The Grateful Dead Bid The Cap Good Night: February 24, 1971

The Capitol Theater in Port Chester has provided a stage and an audience for many a band throughout its heralded history, though perhaps none with a legacy quite like that of The Grateful Dead. When they weren’t busy selling out Bill Graham’s Fillmore East, The Cap became the other de facto home away from home for the Grateful Dead on the East Coast. But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end and today marks the anniversary of the band’s 19th and final show at this historic venue. It comes at a time when the Dead had to reinvent themselves a bit, with the abrupt self-imposed departure of drummer Mickey Hart that transpired after the opening night of this six-show residency. The shows that followed serve as the beginning of a new chapter in the band’s voluminous history, one that sees them still trying to carve out the identity of multiple brand new songs that would go on to become mainstays at a Grateful Dead show.

The Dead start this final show at The Cap with a “Casey Jones” that starts off in rather mellow fashion but fittingly picks up steam as it develops and is roaring down the tracks by song’s end, with Bob Weir growling out the accompanying vocals. He then jumps into the lead vocal position for the Country Western-themed cautionary classic “Me And My Uncle.” Jerry Garcia delivers a bevvy of slick electric guitar fills and Bill Kreutzmann, once again the sole drummer, doesn’t miss a beat while belting out the rhythm. After some now-customary extended post-song tuning, Kreutzmann initiates the opening drum pattern for “Cumberland Blues.” The harmonized vocals are a little delayed in joining in at first but Garcia makes up for this with another effortless run up and down the fretboard and the rest of the song goes off without a hitch.

Afterwards, Pigpen gets his first taste of the spotlight, leading the band through a quick take of “Next Time You See Me,” replete with its typical blues-infused harmonica solo that’s matched by one from Garcia on guitar. Garcia then reclaims the mic for the fledgling Dead tune “Bird Song,” a song played every night of this last run at The Cap except for the opening one. Between verses, Garcia finesses a patiently melodic solo with Kreutzmann nailing the signature syncopated drum beat for a song that would go on to become a live Dead staple.

The Dead then trot out a fairly new cover selection in their live repertoire, “Me And Bobby McGee,” a song popularized by the great Janis Joplin on her iconic Pearl album that was released just last month shortly after her death in October of 1970. Weir belts out the lead vocals with aplomb with Garcia adding a tender touch to the harmonies. “Bobby” is then followed by “Bertha,” one of the few songs to make an appearance at every night of this run as the Dead continue to hone another soon-to-be classic.

Pigpen, now warmed up sufficiently, adds his signature bluesy drawl to the mix with a spirited take of “Hard To Handle” that provides the first real opportunity for some brief opening set jamming, of which Garcia and company take full advantage. The music slowly reaches a psychedelic crescendo before Pigpen reels it back in. This is followed up by “Loser,” another new Dead song that made its live debut at this final run at The Cap. Garcia sounds emotionally invested in the lyrics for yet another another song that involves a high stakes cards game, along with “Uncle,” before laying down a brief solo that fits the mood perfectly.

The Dead gear up for the stretch run of the first set with several minutes of more extended tuning before launching into “Playing In The Band,” another song still very much in its nascent phase after being debuted on the first night of the run. Like that one, it still doesn’t yield anything in terms of exploration or an extended jam. This would be left to the first set closing sequence that begins with another Kreutzmann-fueled drum pattern before Pigpen jumps in on vocals for a cover of “Good Lovin’.” With the first verse complete, the lead then shifts back to Bill The Drummer for an extended one-man drum solo. It’s an impressive display of rhythmic wizardry that changes tones and speeds with ease, before Garcia slyly re-enters the mix, soon followed by the rest of the band. It’s a precursor for the even more psychedelic “Drums” > “Space” sequences that would be a signature of live Dead shows in the years to come. Literally built from the ground up, the jam slowly begins to take on a more solid state and morphs back into the ending of “Good Lovin’.” It caps off a first set that, overall, has a very mellow vibe to it, perhaps as a result of coming at the end of an epic six-show residency or just due to the comfort level that the Dead had established by now at The Cap, with the answer likely lying somewhere in between.

The second set immediately seems to shift gears, beginning with a funked out, wah-heavy “Sugar Magnolia that has plenty of groove to it. Although this lively mood doesn’t last long, instead it sets the stage for the return of Pigpen and his “harp” for an extremely mellow and drawn out cover of Slim Harpo’s “I’m A King Bee.”

The Dead then begin to liven things back up again, starting with “Greatest Story Ever Told,” yet another song that can cite this run at The Cap as its birthplace in the live setting. Instead of stopping there, they segue right into a cover of “Johnny B. Goode” afterwards. Another new addition to the band’s catalog follows in “Deal,” only the second one ever performed live and much slower than the format it would go on to develop. Bob Weir then livens things back up again with vocals that border on screaming for the better part of “New Minglewood Blues.”

The rest of the band then ably backs up Weir on the “Truckin'” that follows this which also elicits one of the better jams of the evening, with Phil Lesh helping navigate the complex rhythms beneath some powerful guitar licks supplied by Garcia.

Just as they had the opening night of the run, The Dead then throw in a late second set sequence of “Not Fade Away” > “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad” > “Not Fade Away.” The “meat” of this particular sandwich is stretched out nicely and serves as a true testament to the band’s ability to shift between the serene and the psychedelic with utter ease. With one last bullet in the chamber, the band then places Pigpen center stage once more for an absolutely classic take of “Turn On Your Love Light” that ebbs and flows with a classic Pig “rap” thrown in the middle for good measure.

It’s a more than fitting end to this legendary six-show run at The Cap. The Dead would go on to play throughout New York State for the rest of their career, performing at other theaters and eventually arenas, but never again would they grace the stage in Port Chester.

The entire show is available to listen to below and also at Live Music Archive

Grateful Dead Capitol Theater – Port Chester, NY 2/24/71

Set 1: Casey Jones, Me And My Uncle, Cumberland Blues, Next Time You See Me, Bird Song, Me And Bobby McGee, Bertha, Hard To Handle, Loser. Playing In The Band, Good Lovin’ > Drums > Good Lovin’

Set 2: Sugar Magnolia, I’m A King Bee, Greatest Story Ever Told > Johnny B. Goode, Deal, New Minglewood Blues, Truckin’, Not Fade Away > Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad > Not Fade Away > Turn On Your Love Light

bill kreutzmannBob WeirCapitol Theatergrateful deadJERRY GARCIAMickey HartPhil LeshPigpen