Fillmore East: April 1971
By the dawn of the '70s, the Grateful Dead had stretched their musical tendrils around the world, but few places provided the band as fertile a patch of creative territory as the Big Apple. Some of the most fondly remembered (and most bootlegged) Dead shows of that era took place in New York, at Bill Graham's Fillmore East, and that's the genesis of this amply sized four-disc collection, culled from the band's April 1971 stint. Although it's punctuated with widely aired classics -- from a jovial, set-opening "Truckin' " through a loose-limbed "Me and My Uncle" and a dizzy "Good Lovin' " cleaved by one of Hart and Kreutzman's more visceral "Drums" workouts -- the set is just as rich in unusual performances. A slinky version of Smokey Robinson's "I Second That Emotion" resounds with yearning, while the climactic closing punch of "In the Midnight Hour" and "We Bid You Goodnight" capture the intense bond between the band and their audience. There are plenty of other emotional moments as well: The rendition of "Me and Bobby McGee," coming just months after the death of Janis Joplin, is strikingly melancholic, a mood that lasts into the next track, "Uncle John's Band." The presence of Tom Constanten adds palpable heft to "St. Stephen" and "Dark Star," both of which sound even more ominous than usual. As you'd expect from the Dead, each of the 40 songs has its own unique presence, but despite the radical mood shifts, they hold together remarkably well, making for a long, exhilarating trip indeed.