Jul 10, 2017

1967: Album Review


During the past year the San Francisco renaissance in rock music has been widely publicized and popularized (especially its more sensational aspects) in the national press. The rise of San Francisco rock shifted rock's creative center of influence from England back to America, for good reasons. The San Francisco musicians are really the first self-consciously creative rock musicians.
In this article and the last we've selected three albums by groups which rank with the best San Francisco has produced. Our selections are completely arbitrary. We didn't consider the two Jefferson Airplane albums because while they are good albums, they are not indicative of how the group sounds in live performance. Moby Grape's album is also good but most San Francisco groups have gone beyond them at least instrumentally. Big Brother's album is poor but was released because of avarice. The groups we are considering reflect the current trends in all rock.
The Grateful Dead are technically the only San Francisco rock group discussed in these two articles. Country Joe is from Berkley. If you haven't bought the Dead's album (Warner Brothers W 1689) don't bother wasting your money. The album as a whole is disappointing especially considering that everyone who had heard them before the album was released raved about them.
Jerry Garcia (lead) and Phil Lesh (bass) have both admitted that the album wasn't quite up to their expectations either. It's not really a total loss. There is one excellent cut ("Morning Dew") and two good cuts ("Cream Puff War" and "New, New Minglewood Blues") but it is so far from what the Grateful Dead sound like live that they deserve better treatment.
First the album. "Morning Dew" is deceptively simple. The song is based on only four chords and is arranged around a simple, pretty guitar figure. Garcia's guitar solo is a beautifully original solo for rock and points out the lyrical quality of much of the Dead's music. The other two songs mentioned are more illustrative of the Dead's usual style — hard rock.
"Viola Lee Blues," the last track on the second side, is a good starting point for discussing the Dead's live performances. It illustrates the weakness of their worst performances — dullness. The Dead's music centers around Jerry Garcia's guitar. The other members of the group contribute fantastically, of course, but mostly in terms of interplay with the lead guitar.
Obviously when Garcia is bad, the music is bad. This isn't usually the case, however, in person, since Garcia is one of the top three or four guitar players in rook music. When he is very good, the music is incredible.
Jazz critic Philip Elwod has said that the Grateful Dead are very close to an experimental jazz group and he is right. In person, the Dead feature very improvised instrumentals framed by average vocals and lyrics.
The vocals and lyrics though, become almost superfluous as the instrumental section of each song weaves moods, changing tone, tempo, and style often for thirty minutes or longer.
Garcia's main deficit as a soloist is demonstrated on "Viola Lee Blues." He occasionally gets hung up on a single rhythmic figure which he repeats up and down the fingerboard.
"Viola Lee" never seems to get off the ground because of this. Lesh is an amazingly inventive bassman (he studied under Darius Milhaud) and though he tries his damnedest on "Viola Lee," nothing happens.
The Grateful Dead are one of the most powerful and inventive groups in rock (or any music for that matter); if you've heard their album and disagree then we suggest that you listen to them when they come East again.

