December 3, 2021

Dark Star 1970

The story continues from 1969…
Dark Star did not change much in 1970. After the summer of ’69 the Dead found a consistent structure for Dark Star that worked well, and they stuck to it for the next year. There would always be a short intro jam > first verse > space > a happy dance jam (usually with a theme) > second verse (rarely skipped). This was an ideal form for Dark Star with a very accessible balance of the far-out and the familiar, and quite a few of the most beloved versions come from this year. (A number of others would be more beloved if only the Dead had continued recording their shows this year, but their luster is somewhat dimmed on the surviving audience tapes.) Listening chronologically, one thing that becomes apparent is the Dark Stars generally get even better as the year goes on - by the second half of the year, moments of unearthly beauty and breathtaking wonder are almost the norm.
Now that Constanten was gone, the organ was hardly ever heard in Dark Star; without his decorations the music became more streamlined and straightforward. Pigpen had played congas in Dark Star through much of 1969, but pretty much dropped that in 1970, so even the percussion became simpler. Hart & Kreutzmann had switched drumming roles sometimes in ’69, but by 1970 Kreutzmann was always the main drummer after the verse, while Hart took on other percussion instruments (guiro, gong, claves), adding his drums during the jam peaks.
The Dead had been doing small space segments after the verse since April ’69, but in August ’69 they made a breakthrough and expanded this part to a deep-space journey usually lasting several minutes. This became the heart of Dark Star, a realm of silence and stardust, an exploration of the unknown, painting imaginary worlds with abstract sound. The mood could vary widely, from quiet brooding expanses to scary noise freakouts. Audiences at the time generally paid rapt attention in this part.
The Dead would jump from space to an upbeat rock jam, often sounding totally unrelated to Dark Star. This frequently included one or two of the thematic jams introduced in fall ’69 – Feelin’ Groovy and Soulful Strut. The Feelin’ Groovy jam appeared in a dozen Dark Stars in 1970 (Garcia was sometimes reluctant to play it; Lesh & Weir would always be the ones pushing it in). Soulful Strut was only played in six (surviving) Dark Stars that year, but was more commonly found in Dancin’ in the Streets with over a dozen performances in the 1970 Dancin’ jams.
With strong snappy rhythmic themes like these, Dark Star was becoming more of a danceable rock number that year, weirdness giving way to a rock beat. But in a way Dark Star had become like a mini-symphony with different movements: the opening statement of the theme, the slow-moving freestyle space, the uplifting rock instrumental, and the reprise of the main theme. The emotional arc of these transitions proved satisfying to band and audience alike, and the Dead rarely varied from this pattern through the year.
The Dark Stars of January 1970 were covered in the last post, so we’ll pick up in February. (I’ve written about 1970 quite a bit, so some of these reviews are cannibalized from earlier posts.)
Dark Star opens cheerfully, the band in good spirits. Bear’s recording is great, in wide stereo (as opposed to the near-mono he mostly favored in ’69), and the playing feels more spacious & open without Constanten’s organ in the background. Between Weir’s bright chords and Hart’s scratcher, it has kind of a jangly sound. During the intro jam, as usual they bob in and out of the theme (taking an interesting minor-key detour two minutes in), but they don’t get too deep, heading for the verse after five minutes.
This is the Dead’s first Dark Star in over a year without Constanten, but surprisingly, Pigpen’s back on the organ in this version. He can barely be heard in the mix (which might have been Bear’s intention), so perhaps he’s only coming through on the vocal mics. As a result it’s hard to tell how much he’s playing, he may be just occasionally dropping in, but when you can hear him his parts are very simple. (I think this may be the last time he played organ in Dark Star until 1972.)
They cast off for space after the verse, entering a sustained quiet realm. The only sounds for a while are low bass drones, light feedback, some gong, hints of organ, and small pluckings; but gradually the sounds build up until Lesh slams some big bass notes over a bed of flutters and feedback. Garcia starts a light, skipping guitar line, and a jam slowly coheres as the others loosely join round him. After a couple of minutes Kreutzmann’s tapping his drums, Weir starts up some chords, and a jaunty rhythm gets going. Garcia briefly hints at his Sputnik line for a moment (the organ pops up here), but then Weir starts the Feelin’ Groovy chords and they play that for a minute – sounding very close to how they’ll play it on 2/13.
Then they drift for a while over the Dark Star pattern, embarking on a fascinating hypnotic passage lasting a few minutes. Garcia’s wandering flow is sensitively backed by Weir & Lesh and light drumtaps. As they build up steam, Garcia switches to a more piercing tone; he hints at the Bright Star motif when they blow into the main theme but keeps it brief. There’s a great contrast from the heavy feel once they drop into delicate theme playing, and Garcia offers a final climactic flourish before singing the last verse.
The Dead were in a hurry at this show, but the Dark Star doesn’t suffer for this – it sparkles compared to the laid-back previous version on 1/23 and holds up well next to later February versions. It's a fine introduction to the quintet Dark Stars that would follow. 
Released on Dave’s Picks 6.
Most of this Dark Star (except for the last 4 minutes) circulates only as an audience tape – a good one for the year, in which you can hear everyone clearly. Dark Star is greeted with a “whoo!” There’s no trace of organ in this one, just the guiro accompanying the guitars at the start. The opening jam is delicate and subdued, similar in feel to 2/2 but more stretched out. Typical for an intro jam, there’s a lot of playing around the theme, and the verse comes after six minutes. On this tape, the gong sounds like ocean waves in the verse.
Afterwards, the music crumbles away to space in a wash of gong tides and volume swells. Tonight’s space is a long one, six minutes; rather than a minimalist approach they’re very busy and percussive. Space is a noisy place, full of feedback & clattering & string scrapes & squawks. (The audience is very patient and attentive, making hardly a peep.) They hint at a return to melody, but it’s drowned out in the chaos and metallic crashes.
