"See, there's only two theaters, man that are set up pretty groovy all around for music and for smooth stage changes, good lighting and all that - the Fillmore and The Capitol Theatre. And those are the only two in the whole country."
|Mike Dubois's excellent tribute to the dead shows at the Cap (available for sale here)|
Joe Russo's Almost Dead 12/27/13
What is it about this place? When Pete Shapiro re-opened the Capitol Theater and started putting on rock shows, I knew I had to check it out. My first show there was the 12/27/13 performance of Joe Russo's Almost Dead. One of my favorite live bands of all time is Brothers Past. I saw them as much as I could in and after college, catching around 40 shows before they disbanded. An NYC Taper article and accompanying tape began circulating of a band called Joe Russo's Almost Dead. While I had seen and adored Joe Russo in a number of different projects, the real excitement for me was Tommy Hamilton playing Grateful Dead music. Playing Dead music exceptionally well with an unbelievable band. When they announced a second date, this time at the legendary Capitol Theater, I and a ton of friends all made the trip down. They played an incredible show and an informative one for me.
|Long time co-conspirators Tom Hamilton and Joe Russo 12/27/13|
I’m truly grateful to have caught their second live performance. I continue to see them when I can, listen to the beautiful recordings being made and rock couch tour streams with friends. They are among the most talented musicians in all of live music today. They pay homage to the legacy of the Grateful Dead in the most authentic of ways while reinventing improvisational music and whats possible with every single jam.
|From left to right: Marco Benevento, Tom Hamilton, Joe Russo, Dave Dreiwitz and Scott Metzger 12/27/13|
When the Disco Biscuits announced their debut at the Capitol Theater, levels of excitement and anticipation set high for the JRAD show were beyond exceeded. The Disco Biscuits are my favorite live act of all time and following their music has shaped my adult life significantly. I was also over 2 years and several hundred shows deeper into my Grateful Dead obsession so the true import of the Capitol Theater in their mythos was much more fully revealed. I decided as a mental and spiritual preparation for the biscuits at the Cap, I was going to listen to all of the Dead shows they played there in 1970 and 1971.
The phenomenal dead essays blog has a fascinating piece on the integration of acoustic music into the Grateful Dead's performances from 1969-1970 (read it here). In the March shows at the Cap, we see a one of the steps in that evolution. They play an early electric show followed by a late show in which they go Electric>Acoustic>Electric. It must've been shocking for the audience to see the rippin', eardrum rattling psychedelic blues rock band they knew put on such a different face. The audience was extremely rowdy and the band threw it right back at em. I've linked many blogs posts on these shows at the end of this post which go into deep detail about some of the interactions back and forth but maybe listen for yourself first? There is a lot to discover and treasure. A wise deadhead heartily recommends the jam in Dancin' in the Streets on 3/21/70 as one of the finest moments of Grateful Dead improvisation ever.
The Grateful Dead had just recorded Workingman's Dead in February and would record American Beauty from August to October. The band, along with lyricist Robert Hunter, had entered one of their most prolific periods and the band was taking all of this material on the road. This new music was a new interpretation of Americana. The writing style and studio work stripped down the ornate work on the last two albums and focused on the voice. Instrumentation was sparse and integrated acoustic instruments with the Dead's electric sound. I, like many Grateful Dead fans, was exposed to these two albums before any later or live material. Hearing the primitive versions of these songs taking shape in their performances at the Capitol Theater felt like a full circle moment in my listening journey.
Ken and Judy Leigh's Audience Recording
The Grateful Dead Return to the Capitol Theater in June. This time they bring along the New Riders of the Purple Sage and bill it as "An Evening With the Grateful Dead" which they had started touring in May. The Dead play acoustic, then the New Riders play (with Jerry Garcia on Pedal Steel guitar and Micky Hart on drums), followed by an extended electric Dead set. Workingman's Dead was released on June first. This performance finds the band straddling its late 60's sound and where Workingman's Dead and American Beauty would lead them in the early 70's. They were still playing blistering, monumental psychedelic jam music, most notably the Dark Star/ Attics sequence but are playing roots music like Candyman, Uncle John's Band and Friend of the Devil so very beautifully. This show is a delicate moment of flux and transition for the Grateful Dead and the brittle intimacy of Ken Leigh's recording is the perfect transportation device to take you there.