A number of people writing about rock in the past year have pointed out rock's eclecticism; one of the most appealing features of rock is its ability to encompass styles as diverse as the Lovin' Spoonful and the Cream's.
A case in point is the recently released album Ara-Be-In (Arhoolie—Changes Records 7001) by the Jerry Hahn Quintet. Jerry Hahn is a guitar player who is best known for his work with jazz musician John Handy. The other members of his group are Mike White, a violinist who was with Hahn in Handy's group of a year and a half ago, Ron McClure and Jack De Johnette, bassman and drummer respectively for Charles Lloyd, and Noel Jewkes, a San Francisco jazz musician (tenor and flute) who sounds very much like Charles Lloyd. In other words, Hahn's group is basically a West Coast jazz group.
Their album, however, contains two tracks ("Ara-Be-In" and "Ragahantar") which are as much like the highly inventive rock of the Grateful Dead and the Cream, for example, as they are like jazz.
"Ragahantar" is Hahn solo. It is formally based on the raga but it is as close to Indian classical music as most Indian derived rock is; i.e., not very close. It is its own thing, just like Country Joe's instrumentals and the Doors' "The End" are unique though influenced by Eastern tonalities.
Hahn's guitar is in an open tuning (reminiscent of Sandy Bull) and several strings act as sympathetic strings, setting up a drone or root note over which Hahn solos.
"Ara-Be-In" is more interesting if only for the fact that the rest of the quintet is included on this track. The same guitar figure opens "Ara-Be-In" and the structure of the piece is the same for each soloist — a rhythm-free improvisation in which the rest of the band establishes and augments the drone followed by a quick tempoed rhythmic improvisation once more over the drone.
White's violin solo is the most effective because his instrument (like the guitar) is most readily adaptable to this style of music. The piece ends with a unison improvisation and finally a return to the theme.
"Ara-Be-In" is impressive from any musical point of view, but it is especially interesting in that Hahn's group is clearly thinking along the same lines as, for example, Jerry Garcia's group.
As the instrumental quality of rock keeps improving, we feel that the music will end up in the area that Jerry Hahn's music encompasses — a musical area that defies labels because it is eclectic and is unashamed of its roots. Some rock groups — the Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish — are already there. Whether or not they will be listened to is another question.

(by Bill Dalton and Tom Law, from The Heights, 17 November 1967)


This piece continued a previous article, "Rock: San Francisco, Part I," reviewing the first Country Joe & the Fish LP, Electric Music for the Mind and Body:

Jul 9, 2017

July 11, 1969: The Pavilion, Flushing Meadow Park, Queens NY


Rock fans have certain stock complaints, and one is that there is no decent live rock scene in New York. The Fillmore is a cross between Philharmonic Hall and the subway at rush hour. The clubs offer prohibitive prices and the vibrations of a dentist's drill. Once in a while, something nice happens in Central Park or Tompkins Square, and people will talk about it for months afterward. But mostly rock talk in New York is wistful, punctuated by many mentions of Woodstock and (last year) San Francisco and (this year) Mill Valley.
One place nobody muses about is Queens. Queens -- yech! A lot of rockheads, including me, have tended to define both their generational revolt and their spiritual progress in terms of their migration from Queens to Manhattan. But a favorite pastime of Americans is rediscovering their origins -- that's what the whole rock renaissance is about, after all -- and this may be the year we find out that Queens has a soul. Didn't Jimmy Breslin promise, "If elected, I shall go to Queens?" Aren't the Mets contenders? Queens is where the working class calls itself the middle class. It's the scene of the epic teenage rivalry of the fifties, between the "rocks" and the "collegiates." It's the home of the original sawdust pizza. Rock belongs to Northern Boulevard as much as, if not more than, to Second Avenue. And Queens has something Manhattan doesn't have -- lots of open space.
This fact has not escaped rock promoters. Last summer, two producers brought a number of major groups to the Singer Bowl, in Flushing Meadows. The concerts were an artistic flop; the stadium was too large, the sound was terrible, and the problem of musical theater-in-the-round was solved -- or, rather, parried -- by means of a revolving stage, which allowed each spectator to get a good look at the performers every three minutes or so, a system that does not facilitate rapport.
This year, the Singer Bowl concerts have been taken over by Music Fair Enterprises, the company that runs the Westbury Music Fair. Howard Stein, a young producer who was hired to organize the shows, has screened off a section of the arena and made improvements in the sound system, and prospects look good. At the same time, however, Music Fair Enterprises has outflanked itself by delegating Stein to take on a much more inspiring project -- a series of rock dances in the open-air (but roofed) New York State World's Fair Pavilion, also in Flushing Meadows. The first of these was held on Friday, July 11th. It featured the Grateful Dead and Joe Cocker, and it was quite simply fantastic. If the management continues to do the right things, rock at the Pavilion could become an institution. For the sake of the music and the culture -- and for the sake of Queens -- I hope it will.

