking for an "E-flat" to help tune up. Laughs follow, then more song requests. In fine form, Bobby fuels the fire by remarking that they don't know the names of their own songs so everything the crowd is shouting is meaningless to the band. Hardy-har-har. Soon the crowd is clapping in time and the band busts out Good Lovin'. It's a solid version, though it doesn't take many chances. The Dire Wolf that follows is very peppy. And Big Boss Man allows Pigpen to stretch his legs nicely.

And then comes the triumph of the early show: He Was A Friend Of Mine > Viola Lee Blues > The Seven > Cumberland Blues. He Was A Friend Of Mine is so lovely. The main lead break finds Jerry exploring something that sounds quite unique to the time period. His lilting, melodic solo isn’t really Dark Star-like; nor is it Morning Dew-like. It's really more like an intense Dancin' In The Streets groove slowed down to a ballad's pace. In this setting it rotates and soars gracefully, as soft as a flower opening in the morning sun. It’s sad to think where this song could have gone if they kept it around. But this was the last one ever. At least they give it a fitting farewell.

Bob Weir 1970The tune comes to its natural end, and is immediately followed by the explosive intro of Viola Lee Blues, the full power of Phil bass exploding with great gouts of magma. 1970 Viola Lee’s tended to go at a tad slower tempo than previous years, and this rendition takes a bit of time to get the jam flying. Eventually, though, they are in high gear. While the jam is intensifying, they actually take an energy detour and mellow a bit. The drumming quiets slightly, and things get a bit ethereal, leaving the slow churn of Viola Lee behind. The music enters a loose bluesy gait for a bit before finding its footing back on the road to meltdown. The diversion adds a nice twist to the song, creating some curious variation to what is normally a non-stop uphill climb in energy.

Soon enough they are building again, and eventually reach that searing, scorching precipice that only Viola Lee could reach. Pure electric meltdown. The rush of mayhem is as blinding as it is infinitely revealing. Wind takes on the form of boulders as they continually explode and race across the stage. Utterly lost in a timeless wormhole, the band stops on a dime that seems to lurch forward, back into the original tempo of Viola Lee. Garcia’s solo out of the song’s re-immergence starts with some guttural, bluesy moans. Then he goes into fluttering triplet pull-offs for a while, and the band is swirling, not headed toward the last verse at all. This is a wonderful "musical satori" moment where the music is wanting for nothing, happy to simply be with nothing but itself being perceived.

But there’s a destination after all—the all too few times played Seven jam. The theme sounds like something of an Eric Clapton riff straight out of a song by Cream, only the jam has its own spin such that if Eric Clapton were in attendance he might have melted into the floor. Phil is rolling. Jerry is absolutely flying. The only trouble is it's far too short. That said, the transition it offers into Cumberland Blues is a piece of priceless 1970 segue jamming. Just as we are completely at the mercy of The Seven jam, thinking about Eric Clapton in a technicolor puddle on the floor, the Dead bring us lusciously into psychedelic bluegrass.

Pairing Viola Lee Blues and Cumberland this close together is about all the evidence we need to support one of my long held beliefs that at a core level the two songs draw from the exact same thematic undercurrent of inspiration. Throughout Cumberland it is easy to imagine Viola Lee bursting back out at any time. The Grateful Dead seem to be evolving before our ears here as the unmistakable nuisances of the past and future come together. The early show ends much sooner than anyone in attendance would prefer. But there’s so much more to come.

Electric I: Casey Jones, Dancin' In the Streets, Easy Wind//
Acoustic: Friend of the Devil, Deep Elem Blues, Don't Ease Me In, Black Peter, Wake Up Little Susie, Uncle John's Band, Katie Mae
Electric II: Cosmic Charlie, Saint Stephen > Not Fade Away > St. Stephen Jam > China Cat Sunflower Jam > Not Fade Away > Midnight Hour > Turn On Your Lovelight

Jerry Garcia 1970Dancin' In The Streets is an immediate highlight of the second show of the night. It clocks in around 17 minutes and wastes no time getting down to business. The audience claps along for the entire song, but you can barely hear them. The band is very, very loud. Lesh’s bass roars with a mouthful of enormous teeth. The entire theater is revved up quite nicely by the time Jerry hits his solo. Bobby leads it off with his "Everybody dance around" line and the groove is infectious. From there it becomes a swirling psychedelic dance party.

It goes on and on, and we are having the quintessential "good time." The band struts and thrusts. Then, amidst this straight ahead rocking, something changes. Phil starts noodling around with a descending chord progression that makes us open our eyes and peer beyond the physical space around us. Garcia finds some footing here too, and before we know what’s happening, a huge beam of sunlight explodes out of Jerry. He erupts into a thematic solo that burns like something we would expect in a Dark Star. It almost stops us in our dancing tracks. The unmistakable impression of the band coalescing into a singularity comes through the music. A wonderful patch of musical satori ensues and the musical muse soars. The band is firmly locked together riding waves.

Jerry and Phil continue to amaze and astound us again and again now. Phil builds large, crushing lines that defy the jam’s time signature and Jerry is right there with him. Large swollen tones begin pouring out of sitar-droning strings and a gentle slow motion garden blooms. The jam simmers down to the place where they might normally turn the corner into thier Feelin’ Groovy jam. Instead, Jerry bounces effortlessly around this warm loving space. He's plucking the stars within his reach and each one slowly explodes a shower of rainbows and flowers over our bodies. We are lost in a primal landscape that defies Dancin’ In The Streets completely. As is so often the case in these moments of timeless and focused attention, the band forces nothing and appears to be as hypnotized by the moment as we are. No one looks to change anything. It’s a priceless passage of Grateful Dead music.