By the November Capitol Theater run the band has released Workingman's Dead, recorded American beauty and toured relentlessly besides. The band had retired the "evening with the Grateful Dead" show format but decided to bust it out one last time at the Capitol Theater, bringing the New Riders of the Purple Sage along for the ride again. I think that's a neat fact. As if the spring and summer shows at the Capitol Theater were so special, they wanted to capture that magic again? Capture it they did. Both the Dead listening and Dead Essay blogs do wonderful jobs writing up this run so I'll leave you to explore those links below on your own. Suffice it to say that the recordings, often a composite of the 3 taper’s yields that made the run, capture another dose of pure Capitol Theater/Grateful Dead Magic. 11/6 and 11/8 tend to get the most attention as they have the best sound quality but there is plenty of X factor throughout all four nights. There's something about listening to these nights in their entirety that's so satisfying and calming to me. First the acoustic Dead, transitioning perfectly into the New Riders set, followed by face-melting electric Dead. Of all the Capitol Theater Grateful Dead performances, this run is my favorite.
While only three months pass between the November 1970 and February 1971 runs, we have ourselves a very different band. On night one, they debut five new songs, all of which find their forever home in the Grateful Dead's sets. Bertha, Loser (my personal favorite dead song), Greatest Story Ever Told (which hadn't taken its final shape yet), Johhny B. Goode (RIP Check Berry) and Wharf Rat arrive and set the tone for how this band will continue to evolve in the coming years. While I've read about and listened to the "beautiful Jam" out of Wharf Rat and back into Dark Star several times, I wasn't prepared for my most recent listening experience in preparation to write this post. It moved me as deeply as any piece of Grateful Dead live performance I've listened to. It sent deep chills up and down my body and gave me that soaring feeling in my heart that only comes from true art's brush with the divine.Its amazing how you can listen to the same performance by the Grateful Dead many times and take away something new each time.
On night two, Deal and Birdsong which would find their way on to Jerry Garcia's first solo album in 1972 are debuted, but certainly the bigger news is the departure of drummer Mickey Hart. The details of this situation are written about quite well in the blogs I've linked below so I wont go too crazy into detail. Mickey's father had been managing the band and was caught stealing. When the jig was up, he cut himself a fat check in March of 1970 and ran off, leaving the Dead with almost nothing. Micky grew increasingly distraught over the course of 1970 and after the first night of the February Cap run, left the band. Thankfully he did return in October 1974. While Bill Kreutzmann does an incredible job during his time as the sole drummer, you get an almost palpable sense of loss and confusion from the playing on 2/19/71. Over the course of the remaining nights of the run, the band gets back on their feet and continue to dial in the new material which would be featured on the live album known to deadheads as Skull and Roses. The simplification of the sound down to one drummer, coupled with some new, rockin material, changed the sound of the Grateful Dead significantly from 1970-1971. The Psychedelic church music of 1970 was distilled down to rockin' honky tonk blues rock sound that still managed to wiggle quite a bit around the edges.
To me, the Grateful Dead's performances at the Capitol Theater between 1970-71 offer a truly potent document of some of this band's best playing in a truly tumultuous era both for them and the world as a whole. While the hippie movement that the Grateful Dead had played such an important part in founding had been dissipating for many years, the tragedy at Altamont (around 3 months before the first Cap run) must've had a significant impact on the hearts and minds of the band. Considering both New Speedway Boogie and Mason's Children deal with Altamont directly which the Dead weren't known for doing very often in their music, it must've weighed heavily on them. The Kent State shootings occurred between the March and June shows and was just another example to folks like the Grateful Dead and their fanbase that while they must've felt like their revolution was unstoppable a few years back, the forces of darkness still had tremendous power. The beauty of the music and society built around the Grateful Dead though, was and is that you can seek refuge from the darkness. You can share in the light. If only for 3 or 4 hours at a time.
