By 1971, The Grateful Dead had firmly established the Fillmore East as their New York City base of operations. But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. The Fillmore East would be shuttered by the end of the summer, but not before one last run of Dead shows, which began 50 years ago today. The five-night run would serve as the band’s last hurrah at Bill Graham’s legendary East Village venue. It’s also the source of material for one of their essential live albums, Ladies and Gentlemen….The Grateful Dead. Tonight’s show features some iconic Dead tunes that were still in the early roll out stages combined with some short-lived classics.
The band wastes no time and dives right into a roaring “Truckin'” to open the show. It’s a crisp, early version of this Dead classic to-be that was barely a year old at the time. It would also serve as the opener for three other shows during this Fillmore run. After requesting some “cranking up” of the monitors, Jerry Garcia then leads the group through “Loser,” carrying over the alt-country psychedelic vibes established earlier by the New Riders. A short, but hauntingly beautiful guitar solo from Garcia highlights this one. The collective mood then gets lifted in a major way with “Hard To Handle.” The charismatic Pigpen, who has several shining moments this evening, takes the lead on vocals in his signature, blues-riddled style. Garcia and drummer Bill Kreutzmann seem to take turn raising the fervor and intensity which yields a hearty early jam.
After a vintage extended tuning session, the show resumes with “Me And Bobby McGee,” this time with Bob Weir leading the way on vocals for a cover song. Afterwards, Weir shouts out some more friendly advice to the monitor guy before “Cold Rain And Snow” lifts off. Garcia’s aggressive guitar tone and thunderous bass notes from Phil Lesh give this always emotional number a little something extra tonight. This sets the stage for Pigpen to take charge once more, this time with harmonica in tow for “The Rub.” This Lightnin’ Hopkins cover, also known as “Ain’t It Crazy,” would only be played 13 times by the Dead, properly shelved for good after Pigpen’s passing.
Weir then gets back on the mic for “Playin’ In The Band,” another soon-to-be Dead classic that was debuted only months earlier at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, NY. It’s essentially just a run through of the composed portion, with no jam to speak of with the song still in its nascent stage. Garcia then notes that “we used to do this song acoustically” before an uptempo rendition of “Friend Of The Devil” takes place.
The first set then wraps up with a few already established staples of the Grateful Dead’s live catalog. The instrumental segue between “China Cat Sunflower” and “I Know You Rider” is near-seamless, with Garcia delivering a flurry of emotional guitar fills on the latter. “Casey Jones” then drives the Fillmore crowd off to intermission, capping off a whirlwind first set. Garcia and Weir both take it upon themselves to advise everyone they’ll return shortly.
The Dead kick off the second set at the Fillmore in grand fashion with a supercharged “Morning Dew.” Steadily progressive rhythms supplied by Lesh and Kreutzmann secure the framework for another Garcia guitar solo that drips with emotion, much to the crowd’s delight. After a quick run through “Beat It On Down The Line,” it’s Pigpen’s turn again as he and his harp rip through a cover of the bluesy “Next Time You See Me.”
Pig then gets back behind the organ for “Bertha,” another fresh tune at the time, debuted only months ago. Afterwards Garcia seems to make note of Mickey Hart, who had recently begun his hiatus from the band, “not being with us tonight” but that his grandmother was in attendance. This clears the deck for “Sugar Magnolia.” Garcia has the wah effect on full blast for this one, almost overpowering everything else. After some more griping about the in-house monitors, the Dead’s cover of Smokey Robinson and The Miracles’ “Second That Emotion” smooths everything over. It would the fourth performance of this song that the band only ever played five times – all in April of 1971.
But this would not be the cover selection that blows the doors off the second set. That honor belongs to the “Good Lovin'” that follows, sung in Pigpen’s signature style and immediately supplemented with a majestic drum solo from Kreutzmann. As the wave of “Drums” begins to recede, a loose form of “Good Lovin'” reemerges, spurred on by Pigpen and his improvisational crooning. With the rest of the band fully locked in behind him, this sequence sees the Dead at their full powers and steals the show.
Things would slow down considerably after this, with “Sing Me Back Home,” another Dead tune with a short shelf life. Although it would be played the following two nights as well. One of the last inter-song tuning sessions is memorable as this one has a distinct “Spanish Jam” element to it. Finally, the opening shuffle beat of “Not Fade Away” takes shape, initiating the final sequence of the evening. In following tradition, another silky smooth transition follows into “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad” before turning back into NFA. The Grateful Dead then treat the ravenous crowd to an “Uncle John’s Band” encore, wrapping up the first night of this last ever run at the Fillmore East.
Grateful Dead – Fillmore East – New York, NY 4/25/71
Set 1: Truckin’, Loser, Hard To Handle, Me And Bobby McGee, Cold Rain & Snow, The Rub, Playin’ In The Band, Friend Of The Devil, China Cat Sunflower-> I Know You Rider, Casey Jones
Set 2: Morning Dew, Beat It On Down The Line, Next Time You See Me, Bertha, Sugar Magnolia, Second That Emotion, Good Lovin’-> Drums-> Good Lovin’, Sing Me Back Home, Not Fade Away-> Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad-> Not Fade Away
E: Uncle John’s Band