Finally Garcia starts a sweet line and the hurricane subsides; slowly the others gather with him and a drumbeat establishes a rhythm. Claves come in and Lesh briefly turns it into an Other One jam, but the music rapidly rushes on like a stream without being pinned down. (At 18 minutes there’s a switch to a worse-sounding source.) Garcia repeats a Bright Star variation for some time, Lesh teases the Other One again, and they drift ahead some more, sounding perhaps a little scattered. Finally they land on the theme and Garcia plays a short, skipping Bright Star before settling back into the main riff. At 22:30 the SBD source starts, when it sounds like they’re heading for the verse. But Lesh starts the Feelin’ Groovy line at the last minute and they fall into a gentle version. At the end they flip it back to the Dark Star theme, and Garcia sings the verse.
This felt rather anticlimactic – instead of reaching a peak, they gradually become more mellow towards the end after aimlessly drifting for a while. The jam doesn’t seem to cohere that well as they pull in various directions; but the lengthy, turbulent Space is a highlight.
This is the famous night at the Fillmore East when members of the Allman Brothers and Fleetwood Mac joined the Dead. The jam commences with a spiky Dark Star, starting out light and bouncy with the three Dead guitars and light percussion. Initially it seems like it’ll take the same course as the recent Dark Stars from 2/2 and 2/8, but soon its path is altered. (Garcia will never sing a verse tonight.) Peter Green enters at 2:20. He fits in well, and Garcia leaves space for him as Green immediately takes the lead. They intertwine comfortably like two Garcias – Green’s quite at ease in Dark Star.
The Dead drop into a quiet, delicate passage, and it sounds like they’re leading up to the verse, but Green steps up front again for several minutes starting at 6:20 while Garcia lays back. They drift cosmically on the theme for a while, but as the music gets denser, Garcia & Weir start playing a heavy riff, and Duane Allman sneaks in sometime by the 10-minute mark. (I can’t hear exactly when he comes in.) The organ joins in shortly afterward, quietly at first – I believe it’s Gregg Allman playing throughout.
After 10:30 they enter a quiet part. Despite all the guitars, the music is still open and spacious, conveying the icy grace and splendor of Dark Star. But Garcia & Lesh pump up the groove, Weir starts slashing Smokestack Lightning-like chords around 12:20, and the music gets heavier with louder drums, more like a rock & roll jam. Garcia mostly just plays rhythm backing through this along with Weir as Green & Allman take the lead, until he steps up around 14:30 and trades lines with the other guitars.
16 minutes into the jam, Weir abruptly introduces the Spanish Jam chords, and the band rapidly groups around the new theme. Not played since 1968, it’s an inspired choice, as everyone easily joins in. Garcia waits a minute before entering; the jam quiets down after a couple minutes and the crowd cheers, but it keeps going and heats up, Lesh stomping and the band working up a frenzy.
Garcia drops out around 4 minutes in, then Duane turns up his volume and solos for a minute, with a searing tone shading into feedback at times. (Uniquely, Weir plays a strong counterpoint alongside Duane, meshing well with him.) Green takes an agitated bluesy solo at 5:30, culminating with an organ flourish at 7:00. Garcia’s been absent for some time, but comes back in around 7:30; Lesh steps on the beat and they get into a heavy groove. (This must be the most danceable of Spanish Jams.) Then Duane plays another blistering solo at 8:20, rising to the front as the others drop off. As Duane soars, Weir suddenly starts up Lovelight, and everyone quickly joins him for the giant show-closing wall-of-guitars rave-up.
Quite an impressive jam, with the Dead making room for the extra guitarists and taking Dark Star in a different direction. (There wouldn’t be another Dark Star>Spanish Jam for years.) There are two sources, neither ideal: the SBD is lopsided, the guest guitarists way back in the mix and often hard to hear. The AUD tape is a decent one for the Fillmore East (clear in the quieter parts but a murky blur when it gets loud) – the guests are more up-front and can be heard more distinctly. So the SBD is better for clarity, the AUD better for the actual room sound and instrument balance.
This late show had been rather tired and low-energy to this point, which turned out to be the right catalyst for this Dark Star. The Dead are in a dreamy, receptive mood, making this a Dark Star of sensitive brushstrokes, small nuances, and mantra-like cycles. The recording is excellent as usual for the Fillmore East, with the guitars in clear wide stereo and the guiro up front. (The AUD tape is fuzzy and done close to the stage, but still one of the best Fillmore East audience tapes.)
Dark Star opens gracefully – the AUD tape reveals the audience clapping along! The intro jam is longer than usual (almost nine minutes before the verse). It follows the usual pattern of touching on the theme every now and then, but with lengthy meditative excursions between the themes. The volume drops lower and the tempo slows considerably by the verse, creating a very contemplative mood.
After the verse there’s the usual bustle into space, and they drift off to muted hums and gong. Space is very quiet and uneventful without much noise (not at all like the sonic mayhem of 2/8). The silence is broken by quiet guitar tones, some gong, a bit of conga. Before long, Garcia starts a pretty musical pattern while the bass quivers and Weir swoops (this part’s especially effective on the AUD tape). They retreat to quiet trembles and cymbals, but soon Garcia starts a perky line, Kreutzmann taps his drums, and they all join in right away, a jam materializing instantly.
