Seal That Silver Mine #2: 6/24/70

In which the room is electric, even during the acoustic set.

It occurred to me while I was writing this just how odd it seems to be willing to go out to a music venue and crowd in around a bunch of other people and hear some band. That proximity to other people feels fraught right now, dangerous instead of exciting. I hope soon we can return to a world where such a thing doesn’t feel like such a needless risk. 

Anyway, this week it’s my turn, and this recording of this show reminds you why we go to shows in the first place—what it feels like when it works. —KL

June 24, 1970: Capitol Theater, Port Chester, NY

Listen along: Archive link

Against my better instincts, for my first Seal That Silver Mine show, I'm starting at something very near the top, and at the same time subjecting y’all to a show that only exists as an audience tape: the Dead's late show from June 24, 1970 at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York.

1

When I first got into the Dead, I did it in my usual way. I knew about "Casey Jones," and I knew about Live/Dead, but after years of resisting it, one day I watched the "China Cat" > "I Know You Rider" from the legendary Sunshine Daydream Veneta '72 show and things started falling into place. Once I was into it, just like everything else I do, I was really into it. When I get really into things, I usually read everything on the internet that I can find about it, and so at some point I read literally every post on the Grateful Dead Listening Guide.

I was 8 when Jerry Garcia died. I never saw the Dead, and never liked jam bands (and still kind of don't, generally). I've gotten all this music from the Internet, which means that all of the eras of the Dead–the sloppy garage band of 1966, the lysergic ecstasies of '67 and '68, the heaviness and lightness of '69, each year and sometimes each season with its own particular flavor–as the song says, "all the years combine." It's all available at once. What that means is that without a guide, there's just flat-out too much of it.

So I consumed the Grateful Dead Listening Guide like it was a roadmap for my life, reading as many posts as I could, bookmarking shows to come back to, listening to them in chronological order, trying to dive as deeply into this music as I could, until I got to 6/24/70.

I was coming into it all on my own, so I didn't have any contact with the larger Deadhead world. This is a legendary show, and a legendary tape. But I had no idea what shows were "the ones" and that there was a 45-year oral tradition about which shows were part of the canon; I just knew that this blog said this show was good, and so I gave it a listen.

2

The Dead were rolling in 1970. The early summer shows fall between Workingman's Dead and American Beauty, the two studio albums of theirs that rock critics actually like, and right before they set off on the Festival Express tour of Canada. The dusty Americana of their new material gave a timelessness to the music, a down-and-out outlaw's experience of the sacred. Mickey Hart had a gong.

Meanwhile, Bear was either in jail or about to be, so there was nobody taping the soundboards of most of these shows. The only reason there's a document of this one is an audience tape — one of the best Dead audience tapes there is — and the same can't be said for much of '70 Dead. If it wasn't at the Fillmores (East and West), a bunch of it is gone into the mists of time. They apparently played in Memphis just five days before this show, but no recording has ever turned up. My former employer, the Memphis Flyer, covered that show on the eve of the band's 1995 run in town.

Even though the whole year is great — the acoustic sets, the New Riders of the Purple Sage sets with Garcia playing pedal steel, the electric ecstasies, the classic albums — there's a sense in which it's the culmination of the original Dead lineup and thus the original Dead vibe. By February of 1971, Mickey Hart would be gone. Keith Godchaux (though not yet Donna) would join later in '71 and Pigpen would fade into first a mascot and then a ghost. They'd never make a studio followup to American Beauty, opting to capture the sequel material live on Europe '72. After a brief '71 detour into cowboy songs and "The Other One," the sound would get jazzier, more open, weirder, twitchier. Garcia would switch from his biting and fat Gibson SG to the "Peanut Guitar," an array of Stratocasters and then finally to Alligator, moving his sound towards something brighter, snappier, stringier. Things would never be like this again.

3

There was an early show on 6/24/70, but I've only listened to it a few times. The late show contains the magic. Both performances follow the format of a typical evening with the Dead in this season: an acoustic set, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, and then an electric set. The early show was at 8PM, and the late show started at midnight. 

The late show acoustic set isn't as good as the set from the early show, which is on the same source tape that we'll be switching to for the late show electric set. It's worth exploring on its own, but that's a different show, so we won't get into it here. As for the late show, the first set recording ain't great, but it's what we have, and we can't build to the electric set without the acoustic context. And besides, the crowd sounds like they're having a blast.

Things kick off with an acoustic Big Railroad Blues, with Pigpen on harmonica. If you just listen to official live releases, it's easy to forget that Pigpen actually, y'know, did stuff. In 1970, his hold on the musical direction of the group was all but gone, but as long as they kept doing this blues-inflected material, Pig was always going to be able to find his lane. After the first song, Bob threatens to kill whomever is responsible for turning up the monitors, and the band moves into Deep Elem Blues. Garcia really sings this one. I'd argue that 1970 — the Workingman's Dead material especially — is when he really found his singing voice in general, and on the acoustic sets he can actually hear himself, so that even on these muddled audience tapes, he sounds great.

