On Wednesday, February 14, 1968, the Grateful Dead played a show at the Carousel Ballroom in San Francisco, California.
The Carousel Ballroom, formerly the El Patio Ballroom, was “a swing-era dance palace,” according to Wikipedia. Dan Healy, who succeeded Owsley “Bear” Stanley as the GD sound guy, estimated that the venue’s capacity was 800. The gdwheel blog has a Relix mag quote about the Carousel from Healy:
“It was closed all the time, and had been closed down right after the Swing era. It was still in its original state, right out of the ’20s, right down to the chandeliers in the place. The interior was beautiful. It wasn’t at all torn up; it was in mint condition.
[Bob] Matthews and I met this guy who happened to have a four track tape machine we wanted to rent, at a place called Emerald Studios. He was in the Irish League in San Francisco and knew about this place. We were looking around for places to play. He said, ‘Hey, I know where there is this ballroom,’ so he took Matthews and me over there. Here was this beautiful old ballroom.
So, we went back and talked to Rock Scully and Danny Rifkin. We decided to cook up a plan to see if we could score it and do some gigs there. We got hold of the people and they were real good about it. They said, ‘Sure, you want the place, take it.’ So we built our own stage in there and put on our own rock and roll shows.”
So the Carousel became a home for Bay Area psychedelic rock bands, competing with the Fillmore Auditorium. LN discussed the Carousel/Fillmore thing a few months ago, when we featured 11/8/69. Basically, the Carousel Ballroom became Bill Graham’s Fillmore West. Here’s a cut and paste from that blogpost:
In the mid-to-late ’60s, Bill Graham, whose Wiki awesomely calls him “a German-American impresario and rock concert promoter,” booked shows at a venue called the Fillmore, which was named after the city district where it sat on Geary Boulevard. Around that time, several local bands – the Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Quicksilver Messenger Service – collectively booked their own shows at the nearby Carousel Ballroom on the corner of Market Street and South Van Ness Avenue. Graham was having capacity problems at his place; the bands were having money problems at theirs. So Graham moved his business to the Carousel and rechristened it the Fillmore West in 1968.
(That happened in/after August of ’68? It’s hard to tell from Deadlists, which says the first FW show was 8/20/68. Deadlists has Carousel Ballroom shows until 6/19/68 and Fillmore Auditorium shows until 12/21/69. I wasn’t born until 10/8/69, so I’m late to the game. If anybody can help clarify below the line, thanks.)
According to the great Jerry’s Brokedown Palaces blog, “the Carousel Ballroom is now the service and repair shop of a Honda car dealer. Go up the wide stairway to see it.”
Anyhoo. The Dead played the Carousel Ballroom on Valentines Day. It’s a classic, and formed most of Anthem of the Sun. The Deadlists commentary is particularly good:
“The Dead played their first set, then Country Joe and the Fish played, then the Dead did their second set. Only Country Joe and the second Dead set were FM broadcast. Much of this show was used for Anthem of the Sun … China Cat Sunflower and the Eleven blend seamlessly together; evidence seems to imply that they were one and the same song during this period (see David Gans’ interview with Robert Hunter in his book ‘Conversations With the Dead,’ p.24) … Some copies in circulation do have the continuation of the Midnight Hour encore patched in, after which the following announcement is made: ‘Hey remember, we’re all prisoners till everybody is free. So tomorrow come out to San Quentin – they need our support. One o’clock, or one-thirty, or two o’clock. Anytime around then. Country Joe and the Fish came here from New York tonight, uh, and so when they left it was about four o’clock their time (in the morning) and they got up at eight. They wanted to stay around, jam some more, but – uh – their gonna rest up and come out to San Quentin tomorrow – as well as the Dead, and some of the Airplane, and some of the other bands.’ Then the KMPX radio DJ then comes on and questions [whether] they will play some more, determines that they won’t, and then says that the time is now twenty past two.”
I didn’t sic that passage, obviously, but there’s alot to unpack there. The most important thing, to me, is the fact that a young GD played as late as 2:20 a.m. Wow. I’d sell my left nut to transport back and help them schlep their gear back to 710 Ashbury.
The Grateful Dead of the Day blog calls this show “the joyous, bacchanalian embodiment of raw, unreserved psychedelic energy, the mainline of straight up primal Dead.” High praise, echoed by the Daily Dose of the Dead blog, which says that the end of the second set “encapsulates everything that was brilliant about the Grateful Dead in the late 60’s. It’s a raunchy, exploratory experience of such pure bliss that it’s hard to find its equal in the catalog.” Daily Dose continues:
“[T]he opening combo of Morning Dew > Good Morning Little Schoolgirl is a powerful way to begin. Schoolgirl, in particular, accelerates for what seems like hours until everyone comes together in one enormous blues explosion near the end. After a short Dark Star, the band plays China Cat Sunflower into The Eleven, a combination that the Dead only attempted a few times during the first months of 1968 (and once in May 1969). This is an exciting transition, especially if you’re not looking for it, and it could have held up on its own over time if the band had kept it intact, although I’ll take China>Rider and St. Stephen>The Eleven over this any day.
