With four multi-night runs at the Fillmore East already in the books for 1970, the Grateful Dead returned to their New York City headquarters for a fifth one in September. And, once again, they would be joined by their friends in New Riders of the Purple Sage for the festivities. This would be their third run of the year here in this “Evening with the Grateful Dead” format that featured music from both bands, with the Dead playing one acoustic and one electric set of music. This show also marks the first time David Grisman played along side Jerry Garcia in a live setting for the first time. September 20 was the final night of this particular run and features, arguably, one of the better acoustic sets known to Deadheads.
The opening set is accordingly introduced as “Acoustic Dead” and the band immediately launches into “Uncle John’s Band.” It’s a delightfully casual take on a Dead classic that’s harmonized nicely and sets the tone for the set. They even get some assistance from the Fillmore crowd which is gladly clapping along in time by song’s end. Jerry Garcia continues to man lead vocals on the “Deep Elem Blues” that follows, a song that would follow him around in live settings for the rest of his life. Grisman’s mandolin play blends in perfectly with the acoustic guitars, giving this one a unique feel. And with the added strings and acoustic influence provided by Grisman, a first set “Friend Of The Devil” sounds so crisp that one would think they were playing American Beauty over the PA.
“Big Railroad Blues” features David Nelson on yet another mandolin in a fun, fast-paced version that’s like no other. It was only the third performance ever of a song the Dead would go on to play for the remainder of their playing career. This is backed up by a splendid “Dark Hollow” with Bob Weir jumping in on lead vocals. There is so much acoustic firepower on stage, Garcia actually jumps on the piano for “To Lay Me Down,” quite a rare occurrence.
“Rosalie McFall” joins the fray afterwards, a Charlie Monroe cover and another acoustic song that would go on to be a mainstay for future Garcia acoustic performances. The remainder of the opening set has a decidedly classic Dead feel to it, beginning with “Cumberland Blues,” continuing with a riveting “New Speedway Boogie” that has a lovely little acoustic jam tied to it, and ending with the always emotional “Brokedown Palace.”
The second set then brings along the electricity, both literally and figuratively. “Casey Jones” comes rolling down the tracks to open things before the iconic opening licks of “China Cat Sunflower” ring out loud and true. While not particularly stretched out or extended, a perfectly seamless transition into “I Know You Rider” follows, and with each verse the Grateful Dead delighting the Fillmore crowd even further. It’s cut off a bit on the recording below, but “Candyman” then cools things down a bit, courtesy of the delicate singing and customary harrowing guitar play from Garcia.
This Fillmore show also features a few Dead rarities. “Big Boy Pete” is played for the only sixth time ever and the last one ever with Pigpen who finally gets some lead vocal action. It’s a quick. bluesy number that the band would dust off twice more in the future, with random unshelvings in 1978 and 1985. Perhaps inspired by the last number, or just turned up in the mix, Pigpen shines on the “Me And My Uncle” that comes next, supplying some inspired fills. Seizing the momentum, he then takes center stage and belts out one of his signature songs, “Easy Wind,” that also ably serves as one of the more extended jams of the evening.
A still raw “Sugar Magnolia” follows, but has a fun little vocal breakdown and shows all the signs of being a Grateful Dead staple for years to come. After a quick run through of the Weir-led “Mama Tried,” the Dead go big for this particular Fillmore closing sequence, starting with a massive “Not Fade Away.” This may as well have been the “Drums” portion of the evening as drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart lead the charge on this one, trading percussive punches back and forth that fuel a mesmerizing sequence of improv.
This sets the table for “Caution (Do Not Step On Tracks)” which, it could be argued, serves as the “Space” portion tonight. It’s the Dead at their finest: frenetic and psychedelic blues, powered by probing bass lines from Phil Lesh, and adorned with Pigpen riffing on vocals while feedback and other audio wizardry abound. The jam eventually devolves to only drums, bass and Pig on harmonica for a spell. Garcia then reemerges on lead guitar and the band begins to tie a bow on the second set the only way they know how – with a six-minute feedback jam. From this, the a capella “We Bid You Goodnight” emerges, serving as the de facto encore and officially closing out another memorable Grateful Dead run at the Fillmore East.
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Grateful Dead Fillmore East – New York City, NY 9/20/70
Set 1: Uncle John’s Band, Deep Elem Blues, Friend Of The Devil, Big Railroad Blues, Dark Hallow, Ripple, To Lay Me Down, Truckin’, Rosalie McFall, Cumberland Blues, New Speedway Boogie, Brokedown Palace
Set 2: Casey Jones, China Cat Sunflower -> I Know You Rider, Candyman, Sittin’ On Top Of The World, Big Boy Pete, Me And My Uncle, Easy Wind, Sugar Magnolia, Attics Of My Life, Mama Tried, Not Fade Away > Caution (Do Not Step On The Tracks) > Feedback Jam > And We Bid You Goodnight