"Pigpen" McKernan - vocals, organ; Jerry Garcia - guitar, vocals; Bob Weir - guitar, vocals; Phil Lesh - bass, vocals; Bill Kreutzmann - drums; Mickey Hart - drums; Guest: Steve Winwood - organ, vocals; Guest: Chris Wood - percussion, vocals; Guest: Will Scarlett - harmonica
Following Frank Zappa's November 14th Fillmore East performance, Grace Slick came up on stage and announced that the Dead and the Airplane would be playing an unannounced concert there on Monday evening, November 16th. According to some Airplane scholars, the very pregnant Slick was unable to make the gig and Hot Tuna had to fill in as substitutes. This may also explain why this show does not appear in ads or playbills, having only been planned at the last minute.
Traffic, the Dead and Hot Tuna were likely on this unscheduled bill, as Winwood, Wood and Scarlett sit in on the Dead set and their contributions are easily distinguishable.
This Grateful Dead set captures the band toward the end of their rhythmically dense double drummer sound. They were beginning to simplify song arrangements down to their essential elements. A new airy mixing style, where each instrument could be clearly and distinctly heard was beginning to characterize the band's sound. Phil Lesh fans will love this recording, as the low end is punchy, dynamic and clear throughout.
The recording begins with the last seconds of Bill Graham's introduction and they open things up with a bouncy rendition of "Casey Jones," a tune that was enjoying some success as a hit on FM radio at the time. A cover of John Phillips "Me and My Uncle" follows before the set continues with a fully electric version of "Friend Of the Devil."
"Cold Rain and Snow" is up next, considerably slowed down from its hyper arrangement on the Dead's debut LP, and with a much more enjoyable groove as a result. Pigpen then steps to the front and leads the band on a slow burn through "King Bee," here performed in a similar slow blues style to The Rolling Stones' version, but with more authenticity. The classic pairing of "China Cat Sunflower" and "I Know You Rider" is up next and one can hear the beginnings of the distinctive transitional jam that would soon become a highlight of the combination.
Following a few minutes of downtime, during which we can hear the audience cheering and lots of chatter and movement onstage, we discover that Traffic members, Winwood and Wood have walked onstage to join in on the fun. With no fanfare or guest introductions, Winwood takes over on Pigpen's organ, Wood grabs some percussion instruments, and the band breaks into Otis Redding's "Hard To Handle." Pigpen is again front and center, adding all the soulful vocals an audience could handle. Winwood plays a little tentatively, feeling his way into the band, but after a few minutes, fits right in as the crew takes off on the first jam of the night. The set continues with an early, in progress rendition of "Big Railroad Blues." The harmonica sound of early Hot Tuna is now added to the mix, as Will Scarlet has meanwhile joined the musicians onstage.
At this point, an experiment begins, developing from within the form of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away." This unusual rendition finds Chris Wood attempting to lead on vocals, but he obviously doesn't know the words very well, and basically makes them up as he goes along. Winwood, Weir and Garcia attempt to help by adding some "she bop bop bops" to fill out the unusual vocals, but the tune still comes across as somewhat out of control. Nonetheless, there's a lot to enjoy in this loose jam sequence, notably an interesting "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad" sandwiched in the middle. The guest musicians exit the stage at this point, but prior to "Mama Tried," the onstage hilarity continues as Weir can be heard singing "The Frozen Logger" off mic, with members of the audience egging him on.
With the end of their set closing in, the band invites Scarlet back onstage before launching into a thunderous version of "Truckin." Things really get cooking, with Lesh and the drummers adding a propulsive base and Garcia and Scarlet trading tasty flavorings all over the place. As the jam begis, hints of "The Other One" can clearly be heard, and without the usual drum lead-in, they propel right into it, and jam ferociously for another 10 minutes or so. This is certainly one of the highlights of the performance, not to mention a kickass closer to their set.
The encore, "Uncle John's Band" is radically different from all other performances of the classic tune, particularly for a beautiful prelude improvisation featuring Scarlet, who remains an appropriately prominent feature throughout.