48 years ago today, The Grateful Dead wrapped up their first ever run at Nassau Coliseum. The venerable Long Island venue was almost completely new at the time, having only opened in February of 1972. In fact, the Dead were only the second band to ever play a concert in the building, surpassed only by their brethren in Chicago the year before. Today would wrap up the final show of their first three-day run here, planting the seeds for another 39 Grateful Dead shows at Nassau for years to come. This introduction ends in remarkable fashion with a show that’s got a little bit of everything: a first set that simply overpowers the second, unique costume wear from the band, and a powerful goodbye to a dear friend.
This show was a double bill of sorts with the Dead’s old friends New Riders of the Purple Sage performing an opening set to get thing started. So the Long Island crowd had already been given a taste of some West Coast psychedelic country and rock styling. Now it was the Dead’s turn. After a quick intro from promoter extraordinaire Bill Graham, they’re off and running with a feverish cover of Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land.”
Things then slow down and take an immediate emotional left turn courtesy of the “He’s Gone” that follows. This would be the song’s first live performance since the passing of the legendary Pigpen, a founding member of the Grateful Dead, just eleven days earlier. Jerry Garcia’s usually delicate vocals here are surpassed only by a supremely poignant guitar solo that simply oozes emotion. The declaration of “nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile” seems to hit a little harder on this one. And Donna Jean and the crowd both lend some audible support as well in a stirring version that’s more than a fitting tribute to the late Pigpen.
With the musical eulogy out of the way, the rest of the first set proceeds in a more familiar fashion. Bob Weir leads a quick jaunt through “Mexicali Blues.” And Garcia follows in fine fashion in a flawless, uptempo “They Love Each Other.” But the band doesn’t seem ready to say goodbye quite yet. This time Weir takes the helm on vocals and delivers a beautiful and inspired “Looks Like Rain” that’s comes off as one more nod to the somber circumstances of a friend’s recent death.
Deadheads will get a kick out of the first set’s “Wave That Flag,” a precursor to “U.S. Blues” that was played only 14 times and features vastly different lyrics. There’s also a decent bust-out as well. For the first time in almost three years and more than 270 show, “The Race Is On” is dusted off by the Grateful Dead and presented to the Nassau crowd.
No one would complain if tonight’s opening stanza ended with the flawless “China Cat Sunflower” > “I Know You Rider” that later followed. But, no, this set goes to “11.” Perhaps fueled by some of the emotions from earlier, the band just keeps motoring on. One more Berry cover in “Around & Around” makes an appearance. And “Tennessee Jed” keeps the faithful in the new Long Island barn collectively swaying.
Until finally, the first set is capped in grandiose fashion with a mad dash of a “Playin’ In The Band.” All the energy and emotions from earlier seem to get collected here and let loose in a near 16-minute gem that serves as a fitting cap to an exhilarating first set that stretches out past an hour and 40 minutes. The footage of it that follows is reported to be some of the only video of live 1973 Grateful Dead music. Members of the band can be seen in their “Nudie Suits,” bedazzled and sequined suits that were worn a handful of times at shows in late ’72 and early ’73. This psychedelic Country-Western garb is named after the designer Nudie Cohn and were popularized by the Flying Burrito Brothers at the time. This is supposedly the last show at which they were ever worn.
A whirlwind opening set like that would be nearly impossible to top. The second set has nice intentions, but the opening stretch is played somewhat close to the belt. The relatively new-at-the-time “Loose Lucy” kicks things off, with a more pronounced Keith Godchaux on piano coming through in the mix. “Lucy” made its concert debut only earlier last month. Then there’s a a string of “first set”-sounding songs like “Me And My Uncle” and “Big River” that follow. Bill Kreutzmann’s work behind the drum kit really shines on the Johnny Cash cover. And “Mississippi Half-Step” continues this trend of well played live Dead staples that just lack some of the improvisation normally found at this part of the program.
“Jack Straw” picks up the energy considerably in the second set and seems to fuel the band towards the finish line. “Truckin'” follows, paying tribute to New York, a state that’s “got the ways and means.” This yields the first significant jam of the second set, a bluesy little excursion spearheaded by Garcia. It even includes a distinct “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” instrumental nod as the jam begins to progress.
A short and sweet “Drums” section then transitions seamlessly into “The Other One,” with Phil Lesh’s thunderous bass notes triggering the opening sequence. Along with Garcia-supplied guitar licks, the two lead an impressively patient and vibrant musical introduction before the first words of the song are even sung.
This and the near 17-minute “Eyes Of The World” that follows really serve as the foundation for this second set. This version of “Eyes” is fairly incredible in that it’s another new-at-the-time, this being only the tenth one ever played. The Dead move effortlessly through the composed section, sounding like they’ve been playing this song for years, before settling into another patient and intricate exploratory jam.
The “Johnny B. Goode” set closer completes the Berry Trifecta for this evening before a “Casey Jones” encore sends the Nassau faithful merrily on their way. Afterwards, the train would be getting on the tracks on heading upstate for two shows at the Utica Memorial Auditorium. It’s a well played set that has a few standout moments but, overall, just doesn’t compare to the emotional powerhouse the opening stanza delivered.
Listen to this great show track by track below, or all at once here.
Grateful Dead – Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum Uniondale, NY 3/19/73
Set 1: Promised Land, He’s Gone, Mexicali Blues, They Love Each Other, Looks Like Rain, Wave That Flag, Box Of Rain, The Race is On, Row Jimmy, El Paso, China Cat Sunflower-> I Know You Rider, Around & Around, Tennessee Jed, Playin’ In The Band
Set 2: Loose Lucy, Me & My Uncle, Brown Eyed Women, Big River, Mississippi Half Step, Stella Blue, Jack Straw, Truckin’-> The Other One-> Eyes Of The World-> China Doll, Johnny B. Goode
E: Casey Jones