The mood is expectant; Garcia strikes up some chiming chords that take the jam higher to a brief searing peak, both drummers piling in. Weir starts the Feelin’ Groovy theme, which is played calmly like a relaxing lullaby. Garcia introduces a soothing melody line that he repeats and escalates, bringing this passage to a majestic, strutting chordal finish. After that ends, they find themselves unmoored for a bit as the drums tumble, and Garcia & Lesh cast about for a new foothold. They find one shortly when Garcia starts a little Sputnik pattern – this only lasts a minute, just a short transitional spell. They sweetly return to the main theme, Garcia in his high Bright-Star register, though the Bright Star itself is just a brief exclamation before they settle comfortably back in the theme. He repeats the Bright Star lick in a softer tone, then turns it into a simple, droning melodic hook that he repeats for a minute before soaring up to a fiery finale. (Hart, of course, brings out the cowbell at the key moment.) They land firmly on the theme again, the audience whooping as they coast to the verse. At the end, instead of the expected St. Stephen Garcia goes into Cryptical Envelopment, which brings a big cheer from the crowd.
Released on Dick’s Picks 4.
The Dead are eager to play Dark Star again, though they’d played it in the last show just that morning. Tonight it’s the second song of the early set, the soonest they play it at any show that year. But first they have to get the monitors working right – Weir demands, “I want it like last night!” They put a spotlight on Bear: “He’s responsible for our loss of high-frequency hearing.” And of course Garcia has to get a dig in at the locals: “Nothing’s weirder than coming to New York.”
It starts off just like 2/13 with the loud guiro, but tonight’s mood is busier, edgier, more fast-paced…perhaps coming so much earlier in the evening, they’re not as ready to sink into a trance state. The intro jam is shorter, touching repeatedly on the theme as usual, the verse coming four & a half minutes in. After the verse, the flurry before space goes on longer than usual as they kick up some extra dust. Space itself is about four minutes and is mostly subdued quiet stretches: guitar squiggles, bell-tolling, bits of feedback, volume swells. (It doesn’t sound very unified, more like fragmented random noises.)
Once Garcia starts a musical line, they all pounce and a rhythmic jam with drums & claves opens up very quickly – no slow buildup, they’re churning away within seconds. It’s an exciting two-chord pattern similar to the 2/13 jam but with more of a slashing, hectic drive – they’re hitting it hard, sounding on the verge of a climax already. Garcia quiets them down for a more mellow passage in the Dark Star vein. Weir starts Feelin’ Groovy but Garcia ignores him with a flash of Sputnik. This is a quiet, restrained Sputnik passage, fading in & out with guiro. Garcia turns to more reflective playing (more in the 2/13 mood) – Lesh tries Feelin’ Groovy again, but again it’s ignored. Instead they go into a crooked little jam that sounds ready to burst at one moment, full of tenderness the next. They climb up, turning back toward Dark Star, but before they get there Garcia suddenly launches a Bright Star rocket, landing it with a cyclical repeating phrase. (Amazingly, this is almost the same riff he uses to conclude the 2/24/74 Dark Star!) Out of this, Lesh & Weir finally get Feelin’ Groovy started, and Garcia joins them for a much more blazing & triumphant rendition than last night’s. It serves as a quick finale to the jam – Garcia takes them back to the theme and abruptly sings the last verse a little too early, before they’ve settled in.
This is a fine version on its own, a lot more energetic than 2/13 but without the divine calmness. Garcia sounds a little more at odds with the others, so the jamming seems to jerk back & forth as they work it out.
Released on the Long Strange Trip soundtrack.
LOST: 3/17/70 BUFFALO, NY (with orchestra)
LOST: 3/22/70 DANIA, FL
3/23/70 (formerly 3/24/70)
Dark Star jumps off in a dense and bubbly start, dancing around the theme. The intro jam is fast-paced and really flies along, harking back in feel to late ’68. The momentum quickly climbs, then they bring it down to a quiet murmur…where the tape cuts at 4:50.  The verse is wiped, and we come back in the space: volume swells, guitar squiggles, feedback slivers, and nervous drumbeats. Garcia takes up a musical line and the others join him in building up a jam – all suggestion at first, and soon becoming solid. (Hart adds a Latin touch with the claves.)
Suddenly they accelerate and the jam races ahead, sounding similar to Soulful Strut. As they roar along at full throttle, Garcia quickly breezes through the Bright Star motif, then they pile into a fast Feelin’ Groovy, an ecstatic rush with pounding drums. Without pause the jam rushes forward and Garcia hits a zippy Bright Star again; after that they still can’t settle down and the music stays at a rapid boil until Garcia switches to a chordal passage (a little like 2/13), then more countryish licks. They’re in a heavenly state, which always reminds me of the jam at the end of the 3/23/72 Dark Star; it’s almost too much to describe. Garcia’s high notes transition into a Sputnik pattern, but underneath that Lesh starts up the Other One rhythm, and the others follow him into a quick Other One that keeps the momentum going. (Pigpen shows up on organ once it starts.)
This turns out to be an accidentally instrumental Dark Star on tape (a cut zaps the first verse, the Dead skip the second verse). It’s also the fastest, most fun Dark Star of the year, as they shoot for the stars at rocket speed.
4/25/70 (formerly 4/24/70)  
Dark Star fades into being, brisk and full of energy from the start. Garcia comes in after the intro with a sigh of feedback. The opening jam starts out deliberately paced, but steadily becomes more powerful. It revolves around the theme as usual, getting deeper and more intense as it goes. Garcia really steps out with unexpected twists, his playing narcotic and droney. (He’s back on the Gibson SG guitar, after playing a Stratocaster since the fall of ’69.) Finally after six minutes they make their way to the verse – the entranced audience claps when it starts!
After the verse, some quick strumming drops suddenly into a quiet space. A church bell tolls, windchimes rustle – we enter a mysterious, enchanting dreamland of strange sounds – the atmosphere thickens with Garcia's violin-like swells, tense pauses, lingering feedback notes. The audience is silent. At 11 minutes, Garcia starts up a swirling Sputnik pattern that blends with the hum & whine of the other instruments. This bursts like a bubble, and they cautiously step back onto musical ground.