I don't really care much for The Monkey and the Engineer, The Rub, or Silver Threads and Golden Needle, but they go down smooth (great taste/less filling) here in their proper context.

Friend of the Devil hasn't even been put to (studio) tape yet, so it sounds fresh and fast here. I'm partial to the slow jam version, especially its first few outings from '76, which I think brings out the sadness at the core of what here, in 1970, still sounds like an upbeat cowboy song about Satan running off with your last twenty bucks. Candyman is slower than the album version, and Garcia sings the hell out of it, and he, Weir, and Lesh are nailing the three-part harmonies live. Also, this song mentions Memphis, which earns it an additional half-star, no questions asked.

I've played rock shows before, real ones, with people and everything, and I didn't dare take three whole minutes to tune my guitar and say nothing on the mic. These were different times, I guess.

There's electric guitar and bass on the Cumberland Blues after the long tuning break, and a good one, but this song works better with the full Europe '72 treatment. Cold Jordan has mandolin and bass vocals from John Dawson (alias Marmaduke) from the New Riders of the Purple Sage, a nice setup for their set, which follows. I like Pedal Steel Jerry, but I'm weird. It's a really good set from them, if you're into such things, and I recommend checking it out.

The crowd is audibly bummed when the Beatles’ “Come Together” starts playing over the PA and the band takes a break... but this is where we'll fast forward our cassettes and skip over the New Riders.

4

The electric set, the second Dead set but third overall set of the show, which apparently started at midnight and was now pushing well into the wee hours of the morning, is where the magic is. Even from the tuning, you can tell how clear of an audience recording this is. With good headphones on, you can feel the shape of the room, hear the people murmuring around you, almost hear where the amps are on the stage.

There's a very cursory intro and the band launches into a ferocious Not Fade Away. The crowd is clapping, the guitars are ringing out, you can hear both drummers actually playing together (and lemme tell you, it didn't always happen that way). It sounds fun to have been in the room

The buoyant joy of this opening number will carry all the way through to the end. 

In the breaks after the verses of NFA, Phil sounds great, ripping off the same kinds of runs as Garcia and always landing back on the root. Things stay in that bluesy mode for while, but at around four minutes they shift into something more minor key, doing that Grateful Dead thing where the whole band turns at once with no warning like a school of fish, with Garcia even throwing off some little polyrhythmic lines like he's trying to pull them into The Other One. Soon they modulate into some major-key jamming. Phil tries to throw in the bassline from the Mind Left Body Jam but nobody bites, and they're back into the last verse, and Pigpen starts singing out for the first time...

...which makes Bobby start playing Easy Wind, and then Jerry picks it up at the same time Phil does, and then the drummers lock in, and all of a sudden the tempo eases up a little and we're rolling along with a great Pigpen number. He sounds great here, and the crowd has never stopped clapping, breaking out into cheers every time the band changes time signatures or tempos. I usually don't like audience tapes, or anyway I certainly don't prefer them, but this one... this one... if you couldn't hear what it was like to be there, it wouldn't be as transcendent. Normally I wouldn't be down for an 8 minute Pigpen song, but this one works. It works so well there's a two-minute break afterward while somebody (Garcia?) changes a string.

The next song is Me And My Uncle, which will eventually become Bobby's favorite go-to cowboy song, getting done to death from here all the way through the 1975 hiatus. This is a good one, but it feels a little dashed off here, like filler while they're trying to get the vibe right for something else. The recording I'm listening to has a two minute and thirty second track next entitled "Mickey sorts out his gongs." At 1:20, Jerry says "Mickey has to get his gongs all together, we're gonna do Dark Star. There will be a minute or two of respectful silence while Mickey fiddles aimlessly around the stage."

The 6/24/70 late show Dark Star, and everything inside and following, is what makes this show a 10 out of 10 for me. Garcia flubs the first note, a fret too high on his guitar, and drops out for a second, but then comes back in on the treble pickup and Phil and Bobby immediately start pushing the tempo, Garcia's leads cascading down in spiraling runs into the melody, and then into the lower register of his guitar (you can tell by the honk in his tone here that he's back to his Gibson SG for this show). Things flutter around, looking for a foothold, until they settle the tempo and the dynamics back down to something approximating cruising altitude for the first verse. This section resists the verse, pushing back up and then back down to a pretty up-tempo reading. It'll be about 22 uninterrupted minutes of music before they get to the second one.

After the first verse, the band falls off the cliff into a deep, rushing Space, propelled by those gongs everybody was just making so much fun of. The guitars are ringing but not quite feeding back, the room falls silent–you can actually hear how totally quiet the room is–and the noise starts building, first from the gongs, and then from the guitars, and then more of the guitars, and somebody really close to the right microphone says "Oh my God" just as Garcia and Lesh start falling into a different key–teasing Attics of my Life but not quite getting there, before the ringing takes back over and the Space totally unfurls, but as soon as the gongs die down, there's Garcia again, pulling them back into Attics.

