Almost 40 years ago, the Dead played a series of shows at Port Chester that have remained legendary, in spite of being available only as audience recordings. When thinking of great 1970 shows, your Fillmore Easts or Fillmore Wests may come to mind - but when you're looking for the most sublime, the Port Chesters are what to reach for. So I thought I'd talk a bit about these shows (the Dead parts - I'll bypass the New Riders) and what happened there.
The November 1970 run was the Dead's third visit to the Capitol Theater. They had first arrived for four shows in two days in March - the early show on 3/20, though, appears not to survive. (The tape formerly known as 3/20/70a has been redated as the 6/24/70 early show.) The late show on 3/20 was audience-taped, but since a soundboard tape exists as well, the full audience recording doesn't circulate. You'd think the 3/21 shows would have been taped from soundboard as well; but if so, the soundboards have been lost. Fortunately, usher Ken Leigh was recording both shows, showing what happened when the laid-back band encountered a very rowdy audience.
By early 1970 the Dead already had a rabid New York fan base, so there's quite a bit of interaction in these shows. In the early show, as the audience yells and rants in wild abandon, Weir interrupts them for a moment to say, "Hey, while you're shouting out requests, I want you to bear in mind....when we made up the songs we made up no names for the songs, and we had a friend of ours make up names for the songs and submit them to the record company to put on the album, and we never even learned the names of all our songs, so you're shouting a bunch of meaningless words to us." But that doesn't settle the crowd, and as they demand Alligator & Lovelight, Weir remarks, "Boy are you ever going to like this," before the band begins a gentle, mellow Friend of Mine. Later Garcia asks before the acoustic set, "Take it easy out there, you unruly pigs!" but when they keep hollering during the music, he mutters, "Shut the fuck up!"
However, the late show in particular is a beautiful recording, the best aud tape of the year next to 10/23, and it's also many people's favorite show of 1970. It's hard to argue with an electric set like Dancing / Easy Wind / Cosmic Charlie / St Stephen>NFA / Midnight Hour>Lovelight, especially when it's done so sweetly.
The Dead returned to Port Chester on June 24, for two shows. The early show has been under dispute, since it was formerly dated 3/20; the show now dated 7/10/70 was thought to be the 6/24/70 early set. In any case, the first show is a typical first-set, hot with a couple strong jams in Good Lovin' and the Other One, but not too adventurous. The audience throws out a barrage of nonstop requests, so Garcia at one point says, "Everybody cool it - we're waiting for just the right voice." Which of course only spurs on the crowd, until the Dead shush them with a delicate High Time.
The late show explodes with magic. The electric set starts right off with an awesome Not Fade Away>Easy Wind - and that's just a prelude to the perfectly played Dark Star>space>Attics of My Life>Dark Star>Tighten Up jam>Feelin' Groovy jam>Sugar Magnolia>Dark Star conclusion>St Stephen>China>Rider. This is as joyous a set as they ever played, with a very happy-sounding Dark Star, a luscious space, perhaps the best live Attics, unbelievably quick and seamless jam transitions, the audience hanging on every note and shrieking with delight, and all of this in an excellent, clear & warm recording.
http://www.archive.org/details/gd_nrps70-06-24.aud.pcrp5.23062.sbeok.flacf (late show)
http://www.archive.org/details/gd1970-06-24.aud.cooper.coopernicus.32710.flac16 (early show)
A similar setlist to 6/24/70 is one from the Fillmore East on 7/10/70, where the Dead are also going wild with segues: Alligator>drums>Other One>Attics of My Life>Other One>Cryptical>Cosmic Charlie, followed by Good Lovin'>drums>China>Rider>Good Lovin'. Note how Attics is placed in the middle of the jam, just as on 6/24. They pretty much skip the Alligator jam and Good Lovin' jam (and cut Cryptical short), but it's still an enjoyable ride of a show, includes a strong Easy Wind and Not Fade Away as well, and is in better quality than the next two nights (though by no means great-sounding).
It's worth comparing the good-sounding Capitol Theater tapes with the poor recordings made in July at the Fillmore East - this run would be as legendary as the Port Chester shows if we could hear it properly. Possibly the masters sounded better - Marty Weinberg made a much better-quality tape of at least one show, though only a portion survives. Sadly, like many of the early tapers, Weinberg only copied a few of his tapes for others, and most of his reels were lost to neglect and erasure - there's an interview with an astonished listener in the first Taping Compendium which gives an idea of how much we've lost. (The tapes made by Capitol Theater taper Ken Leigh might have ended up the same way, since he made them only for himself, if his relatives hadn't copied them.)