I rode to Flushing on a chartered bus that MFE had hired to lure the skeptical press to the outlands. The bus driver got lost, and we took a little tour of Corona (coming withing eight blocks of my old junior high school). Then, to make up for his lapse, he began to speed. It was no use -- we were late anyway. But by this time the bus had become part of the adventure. It was the Who's Magic Bus, the Magical Mystery Tour bus. We jounced along eating brownies and shouting instructions to the driver.
At the Pavilion, it soon became evident that the rest of the crowd shared our expansive mood. They kept coming in, thousands of happy kids -- almost five thousand by the end of the evening. The Pavilion was large enough to accommodate everyone without strain. The ground level served as a huge round dance floor; on the balcony there were tables and chairs, the food concession (the main culinary attraction was tacos, a beautiful idea, though the reality was mediocre), and a nice view of the park. The atmosphere was totally relaxed. As in the San Francisco ballrooms, people were free to dance, crowd in front of the stage, sit in a corner, wander around, eat, or do whatever else impulse dictated. There were no intrusive guards or cops.

The music was great. Joe Cocker and his band did an excellent hard-rock set that included a spectacular rendition of "Let's Go Get Stoned" -- redundant advice for most of the audience, which sang along enthusiastically. During the break between sets, someone backstage had the good sense to put on Beggar's Banquet, and a large group of spectators got up to dance to the Stones. Nothing like that had happened at a rock concert -- in San Francisco or anywhere else -- for a long, long time.
Later, when the Dead were about to come on, there was some squabbling between a solid bloc of dancers who stood in the middle of the floor -- and insisted moralistically that everyone else do the same -- and the people sitting behind them, who complained that they were cutting off the view. After a few minutes of edgy exchange, Bob Weir came onstage and announced, as the Dead do whenever they can, "The management of this place told us you can get up and dance if you want to, so why don't you get up and dance?" That did it. The dancers won; the sitters got up. They were probably glad they did.
The Dead proceeded to perform for more than two hours. They played a lot of new material (notably "Don't Murder Me," a witty country-western song), some standards (including Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle," with Pigpen doing a pretty fair vocal), and several cuts from their new album, Aoxomoxoa; my favorite was "Mountains of the Moon." Through it all, Jerry Garcia, in his red polo shirt, beamed at us. It was the season of love all over again.

The Dead were the perfect group to launch this latest and best exercise in the nostalgia that has been hitting the rock community lately. Dancing. The summer of love. Queens. We still need that ambience, those memories. It's not enough to stare reverently at Eric Clapton's nimble fingers. I only wish the admission price could be lower. Three dollars is reasonable compared to what city places charge, and you get more for your money; still, it's not exactly proletarian.
I didn't appreciate just how good the Pavilion concert was until the following night, when I attended the Madison Square Garden debut of Blind Faith, the new Eric Clapton-Ginger Baker-Steve Winwood combine. (The group is rounded out by a relative unknown -- bassist and electric violinist Rick Grech.) The best part of the evening was that it was short, though this irritated me, theoretically, as one more example of the promoters' indifferent greed. For the prices the kids paid (the cheapest seats were four dollars), they deserved at least a half hour more of music. They also deserved, and didn't get, adequate sound, an alternative to the atrocity of the revolving stage, and an environment that was not conspicuously hostile and policed. Clapton played well, as usual, but Winwood's voice did not come through, and, as for Baker, his show-offy drumming just makes me nervous. In spite of the shoddy production, the audience was ecstatic. Hundreds of teenagers rushed the stage, screaming like Beatlemaniacs. I don't understand it. I'm sure the Emperor has no clothes, but there must be an aesthetic of nakedness I'm not getting.

