Steel Cut Oats #6: Raiding The Ark

The entire show from 4.22.69 can be described as ‘quality meets quantity’. The beautiful jam between Mountains Of The Moon and Dark Star is outstanding and certainly more lengthy than just about any I have heard – this excellent transition brings us to one the greatest Dark Star’s of all time – it is not to be missed – this one rates extremely high from the era, and contains several jam segments outside of the norm for the time period, including Phil pounding out a Caution theme for a bit, which sprouts further during the Lovelight portion of the set.

The only strike against this show is the fact that anywhere from five to ten minutes of The Other One is missing from the current cassette master copies in circulation. The late, great archivist Dick Latvala, and current Vault-meister, David Lemieux had previously confirmed that these three shows were indeed recorded to both reel to reel and cassette by Bear. Judging by the rest of this show, if the missing Other One material was excavated from the Vault reels (4.22’s are known to have major sonic issues, and would require some serious work) and released, I’m betting this show would easily reside in the Top 3 of the year with little argument. To cure the issue for Oats #6, I have patched the front end of the Other One suite from 4.23 (Cryptical > Drums > Other One) with the back end of the suite from 4.22 (Cryptical Reprise) – which leads to the legendary Death Don’t Have No Mercy noted above to close out Set I.

The 2nd set from 4.22 is included here in its entirety – it’s a remarkable hour and a half, and without question needs to be officially released. The final hour of this compilation showcases outstanding versions of ’69 classics – Alligator, Caution and Viola Lee Blues. The real action begins about nine minutes into the second go-round of The Eleven found on this release – all structure is lost, the jams open up, and the band truly begins to play without a net – themes are being tossed all over the place – more Caution teases, a Bid You Goodnight jam, and Jerry even makes a run at Mountain Jam. It is here where the beast is let out of the cage. Pigpen steps up in leading the band through an intense Caution that had been hinted at for two whole nights. An impressive Viola Lee Blues delivers the goods to closes out Oats #6 with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. This is 1969 personified.

Unlike with New York’s Fillmore East, the Grateful Dead had yet to establish a solid home base in Boston – up until these three incredible nights, they had only played one other set of shows in the area occurring in late ’67. The lack of a core community in Beantown was made clear before the band kicks off the first night’s set. The crowd was treated to a 5 second ho-hum intro of the group simply as ‘some guys from the West Coast’. Two mind-bending shows later, and before the final night began, the same announcer sheepishly addressed the crowd with one of the most appreciative, stoned, and over-excited intros I’ve ever heard – the band had clearly transformed mere ticket holders into legit fans in just a few nights.

Keep in mind, at this point of their career; they were still playing 75% of their gigs in their home state of California. These shows illustrate how they began to slowly build their East Coast fan base – moving from town to town and always leaving them wanting more. The Grateful Dead would never play The Ark again, but would eventually find two long-term Boston homes, first with the Boston Music Hall lasting through the early ’70s and into their post-hiatus years, until eventually growing into the famed Boston Garden which would stand along such other larger indoor venues as Nassau Coliseum, Landover’s Capital Centre, and of course, Madison Square Garden as the most popular – but not always the most accommodating for fans – touring spots on the East Coast.

Recording sessions also concluded in the spring of 1969 for their third studio album, the palindromically titled Aoxomoxoa – say that three times fast. Some of these tunes had already been in their live stable for a while (St. Stephen, China Cat Sunflower); others would not be performed beyond 1969 (Doin’ That Rag, Mountains Of The Moon). Dupree’s Diamond Blues and Cosmic Charlie would fade in and out through the years under different arrangements, but never were considered major highlights of a given show in other eras (except perhaps some ’76 versions of Charlie). Rosemary was performed, as far as we know, once on 12.07.68, and the vocal tracks to What’s Become Of The Baby were played over the PA during a particularly scorching Feedback jam just a few days after this Boston run – at another famed show on April 26th from Chicago’s Electric Theater. Portions of that ‘kitchen sink’ show can be found on Dick’s Picks #26, and on the two-disc Fallout From The Phil Zone set which features several wonderful pieces from ’69 and ’70.

The only true common denominator of Aoxomoxoa was in its song-writing credits – all eight tracks were Garcia/Hunter penned tunes (Phil gets a nod for St. Stephen also). I don’t think there’s another Dead studio album that can assert that fact. The completion of this record also wraps up their more experimental studio phase – a parallel that creeps slowly into the live realm from 1969 into 1970, often trading intense closing feedback sessions for gentler, countrified, home-spun acoustic opening sets – not to say that the psychedelic well had run dry, not even close. On a closing note about the album, if you own a copy of Aoxomoxoa, flip to the beautiful portrait found on the back cover – note the five year-old little girl in the foreground @ 3 o’clock-ish in front of Bobby – it’s none other than San Francisco-born Courtney Love…sometimes in the strangest of places….

April ’69 represents the virtual midpoint of Tom Constanten’s short tenure with the band as he worked his distinctive style at the keys through his only complete touring year with the Grateful Dead. Pigpen would become relegated to blues front man when the time was right at each show, and within this tiny segment of their overall body of work, the specific character of the band’s live show would never be duplicated. Steel Cut Oats #6 gave me an excellent opportunity to review a number of shows from 1969. It’s not usually the first year I reach for when looking to enjoy some tunes, but it certainly includes many twists and turns that can only be found from this unique period of time. Play it loud. Enjoy.

1. Introduction (4.23)
2. Morning Dew (4.23)
3. Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl (4.25, Chicago, IL)
4. Doin’ That Rag (4.23)
5. Sittin’ On Top Of The World (4.21)
6. Cryptical Envelopment >
7. Drums >
8. The Other One > (4.23)
9. Cryptical Envelopment >
10. Death Don’t Have No Mercy
11. Tune Up
12. Dupree’s Diamond Blues >
13. Mountains Of The Moon >
14. Dark Star >
15. St. Stephen >
16. The Eleven >
17. Turn On Your Lovelight (4.22)
18. Alligator >
19. Drums >
20. Jam >
21. The Eleven >
22. Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks) >
23. Feedback >
24. And We Bid You Goodnight (4.23)
25. Viola Lee Blues >
26. Feedback > (4.21)
27. Outro (4.23)

Tom Constanten, keyboards
Jerry Garcia, lead guitar, vocals
Mickey Hart, drums, percussion
Bill Kreutzmann, drums, percussion
Phil Lesh, bass, vocals
Pigpen, percussion, harmonica, vocals
Bob Weir, rhythm guitar, vocals

May 22nd, 2010

please send comments to [email protected]

– Joe Kolbenschlag

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4 Responses

  1. These are awesome, keep them coming… you should do Brent-era next, that’s my favorite GD era.

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