Before long a quick jam starts; Lesh & Weir fall into the Feelin' Groovy riff, and the mood becomes lighter. But after a couple of passes, Garcia isn’t really feeling it, so Weir flips over to the Soulful Strut chords. They dive into this for a few minutes, developing a long dynamic Soulful Strut jam with tapping claves and a very lyrical Garcia lead. Once this ends, they float, searching for a new theme – Garcia starts playing chords, a sign that he's excited. The chordal riffing heads Cosmic Charlie-style into a Feelin' Groovy reprise! The drums are pounding, the road’s wide open, the music is carrying the band now, and Garcia spirals to new heights. The jam explodes, and Garcia rips into the Bright Star riff with incendiary fireworks. Then suddenly he puts on the brakes, the band slows down, and the crowd cheers as they abruptly settle back into the main theme. After the verse, the transition goes into a charged St Stephen, to the crowd's great delight.
An excellent must-hear Dark Star – and sadly, the only one that survives from April ’70. The audience tape is a poor, echoey, distant recording, not easy listening, though the vocals & electric guitars are fairly clear and Garcia’s up-front.
The noisiest of all Dark Star audience tapes, all distorted fuzz and cacophony; the music sounds like it’s being played by primordial giants on boulders and treetrunks amid flashes of lightning. It starts with a bang, blasting chords and metallic noise – the first twenty seconds of this is one of my favorite Dead passages ever. Most of the intro jam is missing, since it quickly settles down into the Dark Star theme after less than a minute, the crowd clapping along. We can only imagine how they reached a blazing conclusion like that.
The verse arrives soon and seems to be played forcefully; the crowd applauds afterward. The band promptly gets sucked into a long, bizarre head-spinning space: vibrating bass and crashing gongs (more applause). Ghostly feedback, volume swells, and harsh clangs of thunder break in while the bass rumbles like an earthquake. After a few minutes Garcia starts leading the way out with a bright, spooky Sputnik arpeggio as the others keep clanging; when the noise dies down he finds a soothing tendril of melody (more applause). 
A slow two-chord groove steadily builds up to a slinky, sultry Soulful Strut as the claves come in. This gradually rises to more of a speedy frenzy with the drums, but it’s hard to hear the beauty here as the clatter increases and the rhythm becomes a fragmented mush. It unwinds nicely and settles down into a calm Feelin’ Groovy jam (with cowbell, and more applause when it finishes). After a pause, they almost come to a stop as they consider the next step; when Lesh starts the main theme, they suddenly burst into Dancin’ in the Street instead of returning to the verse.
Considering the distorted sonics, the Dark Star itself is not unusually adventurous – it may even be a typical rendition. But it's very smoothly done with all the sections flowing naturally, the Feelin' Groovy is a very relaxing finish, and the jump to Dancin’ is a nice surprise (to be repeated on 11/8). There's a particularly triumphant feeling to the playing tonight, and the audience is digging it, applauding periodically throughout the jams.
Highly recommended for those with strong ears, but this tape will frighten off all but the bravest. Our intrepid taper stuck his mike up onstage right in front of the amps, and the band's volume overwhelmed his poor equipment, the music surrounded by crackling distortion. Sonically extreme, it's like having all the amps turned up to 11 in a wall of distortion, in which we can only make out a fraction of the sound. But as a listening experience, it’s unique among Dead shows.
LOST: 5/10/70 ATLANTA (with Duane Allman)
We return with relief to a great Fillmore East tape. There’s also an audience tape from this night, a stereo recording which is one of the best-sounding AUDs from the Fillmore, although unfortunately there’s a big 6-minute cut in the middle of Dark Star.
During the late show the Fillmore audience, feisty as always, hollers for Alligator; but Pigpen replies, “Don’t be hollerin’ no emergency warnings in a place like this. An alligator lives in here could chomp off a bunch of feet. Especially yours, buddy.” Garcia seems to toy with the idea of repeating Attics from the early show, but the band decides to do a Dark Star suite instead – which the crowd is happy to hear.  
Dark Star sounds tired from the start, particularly on Garcia’s end since his playing is very tentative. He warms up a little bit with a long run before heading for the verse only three minutes in. The Dead strum their way into a 4-minute ambient space, more ominous than freaky, quietly atmospheric with little stray guitar tones over a tidal wash of gong & cymbals. (Space comes across best on the AUD tape, sounding much bigger and spookier before it cuts.)
Garcia climbs out prettily while Weir emits bird cries and Lesh sounds like he’s playing backwards. A brief Sputnik arpeggio is just part of the slow build; as the jam takes shape, Weir taps his chords at the start (a rare technique for him). Claves and quiet drums come in – but whereas previous Dark Star jams started rockin’ pretty quickly, this jam stays unusually subdued for a long time. It seems like they’re approaching a Soulful Strut, but Garcia’s very restrained; his playing never takes off and he keeps the others grounded, so the jam keeps returning to a calm state. Feelin’ Groovy starts naturally and becomes a relaxed and satisfying rendition with more forceful playing & percussion. As it trickles to a close, Garcia comes out with a shimmery tone and heads right into a short, lumbering Bright Star (to applause), then they stumble back to the theme and a tired last verse. (They skip the harmony vocals!) The crowd politely applauds both the verse and the outro.
The Fillmore East did not work its magic on this version – near the end of a long night, the Dead sound almost out of gas here. But it’s still a passable performance with a nice gentle feel in the jam, just lacking in any energy.
Released on Road Trips vol. 3 no. 3.
On their first trip to England, the Dead are eager to conquer a new audience, and bring out Dark Star as part of the heavy artillery. Sadly, the film crew at this event fell to pieces long before Dark Star was played, so we’re left with a rather low-quality tape. The recording is plagued with problems – hissy, fuzzy, prone to distortion, and the guitars mixed nearly in mono.
