Talk From The Rock Room: Now Playing: Grateful Dead - Calibration August 30, 1970

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Now Playing: Grateful Dead - Calibration August 30, 1970

Now Playing in the ‘rock room’ is a long time circulating audio and video performance by the Grateful Dead. Taking place on August 30, 1970 and broadcast on KQED San Francisco as well as local television the performance has long been a favorite of 'Deadheads' over the years. Shot in glorious color the available unreleased and heavily bootlegged footage has always been marked by shaky tracking, bleeding film and generally below average visuals. To the 'rock room's' great satisfaction, a restored version has recently been making the rounds online. Broadcast on the local San Francisco show Calibration, the cameras capture the dead smack dab in between the release of their Workingman’s Dead and their famed upcoming LP American Beauty which would hit the shelves in November.

As previously stated, in addition to being shown on local television the performance was also broadcast on FM radio. There are only a few minor glitches sonically, the rest of the show has been upgraded in supreme soundboard quality. Due to the lack of Grateful Dead footage from this particular era this footage is particularly important. Here, we get to see ‘Pigpen’ in all his bluesy glory, Garcia playing his Live Dead Gibson SG and the hungry two drummer primal line up. Recently a much welcome restored and upgraded of this show has made its way to the interwebs and has made its way to the flickering flat screen of the ‘rock room’. There is an assembled studio audience full of excited hipsters and tripsters in addition to an extremely psychedelic lightshow by Jerry Abrams Headlights. The band blasts their way through a six song set that is made up if tunes from both American Beauty as well as the yet unreleased Workingman's Dead

The show begins with a hearty version of ‘Easy Wind’ freshly pulled from the grooves of the group’s recently released Workingman’s Dead album. ‘Pig’ grips the microphone stand tightly as Weir looks in focused concentration... or he’s just super high. The drummers immediately crash around their kits in beautiful stereo. Chasing their own tail the group forms a fire breathing circle around the Pig placing him in a groovy musical pen. While later era Grateful Dead footage is often (in the ‘rock room’s humble opinion) marred by unneeded visual effects and digital manipulation, here the psychedelic display is organic and actually adds to the vintage of the performance and capture. That being said, per usual it does get a bit bothersome later in the show.

As Pig stands at the mic, roughed up cowboy hat cocked on his head its easy to understand why Garcia always considered him the front man. Pig takes a harp solo the first time around before Weir splays a snaky solo spot while setting the stage for Garcia’s reading. The cameraman misses Bobby for his solo spot but nonetheless catches Garcia’s exclusive rhythm chops. Garcia then precedes lays down a fat and rotund solo spot; his classic Gibson SG sound in full aural display. While this may not be the ‘best’ performance of ‘Easy Wind’, just having the visuals alone is enough to stun this humble viewer. As the on screen imagery pulses the band moves their way through the chord changes with a funky attitude. Jerry is loosey goosy, riding the earthy breezes conjured by the drummers. Lesh while somewhat buried in the mix is describable flailing some frenetic fretwork. The group returns to the verse right on time and Pig finishes it up. Priceless stuff.

A formative version of ‘Candyman’ follows and is a favorite of many fellow Deadheads as it features sticky sweet Garcia vocals in addition to subtle harmonies by Weir and Lesh. After a small stumble at the top the band moves through an endearing yet rickety version. Taken at faster pace than later versions of the 1970’s, Garcia is animated and fully invested in the reading. It’s also interesting to note how different the song sounds with the band’s earlier guitar line up of Gibson guitars. Garcia’s solo spot is an obvious highlight as the band makes a dynamic return to the verse.

The assembled crowd howls their approval at 'Candyman's conclusion.. As the camera pans it’s easy to see the majority of the crowd have just been transplanted from the Fillmore West to the confines of the recording studio. Garcia counts the song off and ‘Casey Jones’ smokes out of the station following the ‘Candyman’s departure. While not straying too far from the tracks of the original studio version, the band’s youthful enthusiasm for their plethora of new music is tangible on the recording especially as we are able to see their clear investment in the number. The band plays, a cornering locomotive chugging down the track. It is here that the effects get slightly annoying but nothing to majorly detract from my major enjoyment of this upgraded footage. The band accelerates toward the destination, an album worthy reading by the group.

Following what was a television commercial break, ‘Broke-down Palace’ the closing track from the yet to be released American Beauty is played in wonderful fashion. The song had only made its debut two weeks prior on August 18, 1970 at the Fillmore West along with other American Beauty tracks. Similarly to the previous ‘Candyman’ the band’s harmonies are on point and their approach as fresh as a sprouting flower. No dirge here, a brisk thoughtful rendition of one of Robert Hunters finest and most endearing lyrics. The later rejected outro ‘do-do-do’ vocals are especially inspired.  As an aside, there are still some inherent tracking issues with the film and some ill timed skips. But nonetheless, this upgraded version is welcome.

With only a brief pause, the opening song from Workingman's Dead, ‘Uncle John’s Band’ is the closing song for this performance. Again, and it sounds crazy saying this, the harmonies are a highlight of the song. Billy and Mickey play active and delicate drums that are often lost on later live versions of the track. It’s thrilling to see Garcia, Lesh, and Weir at three close mics focused on the changes and invested in each other’s fret work. Garcia peels off the first solo which rides on the rapping of Hart’s percussive additions. Every lyric is nailed, every nuance revealed, I feel lucky to be able to watch. The band takes the concluding jam out for a walk just around the front yard, staying relatively close to the original studio cut while hinting at the majesty of future versions.

A brief but stunning capture of the ‘Grateful Dead’ when footage and in some instances tapes are in short supply. ‘Primal’ Grateful Dead, the era recognized as 1966-1970 is the vintage sought after by virtually all fans of the band. This particular and critical piece of celluloid is an important glimpse of the group. In less than six months Hart would leave the Band in in a bit over a year Keith Godchaux would be on boarded as the new pianist. Thankfully by excavating tapes like this, we can enjoy all of the varying faces of the group's history; as well as the number of faces that they stole.

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