Ron Pigpen McKernan - vocals, organ, percussion; Jerry Garcia - guitar, vocals; Bob Weir - guitar, vocals; Phil Lesh - bass, vocals; Bill Kruetzman - drums; Mickey Hart - percussion
Following several years of musical experimentation and exploration, the dawn of the 1970s would begin a period of transition for The Grateful Dead, where they would expand the range of their music and in doing so begin reaching a broader audience. The band's first album of the new decade, Workingman's Dead, and American Beauty, which would follow later in the year, signaled the beginning of lyricist Robert Hunter's most prolific and inspired era, where his lyrics took on a new focus and clarity. Likewise, The Dead's music was taking on a new focus and clarity, as they began consciously returning to their roots, embracing acoustic instrumentation and incorporating stylistic elements from the late 1950s/early 1960s folk, country and blues revivals that initially inspired bandleaders, Jerry Garcia and Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, to begin playing music together. This influx of new songs and the expanded diversity of material led to a revamping of their live performances, which began featuring multiple sets, providing the musicians the opportunity to play in both acoustic and electric configurations. For the first time, The Dead began performing live acoustic sets that showcased new material as well as the traditional style folk and blues favorites from their past.
Many of The Dead's most inspired performances that year occurred at Fillmore East and West, where the New York City and San Francisco audiences always embraced them. The group also enjoyed these venues for their professional crews and sound systems, which were superior to other rock music venues in America. The Grateful Dead did several multi-night engagements at The Fillmores in 1970 and these performances remain some of the most diverse performances of their career. One such run occurred in April of 1970, when The Dead had the daunting task of following Miles Davis for four nights at Fillmore West. These concerts fell directly between the sessions for the Dead's most popular albums (Workingman's Dead and American Beauty) during a prolific and inspired phase in the group's history.
Presented here is the first 45 minutes of the April 9th performance, opening night of this run, which begins with a three song electric sequence, followed by a five song acoustic performance. The Dead get things underway with Bob Weir fronting the group on a cover of John Phillips' country and western narrative, "Me And My Uncle," which would surface on the group's second double live album the following year. Next up is the Garcia/Hunter song, "Casey Jones," fresh and new at the time and performed with plenty of vitality. A rare treat surfaces next, with Pigpen fronting the band on a vibrant cover of James Brown's "It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World." The first known Grateful Dead performance of this song, which would only be performed a handful of times that year alone, proves to be a fine vehicle for Pigpen's gritty vocal style. Despite a poorly balanced mix at the beginning (which gradually improves, becoming near perfect by the 3 minute mark), this is quite remarkable for a debut performance and features particularly aggressive contributions from bassist Phil Lesh, who along with Garcia and Weir, provide the ragged but fully engaged backup vocals.
Following this three song opening sequence, Bob Weir announces that they'll be breaking out their acoustic guitars to regale the audience with some "wooden music." The next five numbers are all performed acoustically and include three key tracks from the new Workingman's Dead album, a fine traditional blues number and when the recording resumes, a sparkling new song, "Friend Of The Devil," already in progress. On this acoustic set, Garcia is the front man, assuming lead vocal responsibilities and clearly leading the way as they continue with the traditional "Deep Elum Blues." The remainder of the recording features three classic Garcia/Hunter compositions from Workingman's Dead performed back to back. This final sequence begins with one of the earliest live performances of "Candyman," followed by a deeply mournful "Black Peter" and concludes with a lovely acoustic take on "Uncle John's Band." Stripped down to their basic elements, these songs clearly display the band returning to their folk and blues roots with remarkable flare and style. All of these numbers feature impressive acoustic guitar work and expressive lead vocals from Garcia, with the band providing tastefully sparse accompaniment. Brand new to audiences at the time, these songs would soon become classics, destined to become staples of The Dead's repertoire for the next 25 years. Hearing these classic songs in stripped down acoustic form when they were so fresh and new is a rare treat that is sure to delight both casual and hard-core fans alike.