For about 6 months in 1968 the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service (who time has not favored with the kind of immortality the other two bands received) cooperatively operated the Carousel Ballroom, a sweet venue in downtown SF. Surprisingly enough, money problems ensued and famous promoter Bill Graham had to step in and take over the lease. According to hippie lore, the Ballroom was the site of many a wild night; as my ever handy Deadhead's Taping Compendium Volume 1 would have you believe:
“…legendary for shows that pushed the limits of what was permitted and acceptable in a public dance hall, the Acid Test ethos living on in notorious gigs put on not only by the bands themselves, but also by the Diggers, the Hell's Angels, and a host of others…”
BTW: the Diggers were anarcho-action performance artists who used to distribute surplus energy at Free Stores (where everything was free). I did not know that until just now.
Anyway, the Carousel Ballroom is now a car dealership, Jerry Garcia's been dead for like a decade and a moment in time like this will never happen again because [insert your preferred reason here]. But that's fine, I feel like this is the exact kind of thing I would never want to go to. Hippies have a bad rap and a pretty weak legacy for a reason, didn't you read Drop City? Remember Ronnie, aka Pan?
But that's the beauty of our modern world. You can put on your headphones and listen to this amazing live performance without leaving the comfort your ergonomic office chair. Or your sofa, if you're reading this at home on your Power Book.
I'm not going to lie: if you don't like the Grateful Dead then there's a pretty slim chance that you're going to like this recording. If we were tipsy and I was in the mood to talk at length about the Dead in the late 60s (and you were in the mood to listen–unlikely) I'd probably say something like this:
There's this awesome dark medieval quality to the first part of the show thanks to some far out organ playing then some solid psychedelic jamming followed by a real mind bender of a finale; nothing else you will hear sounds like this.
Anthem of the Sun, which is a pretty radical album itself, incorporates live snippets of this performance throughout and, when it was re-released in 2003, additional versions of Alligator > Caution > Feedback were added from a show right around this time and Dick's Picks Volume 22, in Lake Tahoe, was recorded only a couple weeks later; but, for my money, this is the best Grateful Dead show from this time period. There's tons of chit chatting and good natured goofing around (a set is dedicated to the memory of Neal Cassady, who died the week before; Tiffany and Lavelle just had a kid; the phone rings and absolutely no one in the club knows what to do; Phil does a lame Lyndon Johnson impersonation, which Bobby immediately shows up; Mickey asks Mountain Girl ((remember her from Electric Kool-aid Acid Test?)) if Jerry can successfully accomplish?a string change; etc) but the show is heavy. Really heavy.
The latter portion is one of the most exciting extended periods of jamming you are likely to ever hear. It's true, there's a cut in Alligator, but what are you going to do? Caution is far out. It's scratchy, stop and go, totally electric. This is exactly why this band is so famous: their combined ability to put together these unique and consistently arresting sounds while under the influence of heavy hallucinogenic drugs. There are parts where this rhythmic aural build up gets going, sharpens up, drifts away but then veers back before it really gets going and almost resembles regular music; then it drops out altogether, you're left with just two weird time keepers for a couple of seconds then suddenly thunderous cacophony envelopes your brain like a mind freak. Dude, the Dead!
I'm sure this has been anything but persuasive, but if you're really brave try Dark Star > China Cat in the music player. If you're really, really adventurous try Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks). If you happen to find yourself intrigued, Dick's Picks Volume 4 (available at the iTunes store), which chronicles the show the band played at the Fillmore East on Valentine's day 1970 (exactly two years after this performance), is worth checking out. The sound developed a lot in 24 scant months, and 2-14-1970 is often considered by many (including LSD pioneer and live Dead sound designer Owsley Stanley, the man know as Bear) to be the best Grateful Dead show ever. But so is 5-8-1977. And a lot of other dates as well. The jams are longer in 1970, both Dark Star and the Other One are over a half an hour long–so is Lovelight, and the quality of the recoding is considerably better, but the real sloppiness has been finessed away, which I think is kind of a shame.
FYI: At one point in time all Grateful Dead soundboard tapes were free to the public in mp3 (and shn) format from a wide variety of internet sources. No longer. You can post bitchy comments on archive.org blaming Bob Weir and the fat cats at Rhino all you want, but I'm pretty sure you can still score this show here. Don't tell anybody.