Fortunately, by the time the Dead came back to Port Chester for four days in November, the tapers were ready to catch them, and each of their shows (except for 11/5) were recorded by three different tapers. In later years, this wouldn't be thought unusual at all; but for 1970 it's extraordinary. As a result, we have a nearly-complete record of the shows, patched together from the best recordings, Ken Leigh's and Marty Weinberg's. (In comparison, look at the shows right after Port Chester: two incomplete, lousy-sounding fragments from the Action House shows, and a four-night run in Brooklyn represented only by one mediocre-quality tape. Things improve a bit for the rest of the month, with some interesting shows captured. (Some of the other shows taped around this time are mentioned in my 1970 AUDs post.)
For this show we only have one source tape, and the acoustic set was apparently missed. The quality isn't quite up to the later shows - the tape has muddy sound with some bass distortion - but still very good for the year; the music is mostly clear and the audience fortunately keeps quiet with no chatter, outside of a few forlorn song requests.
The electric set starts with a bang - they introduce Hard to Handle with a long drum roll. It's a smooth version, but without a big climax in the solo. This is possibly explained in the delay after the song when Jerry says, "Bobby has a broken string - so he's gonna fix it, and we're gonna do nothing." They play a couple more short songs, then face another delay & some squeaks, so Weir explains, "The electronic mice are at it again." After things are resolved, it's time for Truckin', a new song which already has a nice Garcia raveup at the end, and moves swiftly into the Other One (with a drum break, naturally!). The earliest show we have with a Truckin'>Other One was only a couple weeks earlier (on 10/23) - the Dead realized right away it was a natural song pairing, and of course they would keep developing it for years.
The Other One is a typically strong 1970 version, without too many fireworks, but Garcia makes some siren noises. As it ends, instead of segueing into Cryptical, after a pause they head straight into Dark Star. The Star starts straightforwardly, getting to the verse in just a few minutes - but from there they launch into deep space - from silence slowly building layers of sound until they've created a psychedelic dreamscape to journey through. Around the 10-minute point they enter some spooky feedback - bits of melody start to emerge - and ever so slowly, they feel their way back to the Dark Star melody. The jamming returns, and a Feelin' Groovy casts its spell for a while - then there's a great transition back to the main theme.
After the Star, what else but St Stephen? The audience was very quiet all through Dark Star, and are happy to greet St Stephen. And as so often in 1970, where St Stephen leads, Not Fade Away must follow. In October (starting with the shows on the 10th/11th), the Dead had introduced Goin' Down the Road as a medley with NFA, which added new textural possibilities, but also dramatically reduced the jamming in Not Fade Away. No more of the giant ten-minute NFAs we saw in September - it quickly became a shortened bookend for Goin' Down the Road, and it would be a year before NFA started being jammed-out again.
Goin' Down the Road is somewhat different than it would become - Pigpen starts it out tonight by playing harmonica! Unfortunately a tapecut omits the transition - but the song feels new and fresh, quieter but more exploratory than the practiced-but-identical later versions - the familiar Bid You Goodnight melody signals the end of the song, but then an interesting jam leads seamlessly back into the brief NFA reprise. This in turn gives way to Lovelight, a standard half-hour extravaganza which gets better as it goes along and the audience gets more excited by Pigpen's antics. Garcia plays some nice slide, but then it's time for the band to step back as Pigpen gives his advice on how to approach the ladies: "All you got to do is say, 'Let's fuck!' - ain't no reason to beat around the bush!" Then he searches the crowd for a fellow who's willing to pop the question on-mike: "I told you what to do - now let's see some action!" The men of Port Chester seem timid, though.
The sound quality is better tonight (the bass is still a bit oversaturated) - and the audience is again miraculously quiet - so we can easily enjoy this very special evening. Surprisingly, the acoustic soundcheck was taped (how was that pulled off?), but it doesn't have anything notable except the rare acoustic Attics of My Life. The acoustic set is standard for 1970; Pigpen performs Ain't It Crazy (it may be the only time he plays any guitar in this run). After Deep Elem, Garcia is mumbling something, and an audience member shouts, "Louder!" - Garcia replies, "Listen more carefully." (As an aside, if you check Brokedown and the end of El Paso, which are patched from an inferior aud tape, you can hear what this show could have sounded like....)
The electric set starts out normally enough. King Bee is sultry, with very precise blues playing from Garcia. He offers a little surprise in Rider when he quietly murmurs the headlight verse. The band is clearly excited by Truckin' and there's a hot solo, but they don't have an ending for it, so they just sort of fade out. After a long tuning, there's a very nice Candyman with a wah solo, then a groovy early Sugar Magnolia with a neat wah break and the "doo-doo" vocals. The crowd has some requests ("St Stepheeen!"), but in vain. Instead the Dead hammer them with a rapid Good Lovin'. Out of the drum solo, like a spectral flashback, the Main Ten emerges - they explore its depths for a while, then the dream passes and the drums continue. Garcia is on fire in the Good Lovin' jam; when they return to the song, they tease the opening riff for a long time.
