Fifty-three years ago today, the Grateful Dead set up shop for a four-night run at Bill Graham‘s Fillmore West in San Francisco. The first night at the hometown venue would see and hear a band in the prime of their initial ascent into exploratory and experimental heights at the start of their 30-year run.
The Dead’s performance that evening featured numerous fan favorites from the “Primal Dead” era, including “Doin’ That Rag”, “That’s It For The Other One”, “Mountains of the Moon”, and more. Two of the more notable performances that evening would be of “Dark Star” and “St. Stephen”, and the recordings of which would go on to be included on the band’s Live/Dead live album released later on that year.
Those same recordings from the February 27th show have also since gone on to be considered seminal performances from the first phase of the Dead’s long, strange trip, thanks to both the quality of the audio and the strength of the band’s collective improvisations without going too far out into the musical abyss.
The performance of “Dark Star” runs at 21:44 minutes in length and showcases guitarist Jerry Garica in highly inspired form, weaving his lead guitar lines in and out of the melodic counter presented by both Bob Weir and Phil Lesh. The studio version of the band’s cosmic tune had been released as a single less than a year prior to the show, in April 1968. So for many fans, this live version was their first introduction to what would become the Dead’s beloved psychedelic anthem.
As for “St. Stephen”, the official studio recording of the song would end up on the band’s Aoxomoxoa LP when it was released on Warner Bros. Records a few months later in June 1969.
Revisit the band’s February 27th performance in full below.
Grateful Dead – Fillmore West – San Francisco, CA – 2/27/1969
[Audio uploaded by Jonathan Aizen]