The Grateful Dead responded to the flux, change and tragedy in their family and the surrounding world by writing, recording and performing live, truly monumental music. Their music has to me always represented the battle and interrelationship between the forces of light and darkness. The battle was played out night after night in their improvisation and true light was shone on the world through the songs they wrote in this time period.
"One way or another, this darkness got to give."
The Disco Biscuits 3/26/16
There is no doubt in my mind that the cosmic goo, the Dead smeared all over the Capitol Theater left a significant residue. J and I were beyond excited for our first show since our son Hunter was born in November of 2015. We had a babysitter and a hotel with all our friends! Stars seemed aligned early as one of my favorite modern music artists Mark Serlo had designed a stunning psychedelic poster and matching pin for the run. Our dear friends Jay and Cate went to both nights so I pleaded with them to grab me one of each for me on night one knowing they would definitely sell out. Also, Brandon Lawwill (Bee L. Designs) who I had met through the bisco pins group had designed a great pin with the venue and signature biscuits laser light show, so I got a ten pack of those to share with my friends and sell a couple as well.
|My Serlo Capitol Theater poster|
|Mark Serlo and Brandon Lawwill's excellent commemorative pins|
Well this old guy should've known I can't throw down like I used to haha. I slugged beers like a 25 year old beforehand and ended up in the 'too much too fast' club for the show. I had to sit for large portions. Luckily, we had invested in loge seats which are the front row of the balcony, considered by many (now including myself) as the best seats in that house. There in my seat I witnessed a truly spectacular Disco Biscuits performance I'll never forget. One that for me will likely live in my top 10 forever.
The first set was tremendous, with an extended intro jam to Bernstein and Chasnoff getting things started in a way to let you know that the Grateful Dead's legacy in this room was understood by this band. Every segue was creative and the peak in the inverted Shelby Rose was one of the most furious I've ever heard. They finished the first set by completing the B and C. It was at this point I realized they hadn't stopped once. This isn't entirely out of character for the Disco Biscuits but this set was particularly unrelenting and fluid.
While we tried to get our heads together after the biscuits had scrambled our brain waves for an hour and a half, no amount of recovery could prepare us for the second set. Hope is probably my favorite Disco Biscuits song and a message I take very seriously so starting the second set with it shook me deeply in the best way possible. The second set sequence of Hope>(><) Above the Waves>Mr. Don>Home (LCD Soundsytem cover)>Helicopters was truly a triumphant performance for the ages. It delivered everything the potential of this band promises. The standing ovation the band rightfully received will also be a moment I'll never forget. I've been in far bigger crowds and far louder crowds but I've never felt the energy of elation and gratitude that I felt from that roaring applause.
Addendum: Bobby's birthday party 10/16/16
I hope I'm never done seeing concerts at the Capitol Theater. When the tour was announced supporting Bob Weir's stunning Blue Mountain solo album, I was elated to see he would play at the Cap on his birthday. That excitement quickly dissolved when I struck out on the pre-sale as well as the regular sale. THe secondary market prices were instantly and consistently way out of my league so I made peace with not going though and life went on. The week of the show I saw a floor ticket offered up in a Grateful Dead marketplace on Facebook. I made inquiries and found out that the ticket was not only available but was being sold by a former co-worker! Smalbany, Weir everywhere etc. J was kind enough to encourage me to go and to assure me she'd be fine taking care of Hunter for the evening so a few days later I found myself cruising down the Taconic Parkway for a quick visit to the Cap.
I can't remember the last time I had gone solo to see a show but needless to say it had been a long time. There was a Peruvian Street fair going on right across the street so I'll always associate the smells of delicious food and the echoes of Peruvian dance music bouncing down Westchester ave with my experience that night. I shared a moment with another fan, taking it all in and smiling. I wandered the theater a bit before making my way down to the floor. I thought about all those spectacular Dead shows. Then I thought about the spectacular music I had witnessed there myself. Then I grabbed a beer.