The second set is just one long exercise designed to push the audience’s sonic framework to as close to the breaking point as possible without actually shattering minds. It opens with a mighty The Other One>New Potato Caboose and then this twists and turns through Born Cross Eyed and into an elaborate Spanish Jam, which begins sparsely and ends up sounding like Metallica playing Grateful Dead tunes for one of the longest Spanish Jams I can remember. All of this pinwheels into the aforementioned Alligator and then things really hit the stratosphere. Suffice to say, the Dead leave nothing on the shelf here – this is unbridled playing, uninhibited by anything or anyone – the music is truly playing the band. After almost ten minutes of what is called Feedback (it should really be called Deep Space) Pigpen comes back out to lasso the crowd with In The Midnight Hour. The band is gassed at this point, but the song manages to hold together until, finally, they bring things to a close ten minutes later.
If you are not used to 1968 Grateful Dead shows, this one is going to shock the senses. The band’s tone is so much rawer than it would ever be again (even in 1969) and the energy is through the roof (see Jerry’s first short “solo” on Midnight Hour as a classic example). But once you hear this, you can never go back to who you were before. This is ear-altering stuff.”
ECM didn’t send me any of his own commentary on this show. (FYI, he’s fitting in well at LNHQ, and enjoying the “nap pod” that we installed in his office. He brings JTB coffee most days, which is nice, and they have plans to walk dogs. Whatever.) Instead, he referred me to those blogs, as well as some choice reviews from the LMA.
Arbuthnot: “This is a mesmerizing, acid-laced stunner, a remarkable historical document that compares favourably to pretty much anything else from the period; bathe yourself in this beauty and be transformed.”
L. Rosley: “This show is the best of a great run of February shows. 2/2, 2/03, 2/14, and 2/23-2/23 Kings Beach Lake Tahoe (aka, Dick’s Picks Vol. 22) are all outstanding shows in an outstanding run of Anthem shows. This is better show than Dick’s Picks 22. Also excellent audio and mixing.
The second set is Anthem of the Sun live: the complete album with the order of the songs as on the album. In fact, much of this show was used on Anthem of the Sun. Plus, a Spanish Jam thrown in for good measure.
If it were just the second set, this would be a great show. But the first set is also great. It starts with typically Morning Dew of the period, with Pigpen’s keyboard supplying the groundwork for the Jerry-Phil-Bob jam. Dark Star, still less than two months old at this point, and still a short, but it’s tight. DS goes into China Cat – they hadn’t written St. Stephen yet for between Dark Star and the Eleven. This is pretty rare, as the played China Cat in this sequence only for a few months before dropping it for St. Stephen. I love the sound of this China Cat, fast and raw and together, with Jerry really in the zone. It then takes off into the Eleven. Driving with energy, Pigpen’s organ pushes the Eleven along. It’s also clean and tight with great vocals. The Eleven resolves neatly into Turn on Your Lovelight, continuing the force of the set. This is only the second time they played Lovelight, but it’s a dandy.
Jerry dedicates the second set to the memory of Neal Cassady (“Cowboy Neal”), who had died the previous week. A fitting dedication. Then comes a nearly perfect Anthem of the Sun set, and it’s easy to see why they used it on the album. Cryptical > Other One is pure dynamite, and crips and clean and tight, the way performances of Passenger from 1977 are tight—everything is in the right place.
One thing great about this show is that the transitions are smooth and flawless, including the one into New Potato. This features some artful improvising by Phil after the vocals. Jerry lets Phil go at it alone and then comes in with some rhythm guitar licks, slowly building in intensity. It’s masterful. The rarely performed Born Cross-Eyed is a natural capper, but the action doesn’t end here. After all this energy, the Dead go into a spacy, long Spanish Jam that ebbs and flows, and evolves in mood.
Pigpen’s vocal isn’t loud enough in Alligator, but the Alligator jam is fabulous. Following Jerry in this jam is like following Coltrane. Things then speed up for Caution, and the Dead go off into another zone altogether. Caution and feedback are inspired, building to controlled chaos before receding into nothingness.
TERRAPINCANE: “this is a marvelous example of primal GD, with one hell of a setlist and a fun performance…good SBD for ’68, and a necessary part of every GD collection…I mean, when else are you going to find a New Potato>Cross-Eyed>Spanish Jam combo??!!!!”
JackStrawFromWichita: “This is such an amazing show. In Phil’s book he recounts how the band had just found out about Neal Cassady’s death down in Mexico, dead on the railroad tracks from exposure. Typical Neal, dyin’ on the tracks. Phil said the band was trying to capture Neal’s energy through this show, and I think that is one reason why this show is so smokin. Neal was obviously a one-of-a-kind that epitomized the scene of the sixties.”
capn doubledose: “Great show – Get it for the Alligator from Anthem of the Sun. This is how they rolled in those days – chock full of thumping psychedelia. Like the China > Eleven. Close your eyes and you can see the gelatin screens and smell the acapulco gold.”
Transport to the Charlie Miller transfer of this show on the Live Music Archive HERE. And this show is also an official release (Road Trips #2.2), so it’s on Spotify. Enjoy.
This is a classic, guys. Don’t miss it.
And Happy Valentines Day to the real JF. I love you so much, babe.