Capitol idea: Dead concert resurrection

grateful dead at capitol theatre logoThe Cap is back, and so are the Grateful Dead. Sort of.

The historic Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y., went dark in the mid-1970s. Psychedelic music lovers mourned the loss: “The local Fillmore” hosted top bands such as Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Janis Joplin, Rolling Stones, the Kinks and Frank Zappa.

The Dead played there 18 times in 1970-1971 alone, in love with the acoustics.

The Cap reopened last fall, drawing raves for its state-of-the-art sounds and lighting, and the elegant burgandy refurbishments. The goal was to create “a psychedelic rock palace.”

First act was first-class: Bob Dylan. “A rock theater that looks and sounds as good as the Capitol is something to celebrate,” the New York Times wrote in its Dylan review.

The new management called the venue “a rock and roll icon,” and bookings so far have reflected the sentiment: the Black Crowes, Steve Miller, Drive-By Truckers, Meatloaf, Grace Potter and the B-52s.

The theater dates back to 1926, when it opened as a grand movie theater and vaudeville venue. Its rock heyday ended in 1976 and the venue was left to the pigeons.

Yet the Grateful Dead return Feb. 24, in sound and spirit. The venue is putting on “A Dose of the Dead,” starring an audio replay of the group’s performance at the theater exactly 42 years earlier. Visuals provided by a modern-day psychedelic light show.

It’s no stunt. It’s an event: Dead archivist David Lemiux provided the uncut audio. He also created a new “mix tape” of “greatest unreleased hits” from the Dead’s deep vaults, to be played after the main event.

“It’s no secret that the Grateful Dead loved playing at the Capitol Theatre,” Lemieux says. “The show, from Feb. 24, 1971, (was) the final Grateful Dead show at the Capitol, and the last of a six-night run.

Pigpen was front and center with his R&B bit: “I’m a King Bee,” “Good Lovin’ ” and “Turn On Your Love Light,” with the last two numbers running 20 minutes each.

The Dead were on a creative roll at the time, having just released “American Beauty.” They focused on even newer songs, however, including “Bertha,” “Playing in the Band,” “Loser” and “Deal.”

Bob Weir of the Dead raved about the theater’s acoustics in the early 1970s: “I remember one ‘Not Fade Away’ that was remarkable,” he told the New York Times in November. “It was just big and thunderous. It was the first time that it really fell together for us.” One fan recalled the shows had “almost a living room vibe.”

The Feb. 24, 1971, show was recorded for that year’s New York-centric “Grateful Dead” album (Skull & Roses), but never used. The version fans will hear at the Cap was mixed from the 16-track master tapes. (Listen to a Dead fan audience tape from the night before.)

Tickets a mere $8. Check out the Cap’s Dose of the Dead page. The venue is about a 45-minute train ride from midtown Manhattan.

Have any memories of the Capitol? Please leave them in the comments.

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