Ron "Pigpen" McKernan - vocals, harmonica, organ; Jerry Garcia - guitar, vocals; Bob Weir - guitar, vocals; Phil Lesh - bass, vocals; Bill Kruetzmann - drums
Few 1967 Grateful Dead recordings survive and even fewer remain from early in the year, prior to the "Summer Of Love," when San Francisco would receive a mass influx of young people and its music and social scene would gain international media attention. These two Grateful Dead sets, which bookended a set by Chuck Berry, occurred the night after the band's debut album was released. Their local popularity had steadily been increasing and with their first album fresh on the streets, these shows had a celebratory atmosphere, no doubt in part due to being surrounded by friends and family.
Unlike almost any other time in their career, their studio recordings for their first album were a fairly accurate representation of what they were doing on stage. Many of the songs on the album, as well as this show, are amphetamine-fueled jug band numbers played on electric instruments. At this stage, Pigpen and Garcia clearly dominated the band's sound, with Lesh and Kruetzmann providing a propulsive bottom end. What they lacked in original material, they more than made up for in creativity and youthful energy.
The second post-Chuck Berry set is an altogether wilder and more experimental affair. The set opens with a double dose of the group's only two originals at that point in time, "The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)," written in honor of their local (pre-Dead Heads) fan club and the first Garcia original ever to be released, "Cream Puff War." By the end of the latter, the band is blazing.
The slow build on the smoldering blues, "The Same Thing," again features Pigpen at his grittiest and the jam that ensues shows a band full of fire with extraordinarily original improvisational ideas. By the end, one gets the feeling that the music is playing the musicians, rather than the other way around.
"Cold Rain And Snow" is much like the debut album version, but taken at an even faster clip. Then the band tackles the highlight of that first album, "Viola Lee Blues." Once again, the group gradually builds the intensity level as they progress through the verses. Jamming ensues with Garcia and Lesh leading the way. The tempo continues to increase, the key shifts, and they are once again improvising at an astounding level. At nearly 14 minutes, this is a truly extraordinary performance that is only marred by its rather abrupt ending.
The show concludes with an ominous early take on Reverend Gary Davis' classic "Death Don't Have No Mercy," a song they would explore in greater depth on their classic Live Dead album two years later. This is truly a time capsule of the founding lineup of the Grateful Dead right at the moment their first album was released. Little did they know what lay in store.