The Grateful Dead – “Road Trips Vol. 3, No. 3: Fillmore East 5-15-70” (2010)

August 21, 2012 at 10:09 am (Music, Reviews & Articles, The Grateful Dead)

Back to Doug Collette we get this review the next in the Road Trips series, dated Aug. 21, 2010 from the All About Jazz site…

This edition of Grateful Dead’s Road Trips albums, Volume 3, No. 3, may be the pinnacle of the archive series as in summer 2010 it approaches its third anniversary. The three main discs capture the iconic San Francisco band at the Fillmore East in New York in May of 1970 (a fourth, bonus disc includes more from that run plus content from the previous tour stop), just prior to the release of a studio album, Workingman’s Dead (Warner Bros., 1970) that signalled a paradigm shift in its style.

The flowering of the Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter songwriting team, combined with the former’s new fascination with the pedal steel guitar, ushered in a rediscovery of roots folk and country music that enabled the Dead to effectively balance the open-ended improvisational approach they had honed since 1968. At the very same time, this alteration also allowed them to move in the more economical and structured direction that had just worked so well in the studio with Workingman’s Dead.

Yet, as depicted on the bonus disc (like the best of such Road Trips inclusions, a snapshot of the main contents), the music was of a piece. The Dead’s electric sets contrasted effectively with the early portion of the show where they concentrated on traditional music, sprinkling in new material like “New Speedway Boogie.” The band displays a relaxed, casual air that’s ideally suited to the comparatively quiet music, whether original or not.

Garcia himself is in good humor and fine voice—indeed the Dead never sang better than here—responding to jocular audience heckling and singing with force and discipline on “I Know You Rider.” Keyboardist Ron McKernan, aka “Pigpen,” remained a focal point of the Dead’s shows at this juncture and he contributed significantly to both portions of their concert . Lightning Hopkins’ “The Rub” is ideal for the salty persona that also permeates “Turn on Your Lovelight.”

The Dead never entirely abandoned its role as a dance band, even when working so assiduously the couple years prior on extended suites of more experimental material. Thus it is the aforementioned Pigmen spotlights,”Good Lovin'” and “Turn on Your Lovelight,” had their share of instrumental fireworks, much of it coming in fusillades of percussion from drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, that upped the level of intensity of the vocalist’s own engagement. Thanks to the astute editing of producers David Lemiux and Blair Jackson, the intervals including those staples flow seamlessly into the group’s cogent exploration of space and silence in “Dark Star,” where bassist Phil Lesh’s navigation of the band is as prominent as on the r&b numbers.

Similarly, the most recently composed original material from Garcia and Hunter, like “Casey Jones” and “Cumberland Blues,” sounded like it was written for the same band, albeit one taking a markedly different approach to its interactions. The unit that would romp so freely through a segue of tried and true improvisational vehicles like “St. Stephen,” proved equally comfortable playing efficiently and digging into a groove. It’s well to remember that the Dead’s fascination with folk and country styles was a rediscovery of those musics (slightly less so the latter in the contemporary likes of “Silver Threads and Golden Needles”) from their earliest days playing as Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions.

Spanning this diversity stretched the band and its listeners. Sewing together “St.Stephen” and “Not Fade Away” shook the audiences viscerally in direct proportion to the degree “Black Peter” comforted them psychically. This was particularly important when the band continued to explored music for the head in the form of “That’s It for the Other One.” The Grateful Dead’s greatest distinction may, in fact, be the breadth of material they traversed during the course of their career and they really began to expand their scope at the time these performances were recorded.

Doug Collette


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