Pigpen has more to say, so next up is Alligator. Garcia doesn't let the drummers solo this time, he takes over for several minutes with his own solo, straight out of 1968; when the others join him and jam on Alligator, it's like the '68 band has taken over the stage again. The jam that ensues is very melodic, and starts sounding a lot like the Mountain Jam. Then Not Fade Away bubbles up, and transitions quickly into a very good Goin' Down the Road, in which Garcia discovers a new verse: "Mama told me son don't go down there." They don't fully play it so there's no ending jam, but after another Mountain Jam hint they head back into Not Fade Away. Wrapping it up, Caution explodes out of NFA! It's led by Pigpen's harmonica as the band storms behind him, Pigpen and Garcia dueting in bluesy fashion. This is easily the strongest Caution of 1970, perhaps ever; the band has rarely played as hard, especially when they burst into feedback, the drums crash, and Phil slams into the descending chords. It's amazing that the band keeps in control as the music swirls and rages - near the end it's like a hurricane is demolishing the theater - Garcia is possessed, making unearthly sounds.
They can't stop, so Lovelight pours out in a sweaty r&b stomp. The audience is going crazy, hollering at Pigpen like it's a gospel revival. Weir says, "Pigpen, tell the folks about the bear!" So Pigpen tells them a story: "Y'all know about the bear - he's kind of hairy....he comes sneaking around young ladies' windows late in the evening, he's got something on his mind.....so if any of you young ladies feel any noses this evening, there's some fella in the audience standing close around you who's got some ideas on his mind that make you hungry.....so you girls better watch out, cause that old bear is always hungry, and he's big and hairy, he just can't do without....." (And so on - the whole speech is transcribed in the Taping Compendium.) Lovelight continues on to a fiery ending, the show closing with a wall of noise and a yelp from Pigpen.
A note on the Main Ten:
The Main Ten was a ten-beat Mickey Hart riff the Dead had started playing in mid-'68:
It also appeared on Hart's first album Rolling Thunder. It's strange to hear this riff today, when it's so identified with Playing in the Band, but in its original incarnation it embodies a mysterious, otherworldly feeling. It would infrequently turn up when they felt like taking an excursion - for instance it shows up briefly in the Dark Stars on 4/11 and 4/15/69. The most famous example is on the 11/8/69 Dick's Pick (inside the Caution) - but it's also in this show, segueing into a lovely Baby Blue:
- and here, a mystical groove in-between an awesome Cryptical and the first Sugar Magnolia:
- and for completeness' sake, a short bit inside this Lovelight - although the band can barely be heard, it's interesting to hear the crowd clapping to the beat:
As for Alligator, it was not often played in 1970 - at least, not in the surviving shows. Sometimes they'd play the song, but after the drums skip the jam and go into another song - as on 2/14, 2/28, and 7/10. The most notable Alligators of the year include:
http://www.archive.org/details/gd70-01-03.sbd.ret.19440.sbeok.shnf (into feedback)
http://www.archive.org/details/gd70-01-16.sbd.popi.7111.sbeok.shnf (into the Eleven)
http://www.archive.org/details/gd70-06-06.sbd.ashley.2172.sbeok.shnf (into Lovelight)
After Port Chester, we don't have another Alligator until 4/29/71, when they bid it goodbye.
This show is kind of the odd man out here, lacking the big jams of the other nights. The sound quality is very good: the exception is the second half of the acoustic set (from How Long on), which is from another source buried deep in a noisy crowd. The conversation going on during Ripple is just dreadful. Aside from that, Pigpen sings a rare acoustic Operator. Garcia introduces El Paso saying, "This is our most requested number" (Weir adds, "for some odd reason") - it's taken at a slow pace which works well for this song.
The audience seems a bit more boisterous tonight, and the electric set starts off well with Cumberland and a steadily building Cold Rain & Snow. Hurts Me Too is Pigpen's first blues of the evening. There are repeated calls for Dark Star - the band, always willing to please, responds with Beat It On Down the Line instead. Then it's time for another charged Truckin', the Dead ready to rock, but of course we must have a drum solo - and quite a long solo, over sixteen minutes! Finally it's time for the Other One to go on the rampage - this one is perhaps stronger than on 11/5; it doesn't have the peaks and valleys of later years, but Garcia is in charge here and he carries it on a steady stream of notes, the band with him at every step. They come to an awkward pause at the end, and decide to finish up the medley with Casey Jones.
