The February 12, 1969 date at the Fillmore East is just too good to pass up. The recording, which has exceptional sound, begins in the middle of a Dark Star, missing the Dupree’s and Mountains of the Moon from the early show of the same date, which is a bummer given how good everything else here is. After five minutes of Dark Star, a fabulous Stephen roars forth, followed by one of the – no joke – best Elevens of all time. The Eleven alone could have made this show, but the rest is phenomenal as well, especially the Caution, which is truly spectacular with its bluesy vocal vamping – Pig in full effect – on top of eerie organ, guitar, and tight drums. This is the sort of show that can convert any Touchhead into a diehard psychedelic Dead aficionado.
This show marked the final night of a two-night, four-show run at the Fillmore East, where the boys opened for Janis Joplin. While the Dead were perfecting their psychedelic sound throughout 1969, Janis was in the process of reinventing her music and getting used to a new band. She had left Big Brother and the Holding Company just two months before and started playing with the Kosmic Blues Band, as she would for the rest of the year. Despite the upheaval, her shows were nearly as outstanding as the Dead’s. Janis’s sets have been unofficially released at least once and are available out there if you dig through the internet a bit.
The Fillmore East was, of course, the East Coast outpost of Bill Graham’s San Francisco-centered promotion empire and the counterpart to Graham’s celebrated Bay Area music hall, the Fillmore West. Built in the 1920s, the Fillmore East had gone from a Yiddish theater to a corporate-owned movie house before Graham took it over in 1967, opening it on March 8, 1968. Although “The Church of Rock and Roll” was only open until June 27, 1971, the Dead played an astonishing 43 concerts – and an astonishingly high number of exceptional ones – there in that time.