Attics of my Life is like church music for me. Could be because I grew up in the Church of Christ and I’m a sucker for harmonies, but the album version is a hymn, and it's trying to be one here, too. It's shaky at first, though, too fast, with Garcia trying to push it back slower but nobody going with him. They nail the harmonies, though, and the guitars are beautiful, and eventually the vibe sorts itself out. This is still early in its life, maybe the 6th or 7th time they played it, before it had been recorded. It's sweet here, and the faster pace makes it feel lighter, less serious, a joyful beauty instead of something ponderous. It's over quickly, and as Dark Star flies back to life out of the closing chord, the crowd cheers.

This second stretch of Dark Star wanders a bit before settling into a slowed down, honey-dripped Tighten Up Jam, which would eventually turn into Eyes of the World later down the road, but here, it's mellow, laid back, ringing out in the spirit of the night. The intensity slowly escalates as the jam builds out, until finally you can almost feel the looks in the headphones, everybody on stage wondering where they're going to go next, and as Bob drops back down into the standard Dark Star rhythm parts, Jerry is looking to shred, Phil finally gets his Mind Left Body jam for about twenty seconds, and then Garcia starts playing the opening chords of Sugar Magnolia.

This is only the second time they'd ever played Sugar Magnolia, and it takes them forever to get to the first verse–maybe because the first verse is all there was at this point, and the first time they played it the whole thing nearly crashed and burned. This is a funky take on a song that would eventually become an all-out set-closing rocker, taken at a weird half-time pace that makes it feel closer to something like Easy Wind than maybe it should. Here, it works. There's just not much of a song there yet, and so it's over not long after it starts.

Dark Star comes bursting back through, but instead of its little bouncing drum parts, the drummers are really digging into the kick drums, keeping the funky propulsion of Sugar Magnolia going underneath a high-intensity Dark Star freakout, which makes for a groove unlike any other I've heard, and I've listened to a lot of Dark Stars. After a minute or two of that, the drums dissipate back down to their supporting role, and they finally get around to the second verse, which almost falls apart on them at the end, before things take their Live/Dead turn towards St. Stephen.

This is obviously a very popular song with the Deadheads in attendance on this night. You can hear the crowd cheering because they know what's coming as they build into the little circular intro of St. Stephen. Every time the key changes, another wave of cheers breaks out, and when the song finally comes in, the whole room is clearly euphoric. This is a little slower St. Stephen than the Live/Dead one, in keeping with the whole night: there's no need to rush anything here. This is all one groove. The solos tumble by like blown leaves.

Things escalate again after the “One man gathers what another man spills” section: there are no solos, just one unified burst after another, the crowd losing their minds, like everybody in the room is willing the energy level higher, and higher, and higher, until finally the song almost totally breaks down, before the band turns on a dime and kicks into the last verse.

You'd forgive them for taking a break here, coming back out for an encore, and calling it a night, given that it's probably about three in the morning by now, but that's not what happens. Instead, Garcia immediately kicks into China Cat Sunflower, and it's one of those funky/bouncy '70 ones. China Cat wouldn't really lock in for me until the one-drummer Dead period to follow, but these 1970 versions have their own country funk thing going that I also dig. The little Dixieland breaks between verse where Jerry, Bob, and Phil are all playing different solos at the same time never get old, and the weird ambiguous space where they're basically playing China Cat and I Know You Rider at the same time is a trick that I don't think many groups can pull off, much less play as effortlessly as the Dead did several nights a week. This China Cat twangs in a way that it won't later, but this is where they were in the summer of '70.

At the end of I Know You Rider, the music finally stops. For those of you keeping score at home, that's a Dark Star > Attics Of My Life > Dark Star > Sugar Magnolia > Dark Star > St. Stephen > China > Rider.

The last song is Uncle John's Band, a perfect mood to close the evening with, bringing everybody back down to earth gently. There's another encore — for which they brought the acoustic guitars back out — Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. It ends with church music, just like it ought to.

Imagine walking out of a theater a couple hours before dawn having just seen and heard this. Your ears are ringing. You feel electric, charged like a battery. You can feel the warmth of the crowd on the tape, everybody along for the ride, and I have to imagine that people were high-fiving strangers all the way back to their cars, going out to some all-night diner to get breakfast because they were too wired, too high, too joyous to sleep.

— Kevin Lipe

The Other One

I’ve only lived in San Antonio for a few years, but one of the first local musicians I developed a true fondness for is weirdo-country artist Garrett T Caps. He really embodies a delightful element of the local culture. 

“‘All Right, All Night’ is a journey through Texas on a space ship that launches from San Antone,” Caps wrote in the packet promoting the new single. “I am the captain.”

I have particularly enjoyed his emergence as a local honky tonk bar owner. When all this shit clears up, go check it out. It’s The Lonesone Rose in San Antonio. https://www.thelonesomerose.com

— Ed Arnold