Viola Lee Blues > Feedback
4/12/70 Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA
One of Bill Graham’s most legendary bookings was pairing the Grateful Dead with Miles Davis for a four-night stand in April 1970 at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. Did I mention that Miles Davis was the opening act (gasp!). If that surprises you then rest assured, you are not alone. In his autobiography, “Searching for the Sound,’’ Phil Lesh recalls his anxiety about the unenviable task of following Miles Davis:
“As I listened, leaning over the amps with my jaw hanging agape, trying to comprehend the forces that Miles was unleashing onstage, I was thinking ‘What’s the use. How can we possibly play after this? We should just go home and try to digest this unbelievable shit.’ ”
Well, Phil, I don’t think you had anything to worry about because you guys rose to the occasion and played your asses off. Phil must have been pleased with the performance or he wouldn’t have decided to include the band’s incredible version of Dancin’ in the Streets from 4/12/70 on his compilation titled, Fallout From The Philzone. Some argue that this version is better than the well-known version from Harpur College (5/2/70, Dick’s Picks, Vol. 8). I would further submit that the Viola Lee Blues from 4/12/70 demands the same amount of attention as Harpur College, which many consider the definitive version!
As with Harpur, this version is very electric and psychedelic. Garcia plays some amazing runs as the jam begins to accelerate. He briefly changes the mode a few times which creates a glorious weirdness that temporarily disorients the listener before switching back to more familiar ground – a very sly move which he repeats a few times. The buildup is ferocious and leads to a frenzied climax that sounds as if the universe is being sucked inside-out. The ensuing melt-down is bone-crushing. They drop back into the verse and finish the song with some apocalyptic feedback. Yes Phil, I’m pretty sure that Miles Davis was smiling that evening. Lysergic, primal Dead at its very best!