Jerry Garcia - lead guitar, vocals; "Pigpen" McKernan - vocals, organ, percussion; Bob Weir - guitar, vocals; Phil Lesh - bass, vocals; Bill Kreutzmann - drums
No band has been better documented by circulating live recordings than the Grateful Dead. Although vast quantities of recordings from the '70s are now easily accessible to collectors, tapes from the primal, early years of the band (1966-67) were extremely scarce.
Following Bill Graham's classic introduction, where he refers to the band as "the Charles Atlas of the psychedelic set," the band kicks things off with a high-speed performance of "Cold Rain and Snow." Garcia then leads the group through a rare performance of the rock and roll classic "High-Heeled Sneakers." Even at this early stage, Garcia's style and approach to the guitar, which reflects years of banjo picking, is uniquely his own.
Besides the set opener, only two other songs played this night would surface on the band's debut LP the following year: "Beat It On Down The Line," a vintage jug band tune sung by Bob Weir, and "Cream Puff War," Garcia's first original composition for the band. The latter would be one of only two original songs included on their first album and is likewise the only original performed here.
The remainder of the set features two covers that the band would continue to play for years: "Dancin' In The Streets" (which unfortunately fades out and is incomplete) and "He Was A Friend Of Mine." Otherwise, the show is primarily a showcase for lead singer, harmonica player and organist Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, who at this stage was clearly the focal point of the band.
Both "Pain In My Heart" and "The Same Thing" are great examples of Pigpen's gift for singing the blues, the latter developing into a freeform improvisation that allows the entire band to explore.
The last half hour of the set is a Pigpen tour-de-force, beginning with a sizzling take on "Smokestack Lightning" that segues into "King Bee," The arrangement's not unlike the early Rolling Stones version, but with considerably more power and authenticity.
The set closes with a lengthy improvisation on "In The Midnight Hour" that again showcases Pigpen. Stretched out to almost 19 minutes to accommodate dancing, this performance proves that Pigpen could improvise vocally just as well as the musicians could instrumentally. Herein lies the magic of the early Grateful Dead.