Following sets by Stoneground, Hot Tuna and The New Riders of the Purple Sage, the Grateful Dead hit the stage. The Dead's prior New Year's Eve had been spent on the East Coast, but this time they were surrounded by family and friends both on and off the stage, a tradition that would continue for the next two decades.
The group had recently recorded American Beauty, and the material from that release, along with that from Workingman's Dead, cut earlier in the year, made up the bulk of the music from their set on this night. [Archivist's note: because of issues with the tape from this night resulting in very poor sound quality, the majority of this set is not posted to the website. I have not edited the summary here to reflect this because it's still an interesting read and provides insightful context for the remaining songs.] This was a particularly interesting time for the Dead, as the band could still achieve the heavy psychedelic explorations of the 1960s era, but were firmly headed in a new, song-based direction. Garcia and Hunter had experienced a truly prolific phase that year, writing many of the songs that would eventually come to define the group for a new, much larger fanbase in the 1970s.
The recording begins just in progress, with a punchy version of "Truckin'," which is beginning to show signs of becoming a good improvisational vehicle for the band. They follow with an extremely rare, electric version of "Monkey And The Engineer," a Jesse Fuller song that they rarely played - and even then, only in acoustic sets. They continue with a bouncy rendition of "Cold Rain And Snow," considerably more relaxed than the version recorded on the first album. Several more numbers from Workingman's Dead are performed, and then we get to the first peak of the show: "That's It For The Other One." Although lacking the "Cryptical Envelopment" reprise section following "The Other One," this is nonetheless great exploratory Dead, and following the drums section, the band reaches heavy psychedelic territory. Sparks are flying, and although one expects that "Cryptical" reprise to surface out of this twenty minute sequence, it's a delight as the band eases into "Black Peter" instead. This classic song still sounds quite fresh here, and Garcia sings with a passionate voice that sounds healthy and clear. "Sugar Magnolia" is still relatively new at this point and it's obvious that Bob Weir has created a real gem. The band's enthusiasm for the song is contagious, and the audience responds in kind. Next up is their always welcome pairing of "China Cat Sunflower" and "I Know You Rider." The jam that would bridge these two songs would soon develop into a thing of beauty in itself, but at this stage is still a bit awkward. The recording is also marred by a woman who is obviously dosed and having difficulty on or near the stage, as she is picked up well on the mics and detracts somewhat from the listening experience.
The set closing sequence of "Good Lovin'" into "Uncle John's Band" is a real barn burner, with the band truly hitting their stride. Pigpen belts out the vocals with raw intensity and the musicians respond by giving it their all. Most performances of "Good Lovin'" from this era contain a lengthy drum solo, but here Garcia and Lesh alternate solos over the drum sequence, making it far more enjoyable. When the whole band kicks back in, it becomes hyperspace jamming, with Pigpen's improvised vocals just as impressive as Garcia and Lesh's instrumental improvisations. The "Uncle John's Band" that surfaces at the conclusion eases everything back down to a comfortable sing-a-long atmosphere, before blazing away briefly to end the concert.
Following the end of the show and some refreshment, Bob Weir and Mickey Hart would return to the stage, along with all four members of Hot Tuna, on a little post-show jam to entertain those who remained.