After a short break, the band returns somewhat subdued and unwilling to repeat last night's adventure. They start with a well-done Attics of My Life; ignoring a hail of requests, Sugar Magnolia follows. After Big Boss Man someone calls for Cosmic Charlie - ever obliging, they give him Mama Tried instead. China>Rider is uneven, overall rather weak; afterwards Weir admits, "We can't decide what to do." Of course the audience has suggestions, but the band decides to repeat King Bee from the night before, a safe choice, done well with a brooding nighttime atmosphere. Garcia has a nice, long slide solo with Pigpen urging him to play more. A very savvy fan requests Dancing in the Streets (!), but they slip into Good Lovin' again instead. Skipping the drum solo this time, it's a strong version as usual but not on-fire; Phil seems to be pushing with a repeated four-chord riff (the bass has become distorted again on my copy). A big climax abruptly ends the show.
Excellent sound here, the band is right up-front - the audience is very keyed-up as well for this final night. The acoustic set is the best of the run; it's also the last acoustic set for ten years, and the last time the slow 'spiritual' I Know You Rider would be heard. After Dark Hollow, Weir wants the audience to know, "You realize we're all missing Godzilla vs King Kong on TV - it's really good, we saw the opening scene - I didn't get to see King Kong, but Godzilla, he was one motherfucker, he spits radioactive fire and blows things up - I'd hate to see him crawl out of my high school...." The crowd loves El Paso (it really was a big favorite at the time, Marty Weinberg put it on his bootleg LP). When Pigpen comes on, I think someone in the audience shouts, "Let's fuck!" to great acclaim; Pigpen merely sings Operator again. After Ripple, there's a strange screaming session in the audience, prompting Garcia to comment, "Lighten up man, lighten fucking up..." After Friend of the Devil, they start playing John Hurt's old blues tune Stackolee for a bit, but Weir admits, "That one hasn't passed the hotel-room stage, we don't know all the words." The audience seems disappointed, but they're thrilled to hear Wake Up Little Susie (it was also a hit back in March).
The electric set starts on a high note with Morning Dew (Weinberg put this version on his LP). Before long, the band embarks on a whole slew of rarities. The medley of Mystery Train>My Babe sounds like they may well never have played it before (and they never will again); the audience shouts out all kinds of requests until they're reduced to random hollering, and the Dead unleash their first Around & Around on them. Still the band has more forgotten oldies up their sleeve, going back to their garage-band roots with a well-received New Orleans>Searchin'. Perhaps they could have gone like that all evening, but Garcia decides to chill everybody out with a powerful Baby Blue. There's still lots of yelling and requests from the crowd (the Not Fade Away and St Stephen lovers are the most vocal) - they're ecstatic to hear Casey Jones but won't calm down.
The Dead are ready for business. A prime Truckin' with a heavy ending jam dwindles down to a fingerpicking whisper, and Dark Star sneaks up underneath the audience cheers. This is quite a journey, from the quiet, graceful intro jam, to a solemn verse, into minimal gong space - interrupted by some restless audience whoops - the band patiently drifts into alarming squalls of feedback - bass drones, xylophone & siren pull the music back into the void. Garcia pulls the Main Ten out of nowhere, and the others join him - the theme fits perfectly, floating like a ship on a dark rainy sea. It slowly unwinds into the music of the spheres, the band hovering in a beautiful realm of pure melody - not returning to Dark Star, they unconsciously find their way to Dancing in the Streets. Garcia starts with a chordal solo - then Weir starts Tighten Up and the air brightens - bright notes pop out of Garcia as the band spins in a jazzy rhythm - finally turning the corner back into Dancing.
After all this, the crowd still isn't satisfied, but the NFA lovers get their wish as the familiar drum pattern starts. There's a hypnotic jam into Goin' Down the Road; after the "son don't go down there" verse the band heads into another Mountain Jam tease, which turns back into Not Fade Away. They decide not to conclude with NFA but jump into another Good Lovin' - this one is quite fiery (though some copies are spoiled by a horrible bass buzz), and again finds the band teasing the riff for a long time before ending the show with a bang.
In a strange little aftermath, the Dead sent a radio message to Port Chester the next month - as the note says, "There were three shows booked & advertised for the Capitol Theater on December 18, 19 & 20 but they were cancelled and rescheduled for February '71." It's quite interesting to hear - over a banjo bluegrass instrumental, Garcia & Hart clown around chaotically and somehow manage to announce the cancellation. It's hard to believe this played on the radio, due to all the profanity!
During the rest of November we see the Dead moving into their 1971 'saloon band' style, with shows composed of lots of individual songs and very little psychedelia. In December the Dead belatedly started recording themselves again, in a series of mostly unremarkable California shows (perhaps in preparation for live-album recording). When the Dead returned to Port Chester in February '71 for a long six-day run, there were many changes within the band - not only was Mickey Hart ready to quit, but they had several new songs, and they had cut down considerably on the segues and jams - but that's another story.....