Fifty-three years ago tonight, the Grateful Dead and Miles Davis Quintet opened a four-night run of shows together at Bill Graham‘s Fillmore West.
Both bands were riding the momentum from the arrival of their own respective albums in recent months leading up to the four-show run, as the Dead released Live/Dead in November 1969 while Davis’ Bitches Brew had come out just over a week prior on March 30th.
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Davis’ band for the Fillmore run consisted of Chick Corea (piano), Dave Holland (bass), Steve Grossman (soprano sax), Jack DeJohnette (drums), and Airto Moreira (percussion). Davis reportedly described the Fillmore performances with the Grateful Dead in his autobiography as “An eye-opening concert for me … The place was packed with these real spacey, high white people … and when we first started playing, people were walking around and talking … After that concert, every time I would play out there in San Francisco, a lot of young white people showed up at the gigs.”
As the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh noted about the musical summit in his book, Searching For Sound: My Life WIth The Grateful Dead,
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 sh!t.” This was our first encounter with Miles’ new direction. ‘Bitches Brew’ had only just been released, but I know I hadn’t yet heard any of it… In some ways, it was similar to what we were trying to do in our free jamming, but ever so much more dense with ideas, and seemingly controlled with an iron fist, even at its most alarmingly intense moments. Of us all, only Jerry [Garcia] had the nerve to go back and meet Miles, with whom he struck up a warm conversation. Miles was surprised and delighted to know that we knew and loved his music.
Although the first of four performances at the Fillmore West was likely an incredible listening experience for fans in attendance who loved the idea of musicians pushing the exploratory boundaries of their compositions, the Dead didn’t partake in that much extensive jamming on night one.
Following the Miles Davis Quintet’s opening set, the Dead delivered an impressive eight-minute take on James Brown‘s “It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World” led by Ron “Pigpen” McKernan on vocals in the first set, and returned to jam their way through “The Other One” and a 21-minute “Turn On Your Lovelight” in set two.
Relive the Grateful Dead’s headlining performance that night below.
Grateful Dead – Fillmore West – San Francisco, CA – 4/9/70
[Audio: Jonathan Aizen]
[Originally published 4/9/22]