(by Ellen Willis, untitled article in the "Rock, Etc." column, from the New Yorker, 26 July 1969)


See also: 


Ellen Willis had visited San Francisco in fall 1968 and seen the Dead; unfortunately she did not write about them, but she wrote a piece on the other bands she saw:


I had been in San Francisco a week, was preparing to visit the new Fillmore West for the third time, and asked a friend from East Bay to come along. He wasn't really in the mood, but he had a hard time saying no. "I feel as if I ought to go," he said. "As if it's culture." I'd been experiencing a similar sense of obligation, but dismissing it as a rather banal occupational disease. Yet, after all, it's just a matter of degree: I'm not an art critic, but if I went to Florence I'd feel duty-bound to see a lot of paintings. Rock and roll was the lazy man's music. Who worked at liking Little Richard? You dug him or you didn't.
I hadn't quite realized how much things had changed until I found myself going to concerts here and in Berkeley (a) to pay my respects to the cultural capital of white pop music, (b) to gain insight into what the new groups were doing, and (c) to see Steve Miller live, because I was afraid I had misjudged his first album (he turned out to be as bad as I thought -- third-rate honky-tonk with a fuzztone -- but then the night I was there he had to cope with a bum sound system and was without his rhythm guitarist). The only group I went to see for its own beautiful sake was the Grateful Dead.

Even now there is more and better music going on here than anywhere else in the country. The Bay Area has long been an amazing reservoir of musicians. In 1964, they were sitting around the Berkeley campus playing for fun. Now, apparently, they've all joined rock groups. In the past week or so, at least fifteen local bands, most of them completely unknown elsewhere, have performed at the Fillmore West, the Avalon, the Oakland Coliseum, the Berkeley Community Theater, and various clubs; of those I've seen, the worst are well above the level of the average third-billed act at the Fillmore East, and the best need only practice, good advice, and luck to be really great.
But, for all this talent, the cultural capital is not what it was when the earliest groups were defining a new consciousness. Such intensity is always difficult to sustain, and the circumstances have not been favorable. Haight-Ashbury has passed to the hoodlums and the meth addicts, the growing political urgency has made music seem less important, and the media, after publicizing the scene to death, have lost interest in it, which is even worse. It may be that the mystique of community that characterized San Francisco rock was based at least partly on wishful thinking; Grace Slick was never exactly the hippie next door.
Yet for me and a great many other people, in and out of San Francisco, it was very exciting, and I am not happy to see it replaced by what amounts to a mystique of musicianship -- a reverence of the sort that makes entertainment "culture." This attitude has its roots in the increasing conversion of white rock from a vocal into a primarily instrumental music -- a trend that originated in San Francisco, though it is by no means confined here. (Eric Clapton has said that Cream uses a voice as just another instrument; Ten Years After, the best of the English blues bands, appears to have the same philosophy.)
The most striking casualty of this development has been the eclectic sensory experience that dance floors and light shows were set up to provide. At the Fillmore West, almost everyone sits on the floor and watches -- one scarcely visible corner is reserved for dancing, as if on principle, just as so many of the groups offer token vocals on principle -- and the light show has become an unobtrusive backdrop. The audience wants to concentrate on what the performers are doing with their instruments.

The best and most polished group I've seen here, It's a Beautiful Day, is totally involved with instrumentation. Not one of its six members -- four men and two girls -- can sing rock. They lack the basic prerequisites of volume and enthusiasm -- especially the lead singer, who also plays the violin. But they are excellent musicians (except for one of the girls, whose function is obscure; she shakes a tambourine now and then, but that's about it). Their sound is built on intricate, shifting rhythmic patterns that reminded me of the Kaleidoscope (a band that isn't very well known but should be), and it is so varied and unfailingly interesting that the vocal vacuum doesn't matter.
At the other extreme is a group of five girls called the Ace of Cups. Everyone sings, and each singer is better than the last, ending with the bass player, Mary Gannon, who has a perfect rock voice, strong, mellow, and idiosyncratic. She and three of the others are essentially belters, but the fifth voice (the piano player's) is soft and torchy -- an effective contrast. Their melodies and arrangements are excellent. But they can't play at all. (This is not surprising. There are plenty of female rock singers but, for some reason, virtually no girls who play instruments seriously.) They pick at their instruments as if at unwanted food on a plate -- especially the drummer, who provides almost no beat. The lack of virtuosity is no problem in itself -- in fact, given my prejudices, it is refreshing -- but the lack of drive is. Their singing is so good that I hope they can overcome this handicap; that they've been performing for a year without learning more is disturbing.
Other groups I've enjoyed are Creedence Clearwater Revival, a workmanlike hard-rock band that is a bit more established -- it has an LP out and a hit single, "Susie Q" -- and the Cleveland Wrecking Company, which is in the wall-of-sound tradition, with a lot of well-integrated electronic noise a la Byrds. . . 
[ omitted negative review of "one group I hated, Black Pearl" ]
Except for the Dead, the big groups have been out of town. The Airplane has been in Europe with a twenty-seven-man entourage, and Big Brother recently gave its last local concert to feature Janis Joplin, who is going out on her own. The Airplane doesn't belong to San Francisco anymore; it belongs to the world, like the Beatles and white Levis. As for Janis, she has always belonged to herself. I hope she'll be well and not lose her incredible voice too soon. Incidentally, both groups' latest albums -- the Airplane's Crown of Creation and Big Brother's Cheap Thrills -- are classics. Not only that, they are pure, immediate pleasure. The Grateful Dead's new album, Anthem of the Sun, does take some getting used to, but I find myself enjoying it more and more. Sometimes I think the Dead are the only really happy people left.