Dark Star starts out fast and strong, very energetic. (Garcia creates an interesting pull by playing slowly while the others are churning away.) Kreutzmann’s drums come in after two minutes, which gives the opening jam more of a rock feel than usual. They climb to a quick peak and head to the main theme after four minutes, then spend a long time hanging on the theme (probably sorting out something onstage). The verse is a little sloppy, but then they eagerly crank up the noise to tumble into space.
An aggressive space is dominated by the gong & cymbals. They pull out a noisy array of random guitar plucks, lots of feedback, volume swells & bass drones, all blending in an ominous storm. (Loud bird chirps even show up at one point!) The tape gets very distorted, the gong merging with the tape-hiss in a static blanket. After a few minutes Garcia starts his Sputnik arpeggios in the midst of a howling space freakout, with an effect a bit like sailing through a meteor shower. This turns into more of a regular Sputnik jam with chord-jabbing, but in a minute smoothly transitions into a hot, upbeat jam with drums. It’s a fast shift, the band accelerating quickly.
Before long Weir drops Soulful Strut hints in the mix, but first their playing takes a melancholy turn with a wistful little melody before they slowly ease into the Soulful Strut jam. It’s a strong, rollicking version that lasts a few minutes, Garcia forcefully chording partway through. Once it ends, they steer ahead a little awkwardly trying to find the next direction, without success. Garcia floats on feedback for a bit while Weir suggests Dancin’ in the Street to no avail. They almost come to a halt, but Garcia takes charge and brings up the jaunty Dark Star theme; they settle quietly into the theme & verse without any attempt at further jamming. (St. Stephen is greeted apathetically by the English onlookers, with just a few scattered claps.)
Up until they run aground at the end, it’s a good Dark Star considering the environment – a daylight festival slot in front of a skeptical foreign audience is not the place you’d expect Dark Star to shine, but they try hard to make it work. It’s rather pushy, without much gentleness or subtlety. The tape problems also make it hard to listen to at times.
There are a couple of other sources – there’s an audience tape which is actually pretty good quality at the start (quiet crowd, clear guitars) and isn’t that different from the SBD, though it also drops in quality after space. There is also an alternate mono board mix which is somewhat overloaded and ridiculously sped-up (making it two minutes shorter). But it’s crisp and doesn’t suffer from the distortion, and offers a different angle on the performance – the Space comes across especially well, and you can hear the band shouting to each other onstage during quiet moments. Speed-corrected, this would probably be the best source, and it’s the most fun way to hear this Dark Star.
A legendary, excellent stereo audience tape from Ken Lee. While the rowdy Port Chester crowd is doing an impatient slow-clap, Garcia makes an announcement: “We have a little bit of technical preparation, Mickey has to get his gongs all together, we’re gonna do Dark Star. [loud cheer] There’ll be a minute or two of respectful silence, while Mickey fiddles aimlessly around the stage.”*
The crowd isn’t too respectful, but the Dead soon launch into Dark Star with a pop of flame onstage. The intro jam is fast-paced, bright and bouncy, with the guiro skipping beside the joyous guitars. The Dead enter the main theme four minutes in, sounding like they’re about to go into the verse with the audience clapping along. But it’s just a feint: instead they take a beautiful heart-stopping detour, reaching the verse after a couple more minutes of delicate jamming. The hissing gong is very effective on this tape, and there’s another burst of flame in the verse after “while we can” (the crowd whoops in delight).
Rather than the customary flurry of noise after the verse, they slide gently into space. It’s a short but luscious space with loud shimmering gongs, feedback, and violin-like guitars. “Oh my god!” someone exclaims. Attics of My Life takes shape very soon, so Space effectively serves as a harmonic prelude before the band glides beautifully into the majestic song intro.
The opening of Attics is drawn-out, and the audience applauds once the band settles in. (Some may have been surprised to recognize this new song from the early acoustic show.) But the band’s uncertain about the speed, and they take the song too fast. No matter, it’s still a solemn hymn that opens a new door within Dark Star. And as soon as it’s over, Garcia goes right back to a lilting Dark Star riff and the jam continues.
As they get deeper into the jam, cymbals give way to drums, the playing speeds up, the music gets more intense, and Garcia flies into a soaring Bright Star, which turns right into a smoldering Soulful Strut. Weir even takes the lead momentarily, and for one blinding stretch all three guitarists are soloing at once. Garcia winds out of the theme with a long repeated note (punctuated by another fire-bang), and they land in a choppy turbulent zone, the Dark Star theme quickly washed away in the rush. A short Feelin’ Groovy bobs up, but Garcia hops out of it and repeats the Sugar Magnolia opening chord instead until the others follow.
Sugar Magnolia first turned up on 6/7/70 and it’s still unfinished, just a couple of verses and a sunny mood, dominated by Garcia’s heavy chords. Once it’s done they plunge back into the Dark Star jam without a pause. Within a minute they spin beautifully back to the theme, and things calm down enough to return to the verse. The audience applauds the verse, goes nuts in the outro, and greets St. Stephen with joy.
One of the most unique Dark Stars, a joyful thrill-ride that rockets at top speed through several twists & turns. While it’s remarkable for the rapid swerves in & out of two new songs (which cut short any extended jam), the Dark Star pieces themselves are uplifting and expertly played – the band’s flying at a peak.
*Dark Star was rarely introduced. One time was on 12/29/68:
Lesh: "We once put this song out on a single."
Garcia: "One of our obscure singles."
Weir: "For you ethnomusicologists."
Hart announced the song sarcastically on 3/29/69: "The next tune we're gonna do is something we wrote especially for the Ice Palace here in Las Vegas, this morning."
Which was echoed on 4/11/69: “We just wrote a song for ya.”
Garcia: “Here we go into phase two.”
But as far as I remember, other than 6/24/70 the words “Dark Star” were never uttered onstage until Garcia complained about an audience request on 4/25/71: “Where were all you Dark Star people two years ago when we were playing it all the time? Too bad, man, too bad!"
