Jerry Garcia - guitar, vocals; Ron "Pigpen" McKernan - vocals, organ, percussion; Bob Weir - guitar, vocals; Phil Lesh - bass, vocals; Bill Kruetzman - drums
Performing a benefit concert for the Sufi Choir of San Francisco, the Grateful Dead take the stage of Winterland before a hometown audience. With the recent departure of drummer Mickey Hart, the Dead return to the initial quintet lineup of their first album. This was yet another transitional time for the band, following the release of their two most popular albums, Workingman's Dead and American Beauty, when the band would return to playing shorter, more traditionally structured songs that emphasized vocals. Although this early 1971 era would feature less improvisation and experimentation overall, it would be a time of enormous growth in terms of songwriting, with Garcia and Robert Hunter becoming a prolific songwriting team and Bob Weir now contributing many of the songs that would come to define his place in the band. With many new lyric-driven songs entering the live repertoire and stripped back down to their core elements, this was perhaps the Dead at the most accessible time in their career. The live self-titled Grateful Dead album from this era (originally to be called Skullfuck, but commonly known as "Skull & Roses" from its iconic cover art) included an enticing "Dead Freaks Unite" invitation inside the gatefold cover. Decades before the Internet, this initial mail correspondence between the group and its fans spawned "Dead Heads," one of the most enduring and committed fan communities of all time.
The first set of the evening kicks off with Bob Weir leading the way with one of his new songs, "Greatest Story Ever Told," destined to surface on his first solo album the following year. It's a high-energy opener that segues directly into a spirited take on Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode," also recently added to the live repertoire. Pigpen fronts the band next on a bluesy romp on "Next Time You See Me" that has the group sounding tight and focused. Taking turns, it's Garcia up next as he delivers a fine early reading of "Loser," a tune destined for his first solo album. With slightly different lyrics at this early stage, it's obvious that this is destined to become a staple and indeed it would remain in regular setlist rotation for the rest of the band's career.
The one extended musical sequence of the set occurs next, with "Truckin'" into an impressive drum solo from Bill Kruetzman that leads up to "The Other One." Although less adventurous than the "Truckin'/Other One" pairing would eventually become, both are fiery performances. Bassist Phil Lesh and drummer Bill Kruetzman are both quite extraordinary here, equally propelling the direction as much as the frontline guitarists. It should also be noted that the recording mix on this show is outstanding, with instruments and vocals crisp and clear. The balance between instruments is also near perfect, allowing listeners to hear every nuance and interaction between these musicians, which is particularly enjoyable during the spontaneous fury that develops in "The Other One."
Another new song follows, as Garcia fronts the band on "Bertha," an up-tempo rocker also destined to become a long-term band staple. Bob Weir's "Sugar Magnolia" was just reaching full fruition on stage at this time and this is a fine example that delights the audience. Pigpen again takes over for a smoldering "King Bee" that returns to the bluesy roots of the band. Staying in a rootsy mood, the first set concludes with their amped-up arrangement of the jugband tune, "Beat It On Down The Line," Bob Weir's showcase song on the group's debut album.