Remembering the JRAD show, I knew it was going to be close quarters if I wanted to get close but I decided to commit to it anyway. The way I figured it, I may never get a chance like this again to see anyone from the Grateful Dead so up close and personal. The artwork for the Blue Mountain album was shown on a large screen behind the stage, which was packed with instruments. The stark and monochromatic western landscapes were evocative of the albums music and struck a deep chord in my soul as a lover of nature. Bobby came out alone with his acoustic and played four songs. One More Saturday Night (snickering about missing it the night before, as it was Sunday), Peggy-O (which was breathtaking), When I Paint my Masterpiece (in Honor of Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize) and Blue Mountain (the title track of the new album).
Next he brought out the Campfire Tour band and played five songs off of Blue Mountain, with Dark Hollow (featuring the very talented Leslie Mendelson singing harmonies with Bobby) thrown in for good measure. A trio of vocalists known as the Bandana Splits thickened out the sound soulfully. I had decided to wait on listening to the album until I had heard it live so it was all new to me. After the original drummer of the Disco Biscuits, Sam Altman, left the band, I sort of fell out of listening to jam music and ended up discovering a lot of great indie/ college radio music that was happening at the time. Bands like Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, Cloud Cult, Iron and Wine and the National really struck a chord with me. When Bobby started collaborating with members of the National I was so excited to see what the merging of two of my favorite kinds of music would yield. The end result was truly spectacular. The songs were delicate, soulful and shimmered with energy. Accessing a type of emotional response I don't commonly associate with jambands. I stood rapt, shoulder to shoulder with my fellow music lovers for all the first set, forgetting about the empty plastic beer cup clutched in my hand.
I was still reeling from the music after the lights came up for set break. I decided to hang tight since I didn't really need a beer or a bathroom break. I wasn't alone. The crowd hardly budged over the course of the 40 minute set break, if anything getting thicker as set 2 approached. It was an exercise in musical devotion to stay on my feet haha. Since Hunter was born, I just can't keep up like I used to. I get sore and tired at shows. This was a worthy cause though and all my efforts paid off as the house lights went down and the walls of the Cap started crawling with writhing color. Leslie Mendelson came out once again to help out on Mamma Tried. West L.A. Fadeaway came sauntering up next along with the dawning realization that set 2 was likely going to be just jammed out Dead tunes. Joy! Ecstacy! Tired back be damned! Leslie M added the Donna parts beautifully to a melodic Eyes of the World which had me spacing nicely.
The Bandana Splits came back out for Uncle John's Band and with Leslie already on stage, it sounded like a massive (yet professional) campfire singalong. While I love the album version of UJB, I often find live versions (especially later ones) to be a bit of a train wreck. This was truly Uncle John's Band how it was meant to sound. It reverberated melodically around the hall with most of the crowd adding their voice to the mix. Morning Dew was monumentally, ground shakingly awesome. Bobby really hits this one out of the park here and with Dead and Company. Not Fade Away wrapped up set 2 of Bobby's 69th birthday show perfectly with the entire room taking up the signature Not Fade Away chant for several minutes after the band had left the stage.
Bobby came out for the encore in a cowboy hat and before you knew it, Pete Shapiro and company were throwing hundreds of baby blue cowboy hats into the audience while presenting him with a cake. Everyone put their hats on for Ki Yi Bossie. The band came back out (also wearing the baby blue cowboy hats) and closed the night with a lovely and perfect Brokedown Palace which was met with a roaring ovation.
I am deeply grateful for this (no longer) Brokedown Palace in Port Chester, New York. The Grateful Dead's groundbreaking and awe-inspiring performances there makes it, to me, one of the most important venues from their formative time.With modern acts from both inside and outside of the jam community playing there regularly, and with Bobby and Phil still playing there (a lot!), its one of the most important rooms to see live music today. Based on the quality of music the Grateful Dead played there in 1970 and 71 and my experiences these past few years, I have no doubt that there is magic in this stately old theater. Whether you want to call it the X factor, as the deadheads did or Bisco as Disco Biscuits fans call it. That special something where the walls between the audience and the band, between every soul in the room, between the plains of reality, all seem to dissolve seems to happen at the Capitol Theater. A lot.