Back at the Fillmore East for the opening night of a special run – sadly, only audience tapes exist for this date. The crowd hurls a barrage of song requests at the Dead, but they quiet down after Dark Star begins. The band’s playing is limber and supple, and Dark Star is unveiled like an ancient cathedral in the mist. The three guitars twine around each other sensitively as the guiro taps along; Garcia’s playing is especially bright and beautiful. They touch on the main theme, circle around and wind back, coming to the verse after four minutes.
After the verse, the usual dissolve into space, interrupted by loud frightened squawks – the crowd applauds as the band falls silent. They drop into a long five-minute deep space, dense and ominous, with bell tolls, gong tides, bass hums, feedback squeals, chimes and ghostly whines…there’s even a toy siren whistle. Under the feedback Garcia brings up the bright Sputnik arpeggio, and a minute later a pretty melodic theme materializes, the band quickly forming a solid chord structure that seems to come from nowhere. A huge sense of relief is palpable as the audience applauds.
The band slinks into a sultry slow groove with drums & claves that winds along unhurriedly for several minutes. Garcia dances around the Dark Star theme, tremolos and takes flight; the drums tumble and the mood escalates when Garcia hits a high-pitched Dark Star riff. Then they burst into a galloping, percussive Soulful Strut jam, gaining momentum as they explore it for a few minutes with Garcia’s dancing lead. He steps out for a minute and the band rumbles on in the Latin rhythm; as it ends they slow down and float gently (and the audience cheers again). Then they settle down with drifting, haunting melancholy chords, sailing on a calm dark ocean. This is a lovely passage, dreamy and meditative, and there hasn’t really been anything like it in Dark Star before. Finally Garcia breaks out in a series of high notes, then quietly returns to the Dark Star theme (to more applause). The crowd claps along to the theme – the verse comes quickly – they whoop in the outro and greet St. Stephen with ecstasy.
An outstanding version, rivalling the beloved 9/19 Star but taking very different paths and covering a wide emotional range from scary feedback to lovely melodies to Latin beats, all skillfully woven together. The crowd is mostly hushed and very responsive, clapping after every highlight. This Dark Star doesn’t get talked about much since the recording quality is only fair – decent for the year, but distant and boomy, with Garcia rising above a somewhat murky band. (Marty Weinberg’s tape of Dark Star is the most complete; Jack Toner’s tape is in very similar quality, but is sped-up and cut.)

Again the Dead face requests at the Fillmore, which again they ignore. Dark Star starts gently, Garcia creeping in with sweet feedback. Weir’s chords and the crisp guiro stand out in the superb recording (you can even hear Kreutzmann keeping a quiet beat in the back). The intro jam is sparse, dipping in & out of the theme a few times; Garcia’s playing is very careful and delicate. So far it seems like this will be a very mellow, restrained Dark Star. (Even on the audience tape, this intro sounds very quiet & minimalist, with the audience totally silent.) Oddly, during the verse you can’t hear much gong, but Kreutzmann’s little cymbal touches are clear.
Space tonight lasts about five minutes and is quite different from the one on 9/17 – simpler and less atmospheric, more about “thick air.” After the verse they quickly dissolve in a haze, giving way to silence, and for about 10-15 seconds not a thing is played onstage. Quiet sounds sneak in: some gong, bell tolls, little guitar taps (this part sounds louder on the audience tape). The volume rises with buzzing, feedback, and an airplane-like bass drone over guitar tones & the escalating gong. Weir outlines some lush chords while the others wander in the gloaming. As the music trembles, Garcia descends from the heavens with a lovely echoey distant tone piercing through the gloom.
Garcia launches into a short Sputnik arpeggio, the usual transition out of space. Underneath him, Weir & Lesh set up a fast groove with Kreutzmann drumming. Garcia soars on top of it in a stream of lyrical ecstasy, his giant tone like Peter Green’s. They reach a pulsing climax, the guitars all pause at once while Hart’s cowbell continues the fast beat, and Weir starts a perfectly-timed Feelin’ Groovy to the cheers of the crowd. Garcia coasts in with a beautiful fleeting lead. The jam soon gets calmer, and Garcia heads into a new chord progression. They feel around tenderly while keeping up the brisk momentum, jamming lightly on the groove. Through all this, Lesh keeps up a steady beat-centered bassline, quite unusual for him.
Garcia drops out for a bit and Weir takes a short lead; Garcia re-enters for a fiery stretch climaxing in a repeated lick that lifts and sinks back to the calmer Dark Star beat, the steady groove finally breaking. The crowd claps along to the theme, but the band slows to a pause and Garcia puts out melodic feelers leading to a slow, shining Bright Star. And for good, the band returns to the main theme, happily received by the crowd. Kreutzmann’s bass drum is prominent in the verse (the gong a bit louder this time). The audience screams in the outro and screams even louder for St. Stephen.
A classic tape in unbeatable sound. Garcia’s tone here is out of this world. It’s interesting to compare with 9/17 because almost everything is done differently here, and 9/19 is almost skeletal & simplified in comparison – as deadlists puts it, “the 17th is the first magnitude Star of the run.” And yet…there are such indelible moments here…
The audience tape is cruddy – very distant, with oversaturated bass; even Garcia sounds muted. But it’s telling how quiet the crowd is during Dark Star, hardly making a peep through much of it, compared to the constantly applauding crowd on the 17th.
Dark Star is very energetic tonight. The beginning is lost in a tapecut, so it comes fading in during a raging jam. The music is charged, the band revved-up, the drums very active – it sounds like we're already in the middle of the Star, as the band quests for a climax. After a couple of minutes Garcia tries to bottle the choppy energy back up in the Dark Star theme; after another sally they finally settle down for the verse, which comes four minutes in. As an opening jam this is extraordinary, perhaps closest to the 5/8/70 version in that it doesn’t even sound like Dark Star for some time, more like a hard-edged Other One jam.
