We’re dipping into the Far Out Magazine vault to revisit the meeting between two equally large but certainly different bands. On this day in 1971 at the Fillmore East in New York, Grateful Dead would welcome pop-rock behemoths The Beach Boys to the stage for a special jam session. It was an everyday occurrence for fans of The Grateful Dead, picking up special guests with the ease of wind picking up grains of sand, the band were experts in welcoming stars to their stage. Even by 1971, with the band still in their comparative infancy, the Dead were more than happy to welcome some huge names to share the stage with them, including The Beach Boys.
Though the crowd would let out a half-moan following Jerry Garcia’s announcement that “We got another famous California group, it’s the Beach Boys,” they would soon be shown why exactly Garcia was so pleased to introduce the hugely influential band. Deadheads are loyal to their group, and the rumbles of discontent were certainly shortlived as the other giants of the West Coast made their way across the country to bolster the arsenal of their Californian pals.
The Beach Boys were not as revered for their innovative style back in 1971 as they are today. Back then they were kind of square and represented, at the very least, an estuary of the mainstream, which to Deadheads at the time, was unthinkable. They had topped charts and broken records, they had written a heavy catalogue of pop tunes, and despite the seminal album Pet Sounds, the group were not considered in the realms of cool. But The Grateful Dead knew better.
The ‘Surfin’ U.S.A’ band may not have been the subversive cultural phenomenon that the Dead had become through their live shows, but the Cali band still had heaps of value to their work, and they were determined to show it. Without Brian Wilson, the group took to the stage alongside the Dead and by the end of the show had the whole audience on their side. It’s a testament to the kind of players Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston are that they could keep up at all.
The stage was set at New York’s iconic Fillmore East and had seen the Dead already perform two shows of their scheduled five-night run. The previous evening on April 26th the band had been joined by Duane Allman, whose own band, The Allman Brothers, had opened for the Dead the year earlier at the venue. But for the 17th they had something really special planned.
The band were well into their set before they invited the California band out. They had already treated the audience to fan-favourites such as ‘Bertha’, ‘Hard To Handle’, and ‘Sugar Magnolia’, which meant the audience was duly sated. The group had just wound down the countrified ‘Dire Wolf’ when Garcia made the announcement.
With the band now swelled to a chunky 10 piece arrangement, (the Dead line-up at the time was Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Ron McKernan and Bill Kreutzmann) there was a lot of people to organise on stage. Rather than try to play one another’s songs they decided the best thing to do would be to rely on the oldies. The two bands ripped through the Coasters’ ‘Searchin” as well as the Robins’ ‘Riot in Cell Block #9’, following which the Dead left the stage and let The Beach Boys takeover awhile, keeping the fans happy as they did.
If you ignore Mike Love’s desperate attempts to be “hip” by retelling a story about getting stoned with Buffalo Springfield the performance is pretty tight. Of course, without Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys were never quite at full tilt, yet their renditions of ‘Help Me, Rhonda,’ ‘I Get Around’ and ‘Good Vibrations’ were all welcomed with open arms.
By the end of ‘Help Me, Rhonda’ the Dead had begun to re-enmter the stage for two more songs with the Cali band. As well as taking on a cover of Merle Haggard’s ‘Okie from Muskogee’ (which you can hear below) they finished the night with a rendition of Chuck Berry’s ‘Johnny B. Goode’. And another crazy night with The Grateful Dead was later brought to a close.
Below listen to the supergroup’s cover of Merle Haggard and find the full set complete with The Beach Boys’ recordings here.