Phil Lesh 1970Eventually things manage to find their way back to Dancin’ proper. Bobby's vocal crescendos at the end of the song are very well done. And afterward, you can't help but detect a sense of amazement as the crowd applauds the song. The audience notes that the Dancin' has ended, but there is something permanently different in the air now. The song is over, but there’s cosmic goo left all over everything.

After Easy Wind suffers a tape cut near its end (could there have been more to this first electric set?) we move into an acoustic set. The crowd is up to its antics again and Jerry tells them "Take it easy out there, you unruly freaks." This only seems to entertain them all the more. Jerry proceeds into Friend Of The Devil and people begin to figure out that they ought to calm down. Over the entire acoustic set we hear the word "Shhhh" more often than on any AUD I can think of. Early on people are begging others to "PLEASE SIT DOWN!" It's a good sonic document of what an East Coast crowd could be like in these early years.

The entire acoustic set is well played. Friend Of The Devil contains the extra verse that Jerry later dropped. Deep Elem is fantastic. It's only the second know time they played the tune since 1966. The first was just the night before. Black Peter is hypnotic. Wake Up Little Susie is downright excellent, and Pigpen's Katie Mae shows us that this guy needs nothing more than his voice and a guitar to work his magic.

Sadly, there's someone sitting next to the taper who feels obliged to add accompaniment to the band by drumming on the balcony rail which comes through on the mics. And, having no true sense of rhythm, this person really shouldn't be allowed to do so. This ruthless "tapping" is a bit bothersome, but not entirely detrimental to enjoying the music.

The last chunk of the show has some seriously uplifting moments of 1970 Electric Grateful Dead magic. Cosmic Charlie is a roaring set opener. The band is very loud again. Then the main chunk of the second electric set is as good if not better than it looks on paper: St. Stephen > Not Fade Away > St. Stephen Jam > China Cat Jam > Not Fade Away. The Stephen offers no real surprises, but you can't deny the sheer potency of this song. It really encapsulates a lot of what the Grateful Dead were in these early years. Moving into Not Fade Away may seem ho hum, but Not Fade Away was still in relative infancy at this point, and this was one of the first handfuls of times it was paired with St. Stephen at all. The "newness" of this combo must have really been exciting for the band because they make the most of it.

Jerry Garcia 1970The jamming in NFA is like a freight train at times. It thunders along with Jerry finding many different lines that inspire his repeating them time and time again. He forms circling whirlpools worming around like cyclones in turbulent water. Here and there he reaches out in warm waves of notes that juxtapose the intense energy of the band. Deep in the jam, they make it solidly back into St. Stephen. It is seamless and perfect, almost as if we never really left. Then it's gone as soon as it came and Garcia is attacking what is always known as Bobby's China Cat Sunflower riff—fantastic. There’s no real chance of the full song happening since they are playing in E. While China Cat started in E a little over two years earlier, they no longer play it in that key. Regardless, what we get is thoroughly enjoyable. Not Fade Way returns at full tilt, and its finale comes like sledge hammers crushing an anvil.

Midnight Hour > Lovelight is unlike anything else I can think of from this period. First, Midnight hour had been almost completely shelved by this time (check out your copy of Deadbase and see what I mean). The song delivery feels very "standard" through the first five minutes. But from the moment Pigpen hands over the reigns by saying "Go on, play a while," the song takes on rainbow misty breeze hues. Jerry is in that "He Was A Friend Of Mine" zone. He soars in slow motion over mountaintops at dawn. Everything he touches turns beautiful before our eyes. This goes on for a nice long time. Pig comes back to start rapping, but he can't quite turn this into a sexy strut. Jerry seems to have brought us somewhere more divine with his gentle waves.

The segue into Lovelight is just exactly perfect. The way these two songs match up is great. It makes you wonder why they only did this pairing one time (that we know of at least). Lovelight's grove is infectious. While it is by no means the complete song (we never even get a "Without a warning…" out of Pigpen), it serves to cap off the show with explosive balls of fire. It builds and builds until the set ends with a power chord crescendo lasting some 50 seconds, slamming into your head over and over. Whew!

On tape we hear the entire passage of cheering that brings the band back on stage for We Bid You Good Night—a very fine version that somehow closes off a very fine show.

03/21/70 Early Show AUD etree source info
03/21/70 Early Show AUD Download

03/21/70 Late Show AUD etree source info
03/21/70 Late Show AUD Download


  1. Lovely review Noah (as usual!)
    My appreciation for AUD tapes is rising thanks to your efforts.

  2. It’s like a banjo echoing in a hollar. Haunting, yet alluring. Something tells you not to find the source, but you ignore the inner warning. Meandering slow and steady your journey ends with eyes gazing on a time worn face howling out toothless ballads from the mother land. Dirt and work roughened hands pluck dead strings on a scrapwood banjo. Even though this instrument and voice are out of tune you are mesmirized-without explanation. This music speaks to you. Listening is not a choice.

    1970 is my now my favorite year thus far, but the journey has only begun. All I can say is that I am Grateful...

  3. noah are you on heady version? If so what is your username? it'd be cool to see what you vote for.

    1. I had not heard of that site. I will check it out.


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