After the verse, the Dead hurry eagerly into a terrific seven-minute space. The ringing gong drops us into a tense horror-movie soundtrack...percussive string scrapings, cymbal splashes, feedback hums, hanging dissonant chords... Eventually Garcia starts slowly plucking his strings, sounding like a koto! Space turns into demented Japanese ghost-chamber music, the notes twangy and shimmering. (This gets the chatty audience to shut up!) Lesh storms in with a dense thundering drone, and electricity surges through the music. Garcia flashes like metallic lightning into a Sputnik jam, wah-bending his lines. This may be the most intense & unique Space we’ve heard all year, with Garcia making the most of his wah pedal (which has been little-used in Dark Star).
Space finally melts into a puddle of broken shards. As the madness subsides, Garcia switches to his usual tone to head out of space, and they slowly ease into a regular melodic Dark Star jam with drums. This gradually builds, lumpy at first but soon taking flight in a soaring cascade of ecstasy, very rhythmic and uplifting. The music becomes bright and happy-sounding, driven forward by the irrepressible rhythm. Caught up in the mood, Lesh hints at Feelin' Groovy, but Garcia suddenly swerves back into the Dark Star theme instead in a dramatic twist. The band quiets down for a slow reentry to the verse, but the jam ending is different than usual – Garcia prolongs it, taking the band on a calm open-ended mystery ride and drifting on trebly chords a while before he finally returns to the theme and sings the verse. Dark Star segues into St Stephen, overjoying the crowd – they applaud for a long time.
A wild ride, bursting with energy and full of invention, this is one of the most remarkable Dark Stars of the year with inspired playing…but it’s not an easy listen. This is a poor tin-can AUD tape even by 1970 standards: a harsh, tinny horror complete with obtrusive & annoying audience chatter throughout. Nonetheless, it more than repays a close listen.
Dark Star starts out more muscular than ethereal – Lesh is loud and booming; Weir’s chords are clear and jangly; some percussion taps out the rhythm; Garcia is in the zone, carefully dropping sweet notes into the mix. A very enticing intro jam that keeps gaining power, but as it heats up, there’s a big cut after three minutes which zaps us to the very end of the first verse. (The other Dark Stars of this period have intro jams ranging from about 4-6 minutes long, so maybe about 2-4 minutes is lost in this cut.)
A ringing gong takes over as Weir’s guitar falls silent, and we enter a quiet ambient five-minute space: low notes from the bass, ghostly chimes of feedback, and scraped strings (which sound like a quacking duck at one point). The audience is dead silent during the space, but after a couple of minutes they can’t hold it in any more and cheer. The band responds by getting noisier – splashes of gong, a jet-drone from the bass, more feedback.
Way off in the distance, Garcia starts the sputnik pattern, sounding like wind-chimes, but stops in a whine of feedback. Then we hear volume swells from him, the wobbly-wire effect from Weir, big bass hums, and cymbals. As the weird effects fade, Garcia is playing a very quiet pattern (almost subliminally) – raising the volume, he starts playing slow notes again in some slow, sad melody that the band accompanies. Coming out of the gloom and tinged with feedback, the dignified melody feels almost unearthly.
The band is being careful and deliberate here, slowly working their way back to earth with quiet drumming. A glockenspiel starts to accompany Garcia (well-captured on the tape). 10 minutes in, Lesh is picking up the beat, Weir starts to play chords again, and the jam builds momentum. It feels like a song elegantly forming as Garcia plays piercingly pretty notes.
By 12 minutes in, they’re speeding up – Garcia’s doing fast runs, the claves come in, the drums add force. Lesh briefly hints at Soulful Strut, but it’s just a feint, they’re not doing a familiar theme tonight. Garcia slows down the jam, to great effect - he has that magnificent echoing tone (as on 9/19), sounding enormous, majestic and soaring over the room. He glides into a slow Bright Star, but it’s not time for the verse yet, and he backs off.
To a loud bassline and tapping cymbals, he starts quietly playing runs again – as he gets louder, Weir and the drums come back in, and they hit a rocking groove. Garcia chops out some rhythm chords over the drumbeats, then goes back into a fast little sputnik arpeggio that trickles out. The others are playing a quick, sparse backing, and Garcia joins them for a fast jam. Under his lead, they gradually shift the rhythm back to Dark Star as he plays long, hanging notes. (Here it sounds like the end of a Dancing as they down to get back to the song.)
Just as they enter the Dark Star theme, the tape cuts again, to the first line of the verse. (This must be a short cut, as there’s not much missing – perhaps less than a minute.) At the end they play the slow transition to St Stephen without a peep from the crowd. The pent-up audience hollers at the first notes of St Stephen, clapping along to the beat.
Even with the cuts, this is a tremendous Dark Star, with a very different feel from 10/11. That one was crackling with wild energy, while this one is more subdued and deliberate. It also has a sadder tone than the bright & happy Stars from the summer, with their killer thematic jams – this one doesn’t hit such a satisfying climax and feels more restrained. (Perhaps fitting how quiet the audience is throughout, when other Stars have them bursting into spontaneous applause.) But it’s noticeable that this month the Dead have started to take the Dark Star jams in different, less scripted directions, and this one stands out in its quiet beauty.
The AUD recording is decent for the year – crackly and a little distant, with loud bass but clear guitars and an attentive crowd, it’s quite listenable.
One of the rare Dark Stars to come right out of the Other One. As a torrential, wah-filled Other One ends, at the point where they’d segue into Cryptical, the band pauses and begins Dark Star instead, to the crowd’s joy. Lesh’s bass playing is strikingly different from the start as he plays odd variations; drums & cymbals are present through the intro jam, which is also unusual. The jam gets heated and returns satisfyingly to a clockwork main theme; after four minutes they hypnotically settle down for the verse.  