(by Ellen Willis, from the "Rock, Etc." column, the New Yorker, 2 November 1968)

Reprinted in the collection Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music.

Jul 6, 2017

April 21-23, 1969: The Ark, Boston


"Ted who?" said the chickie in bell-bottom dungarees, transparent lavender blouse and big sunglasses.
My God. Here she is, standing not 50 yards from where St. Ted stood most of his life, on the other side of The Wall on Lansdowne St., and she's asking "Ted who?" Oh, wretched Generation Gap - don't they teach these kids nothing?
It is Wednesday and she has come to Lansdowne St. bordering Fenway Park,. Why, if not to welcome back that revered figure of our own youth, Ted Williams? Why?
Why, to welcome Pig Pen and his colleagues of The Grateful Dead, an outfit considerably more alive than Ted's Washington Senators, and more capable of punishing The Wall with electronic smashes than even the Red Sox with bats.
Truly, The Wall seemed to quake when The Dead played their fine music across the street from Fenway Park. Though buried in a surrealistic cavern called The Ark, The Dead were so live and so well amplified that their supercharged tones were ricocheting off 3000 young eardrums, rebounding against The Wall and charging into the night to land...where...Saturn?
With the emergence of The Ark - ex-garage, ex-icehouse, ex-warehouse - Lansdowne St. has become a paved Generation Gap, separating two eras and their temples of diversion. On the south side the gothic playground, Fenway Park, accommodating the Grand Old Game of another time. And on the north, the labyrinthine Ark where the new music is played. It is getting newer, more demanding of musicianship - today's rock band, tomorrow's symphony? - yet louder.
Listening to The Grateful Dead's climactic number, "Feedback," when everything is turned on all the way, is the next best thing to standing next to a jet at takeoff. The next best thing for whom?
"The sound is so strong it's unmeasurable," claims the band's manager, Jonathan Reister. "About 130 decibels - just about the same as a jet, except that a jet gets away from you fast." Yeah. If you're in the same room with The Dead, you can't get away. The wax in your ears melts like sealing wax touched by flame. Then your ears melt.
"That one is a little loud," winced the possessor of the oldest eardrums in the house, white-haired 66-year-old Ethel Tessel of Brooklyn.
Ethel and her husband Sam were seated on the bandstand, a couple of grandparent groupies, nodding their heads nicely as though The Dead were playing Johann Strauss. Below them getting bombed on sound - catatonic or wriggling - was a crush of 1500 kids. And at the back of the room was the usual detail of cops, their faces changing color in the light show, aware now of what was meant in those childhood warnings of purgatory.
Mrs. Tessel, grandmother of Mickey Hart, who is one of the two drummers, said the boys were very nice to put her and Sam near the music. "We go to see them every time they're near Brooklyn. I bake cookies for them."
Hashish brownies?
"No, no," she smiled as the Boston Yellow Pages flashed on the wall, and then Jack Benny's face, and then Mr. America Comics (it was a good light show). "Chocolate chip cookies. They're just like any other boys," she said, beaming at lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, who looks like Groucho Marx, and at conga player Ronald C. (Pig Pen) McKernan, who looks like Buffalo Bill in basketball shoes. "They like chocolate chip cookies and music."
Her grandson, wearing a grand mustache and his hair in a peruke, confirmed it. "Nothing like gramma's chocolate chip cookies. On our next album we're gonna have a cut called 'Gramma's Chocolate Cookies.' Freaky, right?"
Gramma's young men. The Grateful Dead out of San Francisco are today's All-American boys - two sets of drums, congas, three guitars, and organ, and the loudest sound-reproducing equipment in the business. A couple of them had even heard of Ted Williams and Fenway Park.
Gramma Tessel knows who Ted Williams is. She approves of him but feels The Dead have a better future. Gramma's hip all the way.
But that chickie who asked "Ted who?" Next time I see her I'm gonna say, "Pig Pen who?"

