The Grateful Dead Debuts ‘Playing In The Band,’ ‘Wharf Rat’ & More At Capitol Theatre On This Date In 1971

By Nate Todd Feb 18, 2021 1:51 pm PST

Fifty years ago today the Grateful Dead unveiled an impressive array of songs that would become classics at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York. The historic night saw the Dead debut “Playing In The Band,” “Wharf Rat,” Bertha,” “Greatest Story Ever Told” and “Loser.” The show was also drummer Mickey Hart’s last until October 1974 and featured Ned Lagin on keys throughout the evening.

The February 18, 1971 concert — which kicked off a six-show GD residency at The Cap — got underway with one of those debuts, “Bertha.” The song would later become a classic opener for the band although the ‘71 Cap run, with GD playing “Bertha” every night of the residency, saw them experimenting with mid-set positioning. After “Truckin’” and the Ron “Pigpen” McKernan led “It Hurts Me Too,” the band would unveil two more stellar new songs, the Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter composition “Loser” and the Bob Weir/Hunter collaboration “Greatest Story Ever Told.”

The Grateful Dead would present the Garcia/Hunter ballad, “Wharf Rat,” sandwiched between “Dark Star” at the tail end of the first set. In later shows the song would often appear post “Drums” and ”Space.” The Weir/Hunter composition “Playing In The Band” would count as the last debut in the show and came in the second slot of the second set. During his recent Chinese New Year livestream, Bobby revealed that David Crosby, along with Mickey Hart, had a hand in the song’s writing as well.

The Grateful Dead included the previously unreleased historic show in the recently released American Beauty: 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition. Stream GD’s entire February 18, 1971 concert below:

Setlist (via Jerry Garcia.com)

Set One: Bertha, Truckin’, It Hurts Me Too, Loser, Greatest Story Ever Told > Johnny B. Goode, Mama Tried, Hard To Handle, Dark Star > Wharf Rat > Dark Star, Me And My Uncle

Set Two: Casey Jones, Playing In The Band, Me And Bobby McGee, Candyman, Big Boss Man, Sugar Magnolia St. Stephen > Not Fade Away > Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad > Not Fade Away > Uncle John’s Band

Guitarist Billy Strings is kicking off his run at the Capitol Theatre tonight to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead’s storied residency. Head here for more info.

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