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The Dead Begin Their Lone Drummer Era at The Cap: February 19, 1971


Today marks a somewhat somber anniversary in Grateful Dead history as the band’s second show at their final residency at The Capitol Theater this day in 1971 would be the first of many without drummer Mickey Hart. Racked by depression and guilt from his father stealing money from the band, Hart would take a self-imposed hiatus for several years before rejoining in 1974.

The Dead The Cap
stub via Ed Perlstein

As the Dead prepared for some of their last shows ever at The Cap, they were still treating this a short-term absence. They continued to deliver a string of new songs and material, many of which made their debuts at the memorable show from the night before. The music does not seem to suffer at all and takes on a sleeker, more focused sound with only one drum kit now being used. This show was even selected as one for live release by soundman Dan Healy back in the early 90s but never got officially unveiled until 2007 as Three From The Vault.

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Unsurprisingly, the recording of tonight’s show begins with some on-stage tuning from the Dead. This actually elicits two distinct warm-up/time wasting songs with quick takes on “The Merry Go-Round Broke Down” and “Spring Song.” The end of the latter paves the way for the band to launch right into a show-opening “Truckin’.” It’s a tight and concise jam to start things off that certainly has a little less “thunder” to it thanks the subtraction of one drum kit. The always emotional “Loser” follows with Jerry Garcia taking the lead on vocals and delivering its powerfully somber guitar solo with ease.

“Cumberland Blues” swings the emotion right back the other way with a fun, spirited take fueled by some peppy Phil Lesh-produced bass lines before Pigpen gets his first say of the evening with his signature take on the Elmore James blues classic “It Hurts Me Too.” This rounds out a very similar opening to the show from the night before with the three of the four numbers being repeats.

These kept on coming with the brand new “Bertha” that follows, only the fourth one ever performed after its East Coast debut the night before. Some issues with the early vocals occur on the recording, but they soon get resolved on this fast-paced and energetic take with Pigpen on organ making notable contributions. The second-ever “Playin’ In The Band,” which also debuted last night, comes next although no jam of any merit is produced with the band very much still learning how to tackle this one. The string of repeats gets broken up with an electric take on a song more often associated with acoustic Dead, “Dark Hollow.”

The music does finally stretch out a bit with a 15-minute take on another blues classic “Smokestack Lightning,” with Pigpen once again manning the lead vocals and playing the part of Howlin’ Wolf as only he can. His improvised lyrics and harmonica play in conjunction with some stirring guitar licks courtesy of Garcia provide all the fuel that this first set highlight needs.

The Dead then round out the first set at The Cap this evening with a breakneck “China Cat Sunflower” and “I Know You Rider” that features its traditional seamless segue between the two. The new songs then kept on coming in the second set, beginning with the Bob Weir-led tunes “Greatest Story Ever Told” and then only the third ever known performance of “Johnny B. Goode,” a Chuck Berry cover that would continue to be seen on Grateful Dead setlists throughout the band’s touring career.

After some intricate tuning, a fresh song finally emerges, the brand new “Bird Song,” with Garcia reassuming lead vocals and leading the group through an especially rhythmic early rendition that seems to peter out fairly suddenly instead of being stretched out like it would be in the years to come. This sets the stage for Pigpen to shine once more as then leads the group through the blues-laden and Robert Hunter-penned “Easy Wind.” There would be only two more performances of this vintage Pigpen tune ever played after this one.

Another Dead classic then makes its live debut at the Capitol Theater as the first ever “Deal” is played with Jerry grabbing the reigns once more and leading the band through a rapid take on another soon-to-be live show regular. The second set “Drums” section may be missing one drummer this evening but Bill Kreutzmann handles this, and the rest of the show, with ease and finesse, paving the way nicely into the percussive-heavy opening of “The Other One.” This offers some of the real exploratory playing of the show as Garcia, Lesh and Kreutzmann all seem to lock in, eliciting tribal-like rhythms and patterns in a jam that slowly crescendos.

It comes to a pretty abrupt ending, however, as the Dead seem to want to fit in the second ever “Wharf Rat” before things come to a close. This slows the tempo down significantly as Garcia belts out the emotional lyrics on a another future live show staple. After one last extensive tuning session, which serves as an unofficial encore break of sorts, the band launches into one last cover for the night, a rousing, stretched out take of “Good Lovin’” with Pigpen once more adding his signature style to the proceedings.

The show then wraps up with a standard run through of an “oldie,” in “Casey Jones” as night two of the Dead’s final residency at the Cap comes to a close and the short-lived Mickey Hart-less era of the band begins.

Grateful Dead – Capitol Theater, Port Chester, NY February 19, 1971

Set 1: Truckin’ , Loser, Cumberland Blues, It Hurts Me Too, Bertha, Playing In The Band, Dark Hollow, Smokestack Lightnin’, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider

Set 2: Greatest Story Ever Told > Johnny B. Goode, Bird Song, Easy Wind, Deal, Cryptical Envelopment > Drums > The Other One > Wharf Rat, , Good Lovin’ , Casey Jones

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Source: NYSmusic.com