Thursday, July 28, 2005

Rolling Stone reviews Fillmore Box Set


Dead Come Alive on Box
Ten-disc set captures legendary 1969 Fillmore West stand

The Grateful Dead recorded their historic double LP Live/Dead -- the first of their many multidisc concert albums -- during a four-night stand, February 27th through March 2nd, 1969, at San Francisco's Fillmore West. Guitarist Bob Weir has not listened to the original tapes from all eight sets for thirty years. "But I remember most of what we were up to back then," he says. "We were testing the limits, looking for places to go. Wild and woolly was the flavor of the day."

In November, Grateful Dead Records will issue every note from that long weekend as a ten-CD box, Fillmore West 1969: The Complete Recordings. The original vinyl release -- the first live album recorded on sixteen-track tape, featuring definitive live takes of the Dead classics "Dark Star" and "St. Stephen" and some of Jerry Garcia's best lead guitar on record -- used only about an hour of music from the whole engagement, along with two tracks from an earlier gig at the Avalon Ballroom. This lavish set, available only from the Dead's Web site for $79.95 and limited to 10,000 copies, has four different, epic versions of "Dark Star" as well as long spins through "That's It for the Other One," from 1968's Anthem of the Sun, and songs from the then-unreleased Aoxomoxoa. (In October, Rhino will release a three-CD retail edition of Fillmore West 1969 with tracks from the box, none of which duplicate those on Live/Dead.)

"I always said that if we ever did a complete run of shows as a release like this, this one stood head and shoulders above everything else we have on multitrack tape," says Dead archivist David Lemieux, who co-produced Fillmore West 1969. "This is similar to a run of John Coltrane at the Village Vanguard, where you get repeats of songs, but each performance is unique and excellent. This is the Dead at the height of their powers."
Weir agrees. "Dark Star," which the Dead then played in a medley with "St. Stephen" and a rhythmic twister called "The Eleven," was "the grit of the set," he says. "'Dark Star' was this little ditty written a couple of years earlier. Jerry probably pulled it out in a jam one night, and it took on a whole other aspect. You can hear it here, night after night, going through different progressions."

The jamming extremes of Live/Dead marked the end of an era. The band was soon writing songs for the 1970 acid-cowboy classic Workingman's Dead. But onstage in 1969, Weir says, "we knew we were on to something." The only glaring exception on the ten CDs, he admits, is an encore of the Beatles' "Hey Jude" from the third night, in which Ron "Pigpen" McKernan sings wildly out of tune. "He was pretty safely into his cups," Weir says, laughing. "But there is a fearlessness you have to bring to a project like this. Not many fans will want to hear that, but you have to call a spade a spade."DAVID FRICKE(Posted Jul 28, 2005)


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