Then they dramatically dissolve into a six-minute deep space, from silence slowly building layers of sound until they've created a psychedelic dreamscape to journey through. The gong roars like a spaceship overhead; a tolling bell, deep drones, chimes, cymbal crashes & wobbling strings merge in a dense, almost physical atmosphere. The mood turns threatening with bass pulses and long chilling feedback howls. As the mist closes in, bits of melody start to emerge under the feedback; the darkness of space recedes back to silence and bright guitars come chiming forth like a music box.
The Dead seem reluctant to leave space behind - proceeding slowly and delicately, they feel their way back to solid ground in one of the slowest space exits of the year. (The audience is perfectly silent in rapture, though it’s hard to tell if a whistle comes from band or audience.) Thick solemn chords form a gorgeous protracted re-entry into the Dark Star jam, in a passage of the most intense beauty. It’s almost a surprise when the familiar notes of Dark Star reappear. The playing is smooth and unhurried; the beat picks up once the drums come in, but the jamming stays relaxed. Lesh drops in a jaunty Feelin' Groovy which casts its spell for a while, then they motor ahead cheerfully as the crowd claps along.
Suddenly there's a great, beautifully timed transition back to the main theme: Lesh slips it in underneath Garcia’s feedback note and the band pounces. Garcia only briefly suggests Bright Star before settling into the theme and the verse. After the Star, what else but St. Stephen? The audience was very quiet all through Dark Star, and are happy to greet St. Stephen.
Yet another fantastic Dark Star, the mood here is similar to 10/17 in a very calm, relaxed performance. The long deep space stands out in the year, as well as the amazingly majestic jam of almost cathedral-like grandeur. This AUD tape is better than the last few – somewhat muddy with some distracting bass distortion, but the music is mostly clear and up-front, and the audience keeps quiet; the booming canyon-like feel even helps the performance. (Avoid the SirMick remaster, it sounds worse.)
Even more rare than a Dark Star coming out of the Other One is a Dark Star coming out of Truckin’! As the crowd claps along, a foot-stompin’ Truckin' with a heavy ending jam dwindles down to a fingerpicking whisper, and Dark Star sneaks up underneath the audience cheers, catching them by surprise. The quiet, graceful intro jam is outstanding, contemplative and unusually deep – it doesn’t sound at all like the normal Dark Star opening, but like they’ve entered some other sacred place entirely. A quiet scratcher accompanies the intimate guitar trio. This is one of the longer intro jams of the period, over six minutes, ending in a lovely transition to the Dark Star theme with glockenspiel.
The solemn verse drips into a menacing gong space, interrupted by some random noises and restless crowd whoops, even quacking. (This is more of a noisy audience-interaction space than 11/5, and at eight minutes it’s the longest Space of the year.) Awash on droning gong tides, the band patiently drifts into alarming squalls of feedback and metallic shrieks, and stay in the heavy feedback zone for several chaotic minutes. Finally they let up and foghorn-like bass drones, sirens and glockenspiel pull us out into the shimmering void.
A drum pulse starts up in time with an alarm-like beep, the cymbals rattle, and Garcia pulls the Main Ten theme out of nowhere. The others soon wrap around him. (They'd played it just a couple days before, during the 11/6 Good Lovin', but it hadn’t appeared in a Dark Star since 4/15/69.) The droning, mystical theme fits perfectly, floating like a ship on a dark rainy sea. They quiet down, the drums pound harder, and gradually they leave the theme and shift to an exploratory jam with jazzy drums, returning to the intimate grace of the opening. This slowly unwinds into the music of the spheres, the band hovering in a breathtaking, beautiful realm of pure melody. The guitar interplay is amazing here, entwined in a mesmeric cycle. They never return to Dark Star, but unconsciously find their way to Dancin’ in the Streets, Lesh steadily pushing them into the song until the drums snap out the starting beat. (Dancin’ is a raucous version with a poppin’ Soulful Strut jam, making a glorious conclusion to the suite.)
This Dark Star takes us on an amazing journey that departs from the conventional Dark Star patterns to find new unguessed territory. Instead of hitting the expected peaks they meditate in a state of grace, receptive and flowing. While they never get back to the usual Dark Star jam after space, they make up for it with new creative discoveries, traveling mysterious fields of splendor rarely found in any Dead show.
Ken Lee’s stereo tape has excellent sound, the band clear and right up-front in one of the best AUDs of the year. (Some copies use Marty Weinberg’s recording, which is also good, but blurrier, a bit less clear, and has more distracting audience chatter. However, the Space on his tape has a distinctly different mix which is worth checking out.)

And that’s it for 1970. The Dead played Dark Star less as the year went on: in winter/spring ‘70, they played it in about a third of their shows. But come summer, it became much less frequent, rarely played most months (a high proportion of the known late-’70 versions are from New York alone) – and by December it was gone completely. So in the year as a whole, the Dead only played it in about 20% of their shows. This was a considerable drop from 1969, when Dark Star had been played in around half of the Dead’s shows.
The reasons for this are unknown. Dark Star wasn’t getting less exciting in fall ’70; if anything the playing was getting better, deeper, richer and more inventive, and it was reaching new levels. They must have been aware of this. (On their next run at the Capitol three months later, they brought 16-track recording equipment and pulled out Dark Star on the first set of the first show, evidently hoping to recapture the magic.)
But it’s been suggested that perhaps the Dead were getting tired of repeating the same format – Dark Star had been stuck in the same structure for over a year with little change. The Dead were also turning toward more song-heavy sets: more straightforward rock & roll, less cosmic exploration. Possibly that’s where they felt their new mass audience taking them, as impatient crowds swarmed to holler and boogie.
But Dark Star would not be left behind, and it would continue to take new shapes the following year…
For even more reviews of 1970 Dark Stars from other writers, see: