Road Trips, Vol. 3, No. 3: Fillmore East
[May 15, 1970 - Early & Late Shows]
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2010, Volume 17, #12
Written by John Metzger
Wed December 8, 2010, 06:30 AM CST
Because it contains material that has been a fixture of the Grateful Deadís vibrant tape-trading circuit for decades, there are no revelations to be found on Road Trips, Vol. 3, No. 3. Nevertheless, this particular installment of the groupís ongoing series of archival releases has been long overdue. Boasting a quartet of jam-packed discs, Road Trips, Vol. 3, No. 3 features almost all of the music that the band performed over the course of two concerts that were held at Bill Grahamís legendary Fillmore East on May 15, 1970. The endeavor also includes a handful of magnificent highlights that were plucked from the previous night in St. Louis. Despite the widespread availability of these recordings, Road Trips, Vol. 3, No. 3 is a vital addition to the Grateful Deadís canon. Not only is the music phenomenal, but these recordings also have never before sounded this pristine.
The concerts at the Fillmore East that are replicated on Road Trips, Vol. 3, No. 3 occurred during a critical juncture of the Grateful Deadís career. The band was undergoing a monumental upheaval. Spurred by his burgeoning partnership with lyricist Robert Hunter, Jerry Garcia had begun to assume a bigger role within the group. At the time of the shows, the Grateful Dead was getting ready to launch Workingmanís Dead; American Beauty would follow it to market before the end of the year. With a larger stash of songs in its repertoire ó which seemed to grow exponentially every time the outfit returned to the road ó the Grateful Dead had a broader range of styles at its disposal. While many of its sonic explorations continued to be rooted within the blues idiom, the outfit was starting to learn that it no longer was limited to building its psychedelic sojourns around tried-and-true, R&B-based grooves.
Road Trips, Vol. 3, No. 3 captures the Grateful Dead within the midst of this transition. Split between acoustic and electric sets, the bandís stylistic forays remained heavily compartmentalized. Nevertheless, the collection features the best of both worlds that the Grateful Dead had established. In some ways, the outfit was returning to its jug-band days, picking up pieces to the overall puzzle of its career, ones that hadnít necessarily disappeared completely from its work but had, at least, been subdued by its late í60s diversions.
Armed with traditional instrumentation, Bob Weir dabbled in country textures via Silver Threads & Golden Needles and Long Black Limousine ó the former was a hit for rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson, while the latter had been a recent addition to Elvis Presleyís repertoire. Meanwhile, Garcia was unearthing songs that were staples of the folk and bluegrass scenes: Ballad of Casey Jones, Deep Elem Blues, Cold Jordan, and Bill Monroeís A Voice from on High, among them. Pigpen still routinely delved into the blues, but his renditions of a trio of Lightniní Hopkins-penned tunes ó Ainít It Crazy (The Rub), Katie Mae, and Sheís Mine ó conveyed the rural ambience of the collectiveís revolutionized persona.
Given that many of these songs were infrequent visitors to the Grateful Deadís set lists ó some of the tunes are making their recorded debuts on Road Trips, Vol. 3, No. 3 ó it is not surprising that they sometimes were delivered with considerably less confidence than the band brought to its original material. A Voice from on High and Cold Jordan, in particular, were as intriguing as they were unrefined. Meanwhile, the steady, pensive plodding of Black Peter conjured foreboding darkness, while Friend of the Devilís light gallop as well as the easy-going strum of Uncle Johnís Band embodied the intimacy of a campfire gathering. Toward the end of 1970, the Grateful Dead retired its acoustic sets; when they briefly returned a decade later, the music was less ramshackle.
Fully amplified affairs, the latter half of the Grateful Deadís performances at the Fillmore East exuded the rambunctious energy that epitomized the outfitís mind-warping sojourns from the late 1960s. All of the heavy-hitting songs from the groupís repertoire were present ó an epic rendition of Thatís It for the Other One, a pair of explosive romps through St. Stephen, the hazily spiritual overtones of Dark Star, and ferocious covers of Good Loviní and Turn on Your Lovelight. Showcasing the Grateful Deadís mastery of musical dynamics, moments of full-throttled fury pressed against passages of tender fragility. As usual, the material was twisted into a variety of shapes that allowed the band and its fans to view them from fresh perspectives.
In spite of the many familiar touchstones that lined the Grateful Deadís performances at the Fillmore East, it is clear that the bandís sound was beginning to mutate. The two versions of I Know You Rider that surfaced during the concerts ó both of which are included on Road Trips, Vol. 3, No. 3 ó highlight how dramatically and quickly its approach was shifting. Performed with acoustic instruments at the onset of the early show, the song assumed a weary, heavyhearted moodiness that stood in stark contrast to the more familiar interpretations that the Grateful Dead delivered throughout its career. Even in 1970, the tune ó almost to a fault ó had become inseparable from China Cat Sunflower. Sure enough, it was presented in this fashion during the late-night electric set. Right from the start, these tracks fit together naturally. Still in an embryonic form, the pairing typified the joy of discovery that permeated this era of the Grateful Deadís rich history.
Of Further Interest...
Road Trips, Vol. 3, No. 3: Fillmore East, 5/15/70 is NOT available
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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