On November 1st, 1970, the Grateful Dead released their fifth studio album, American Beauty. This album marked the second of a two-record experiment with the band getting in touch with country and folk roots music and discovering what it truly meant to be an “American band.” American Beauty remains one of the group’s most accessible albums and a great starting point for beginners looking to crack into the Grateful Dead’s vast lore.
In a pattern that many jam bands practice to this day, the band often spent weeks, months, or even years perfecting their songs in a live setting before committing them to tape. While in the midst of recording American Beauty, the Dead performed at Fillmore West, a home away from home for the Bay Area-bred group, on August 18th, 1970, and debuted three songs set to appear on the record—”Ripple”, “Brokedown Palace”, and “Operator”.
The previous evening saw the band also perform at the Fillmore West where they debuted “Truckin’”, which would also appear on American Beauty. On the 18th, the band kicked off the first, acoustic set of the evening by taking “Truckin’” out for another ride, though the version is still a bit more subdued than what audiences would come to expect in the first half of the 1970s. From there, the band was off with plenty of fan-favorite selections including “Dire Wolf”, followed by “Friend of the Devil”, and a cover of “Dark Hollow”.
Next came the three debuts of the evening, all in succession, as the band played “Ripple” then “Brokedown Palace”, followed by Ron “Pigpen” McKernan‘s “Operator” for the very first time. Beyond the debuts, this show still stands out among the band’s 1970 gigs with a 10-minute take on the Workingman’s track “New Speedway Boogie”, and that’s still in the acoustic set. By the time things got electric later that evening, they would settle into the acid-rock modes that were still a focal point of their sound at the turn of the decade, with a stellar “Cryptical Envelopment” into “Drums” into “The Other One”, back into “Cryptical” that stretched toward the 20-minute mark.
Listen to full-show audio from the Grateful Dead at Fillmore West on August 18th, 1970.
Grateful Dead – Fillmore West – San Francisco, CA – 8/18/1970
[Audio: Jonathan Aizen]