Ron "Pigpen" McKernan - vocals, harmonica, percussion; Jerry Garcia - guitar, vocals; Bob Weir - guitar, vocals; Phil Lesh - bass, vocals; Bill Kruetzman - drums; Mickey Hart - drums, percussion
After several years of musical experimentation and exploration, 1970 would begin a period of transition for The Grateful Dead, where they would expand the range of their music and in doing so begin reaching a broader audience. The band released two outstanding albums that year, Workingman's Dead, and American Beauty, which would largely fuel the group's live repertoire for the next decade and beyond. This pair of albums would also signal the beginning of lyricist Robert Hunter's most prolific and inspired era, where his writing took on a new focus and clarity. Likewise, The Dead's music was taking on a new focus and clarity as they began consciously returning to their roots. This year would signal a return to shorter structured song forms that incorporated stylistic elements from the late 1950s/early 1960s folk, country and blues revivals that initially inspired bandleaders Jerry Garcia and Ron "Pigpen" McKernan to begin playing music together.
This influx of new songs and the expanded diversity of material led to a revamping of their live performances, which began featuring multiple sets providing the musicians the opportunity to play in several configurations. Often billed in 1970 as "An Evening With The Grateful Dead," their concerts were exactly that; a full evening of broad ranging music that also included The New Riders Of The Purple Sage and often ran until the wee hours of the morning. Many of The Dead's most inspired performances that year occurred at Bill Graham's venues, Fillmore East and West and at Winterland, where audiences always embraced the band and the staff and stage crews had become old friends.
Although short for Grateful Dead performances that year, one of the most historic occurred on October 4, 1970, when Bill Graham presented the cream of the crop of seminal San Francisco bands on a quadruple bill at Winterland. Beginning with The New Riders Of The Purple Sage and The Grateful Dead, who were then followed by Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service (augmented by a horn section for the occasion), this night would go down in history for a number of reasons. Although it turned out not to be the case, Bill Graham would publicize this event as Quicksilver's farewell performance assuring a sellout at Winterland that left many clamoring for tickets. To accommodate the demand, a local television and radio simulcast was devised, but unlike any simulcast that had been attempted before this one had a visionary concept -- quadraphonic surround sound! At a time that long predated multichannel broadcasting this was achieved by transmitting live over 2 FM radio stations simultaneously. San Francisco's TV station, KQED, would broadcast the video signal, the rear audio channels over their sister FM station and San Francisco's KSAN FM would simulcast the front two audio channels. To experience the quadraphonic mix required listeners to set up 2 FM receivers and two stereo systems in the same room. Conspicuously missing from this monumental night of seminal San Francisco bands was Janis Joplin and Big Brother & The Holding Co, which had parted ways two years prior. Sadly nobody would ever see Janis Joplin again as she passed away this very same night just a few hundred miles away in Los Angeles, a news flash that was intentionally kept from the performers.
Primitive videotapes of this event are rumored to exist in KQED's archive, but have never been seen and have never surfaced even in part. The same cannot be said for the audio, as numerous recordings were made of the FM broadcasts and within a few months, bootleg vinyl pressings of the second half of the Grateful Dead's set began surfacing. At a time when collecting Grateful Dead live recordings was in it's infancy, those bootleg albums containing excerpts of this night's performance were for many their first taste of unreleased Dead.
Presented here is nearly the entire Grateful Dead performance from that night, sourced from a stereo master reel recording of the KSAN transmission. Following a few last seconds of the KSAN DJ's introduction, the recording kicks off with the second song of The Grateful Dead's set, an extremely rare live performance of the American Beauty gem, "Till The Morning Comes." Only performed a handful of times ever, this is a delight to hear live and is followed by "Brokedown Palace," also off of American Beauty. By the end of these first two numbers, what makes this night's recordings so special is becoming apparent. Not only is there an emphasis on new material, but the band has a unique sound on this recording. A big factor is bassist Phil Lesh, who is extremely prominent in the mix and has an extraordinarily thick, punchy tone that is very well defined. Throughout this set, Lesh stands out not only on his instrument but on vocals as well adding to the ragged harmonies of Garcia and Weir. Also of note is the lack of any keyboard. The story goes that the crew forgot to bring Pigpen's organ, but for whatever reason this is one of the only times in the entire history of the band that they performed in an electric configuration without a keyboard element.
Although a several second dropout marred the beginning of the next song (the dropout is edited out, but the edit is audible), a fine punchy reading of "Next Time You See Me" follows, with Pigpen fronting the band and blowing blues harp. The next three numbers dip further back into the Dead's catalogue, with their covers of the Traditionals "Cold Rain and Snow" and "I Know You Rider," with a standout performance of their own "China Cat Sunflower" in between. This "China/Rider" is easily one of the best of that year, with Lesh and Weir both trading plenty of licks with Garcia.
The centerpiece of this set follows with Pigpen again fronting the band on a high spirited "Good Lovin." Here the song serves as a vehicle for stretching out a bit and features the only extended improvisation of this set. After the initial vocal sequence, an engaging call and response solo ensues between the drummers followed by a terrific jam. Although brief by Dead standards, this improvisation features some furious playing, particularly from Lesh and Garcia who truly propel each other here. By the time Pigpen steers them back to the song's concluding verse, nearly 17 minutes have elapsed since the song began.
Next up is "Sugar Magnolia," Bob Weir's signature song from American Beauty. One of the earliest performances and unquestionably one of the most interesting, the group is still clearly experimenting with this song, particularly Garcia, whose every lick is drenched in wah-wah pedal. The "Sunshine Daydream" coda is particularly rocked out here and although Weir vocally stumbles a bit, it detracts little from a fascinating performance.
The set closes with a one-two punch of Workingman's Dead material - "Casey Jones" followed by "Uncle John's Band," both of which were becoming FM radio staples at this time. "Casey Jones" is a somewhat ramshackle performance, with Garcia fumbling on a few lyrics, but it still has the sparkle of being fresh and new. The "Uncle John's Band" that concludes the set is another highlight, performed totally electric and with the front line all singing forcefully. Despite the post-verses jam not straying far from the studio recording, it is played with a fire and passion that concludes this set in inspired form. After The Dead's set, Jefferson Airplane would take the stage, followed by Quicksilver Messenger Service. (Bershaw)