1971 was a good year to catch a live Grateful Dead show, and the Fillmore East was a good venue to catch them at. Ladies and Gentlemen...The Grateful Dead presents some four and a half hours of Grateful Dead garnered from their final five-day run at the Fillmore East in 1971 before it closed down for good. Compared to larger arenas, the 2400 seat venue had an intimate feel, but Bill Graham had decided to shut it down due to the high cost of bringing bands to the theater. While adjusting to the absence of their second ...
1971 was a good year to catch a live Grateful Dead show, and the Fillmore East was a good venue to catch them at. Ladies and Gentlemen...The Grateful Dead presents some four and a half hours of Grateful Dead garnered from their final five-day run at the Fillmore East in 1971 before it closed down for good. Compared to larger arenas, the 2400 seat venue had an intimate feel, but Bill Graham had decided to shut it down due to the high cost of bringing bands to the theater. While adjusting to the absence of their second percussionist Mickey Hart, the Grateful Dead are in good form for these performances. There are a number of great songs/jams on these four discs, starting with a gentle, nine-minute "Bird Song," which inspires a delicate vocal from Garcia. Lesh's bass work perfectly underpins his lead guitar lines. There's an excellent "Dark Star" that flows into "St. Stephen" and "Not Fade Away." Both "Bird Song" and "Dark Star" generate mellow, relaxed jams that fade calmly in and out of one's consciousness. A ten-minute "Morning Dew" is similarly peaceful, flowing and building to its climax, and one shouldn't miss Garcia's take on Merle Haggard's "Sing Me Back Home." Bob Weir is also in fine form, singing a superior version of "Dark Hollow" backed by some fancy, bluesy, fingerpicking by Garcia. Weir also shines on "Me and My Uncle," and a nice, five-minute version of "El Paso." The same relaxed confidence serves "Me and Bobby McGee," a perfect example of the Grateful Dead's ability to put their own stamp on someone else's song and make it work. There would be moments during the late '70s when Weir would speed up the vocals on songs like these, as though he were in a hurry to finish them. On these discs, though, he approaches the songs with an assured calm and turns in some of his best vocal work. Pigpen sings a number of songs on the album, and while he is in good form, his blues style seems increasingly at odds with the band the Grateful Dead was becoming. The band had always played funky blues workouts like "Mr. Charlie" and "Hard to Handle" well. But much of the blues material here seems to be a holdover, with cuts like the six-minute "It Hurts Me Too" going on forever. Even worse, is the shouting and sexual innuendoes throughout "Turn on Your Lovelight" and "Good Lovin'." Pigpen fans will undoubtedly find these observations unkind, and point out that these were some of his better performances during what Blair Jackson calls, "his last truly healthy tour." Still, the band was in the process of change, adding lots of new material, and this growth moved them away from their earlier, more bluesy, more Pigpen centered incarnation. Ladies and Gentlemen...The Grateful Dead may not present the perfect performance, but it does provide a nice document of the band during their early-'70s glory days. This was an exciting time for the band, and these four discs capture that feeling. It is perhaps somewhat ironic that releases like this one and the Dick's Picks series have revealed the depth and ability of the band much better than any of their studio releases from the same period. One no longer needs to be an avid tape collector to hear the Grateful Dead at their best. ~ Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr., Rovi
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