"Pigpen" McKernan - vocals, percussion
Jerry Garcia - guitar, vocals
Bob Weir - guitar, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass
Tom Constanten - keyboards
Bill Kreutzmann - drums
Mickey Hart - percussion
Throughout their monumental career, the Grateful Dead established a tradition of ringing in the New Year by performing in San Francisco, with only one exception. The 1969/70 New Year concerts were on the East coast, with New Year's eve at Boston's famed Tea Party venue, followed by a run of four shows at the Fillmore East on January 2 and 3, 1970, with Cold Blood and Lighthouse.
This was a particularly interesting time, as the band still had one foot firmly planted in the heavy psychedelic explorations of the 1969 era but were taking the early steps toward a new song-based sound. Garcia and Hunter were experiencing their first truly prolific phase, writing many of the songs that would be featured on Workingman's Dead and American Beauty and eventually come to define the group for a new, much larger fan base in the 1970's. These would be some of the last Grateful Dead shows to feature classically trained avant-garde keyboardist, Tom Constanten, who would soon depart the band.
This afternoon show on the second night of this run opens with "Morning Dew," a track from the Dead's first album. This post-apocalyptic folk song by Bonnie Dobson is brought to a new level with the seven-piece lineup. During the climactic jam toward the end, one can experience what a remarkable addition Tom Constanten was to the band, adding truly unique keyboard flourishes to the overall sound.
The set continues with Bob Weir in cowboy mode on John Phillips' "Me and My Uncle," a song that was resurfacing in their repertoire and would remain for the rest of their career.
Pigpen takes over for a rocking take on "Hard To Handle," an Otis Redding cover that they would continue to develop over the course of the year and bring to full force the following year.
Then we get our first taste of new Garcia/Hunter material with an early rendition of "Cumberland Blues." The Constanten keyboard sequence at the very beginning is particularly delightful and, since he would soon be gone, it's wonderful to hear his input on this song. It's also apparent that Bob Weir is becoming a gifted rhythm guitarist, with a style totally his own. This song gives a taste of where the Dead would soon be heading, with Hunter's lyrics taking on a rural Americana flavor and with a new focus on vocals that would translate these lyrics to the audience.
A return to their first album follows with "Cold Rain and Snow," but the performance is incredibly unfocused and sloppy.
Then we get the highlight of the set, Pigpen's "Alligator," which the band had not been playing much at this point. It's all the more remarkable in that they really hit some extraordinarily psychedelic peaks in the jam, full of the heavy electric intensity that is rarely found in early shows. During the drum sequence, Garcia continues playing, a rarity in itself and proof that he was ready to cut loose. Lesh soon does the same and, before you know it, the entire band is ripping into a great jam, with familiar themes rising in and out of the fray in rapid succession. Hints of "China Cat Sunflower" and "Going Down The Road Feeling Bad" are both heard, but the band is too fired up with ideas to settle into any one song. This improvisational workout cooks along for almost 15 minutes until it dissolves into wild but controlled compositional feedback and mind-melting noise to end the set.
The audience roars for more and the band returns for an encore. It begins tentatively but soon becomes a sweet rendition of "Uncle John's Band," another great new Garcia/Hunter tune.