(by Bud Collins, from the Boston Globe, 26 April 1969)

Thanks to Dave Davis.

Jul 5, 2017

April 27, 1969: Labor Temple, Minneapolis


Talk about the beginnings of acid-rock music and you inevitably hit upon the Grateful Dead. The Dead, along with a couple of other existing groups (the Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish), were in on the ground floor when the San Francisco music scene exploded in 1967.
And yet, the Dead still remain one of the most undefinable groups around. Their sound is good yet, upon hearing a record of theirs for the first time, you would not be able to guess it was them.
They have no distinctive style because they borrow from a number of types of music. Yet the sound, indistinctive as it may be, is their own.
They put it all on display Sunday night at the Labor Temple. The Dead provided a pastiche of styles and a uniqueness of sound.
Within the structure of one song, which lasted an hour, they crammed in rhythm and blues, bossa nova, country and western (ala the Everly Brothers), and acid rock.
They began with "Turn On Your Love Light," a rhythm and blues classic. They turned it around and twisted it into a half an hour of instrumental work.
A triumvirate, consisting of bass player Phil Lesh, rhythm guitarist Bob Weir, and lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, worked tightly together to produce an exciting combination that brought the audience to its feet, perhaps prematurely, before the group had been on five minutes.
Occasionally, when playing low-tempo sections, they got boring. But the minute they brought the tempo up, hands started to clap and feet to stomp and the crowd would not let them go.
Preceding the Dead was the Bobby Lyle Quintet. Lyle's group seemed totally out of place, playing jazz that would have been appropriate in a supper club. The group borrowed heavily from such jazz artists as Herbie Mann and Jimmy Smith, but gave a nice change of pace to the Temple crowd.

(by Marshall Fine, from the Minneapolis Star, 28 April 1969)

Thanks to Dave Davis.

Dick's Picks 26

Jul 4, 2017

February 2, 1969: Labor Temple, Minneapolis


Big-time rock action begins for the first time in Minneapolis on a regular basis with a combination concert and dance (or whatever you want to do) by the Grateful Dead at 8 tonight at the Minneapolis Labor Temple, 117 SE 4th St.
The concerts will be held every Sunday evening. They will feature either nationally known underground rock groups or groups that are just starting to break into the big time.
Sponsoring the concerts is a group of six young men who call themselves The Community News. Most of them are college students. The News specializes in putting on psychedelic light shows and recently has been staging dances and concerts with local groups in Dania Hall.
David Anthony, who will be president of the News when it soon becomes a corporation, said the concerts will be unique in the Twin Cities because they'll be the only ones staged as they are in such places as Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco or the Kenetic Playground in Chicago.
"We'll have the Community News light show and people will just come in and mostly sit on the floor in little groups and groove with the music. What we want to achieve is an intimacy you just can't get in a big hall like the Minneapolis Auditorium or the Armory.
"The atmosphere's just wrong in those big places. There's the act and there you are and there's no real good relationship between the audience and the act."
Anthony said ticket sales for the first show have been good with mail orders coming from as far away as North Dakota and South Dakota. He is expecting the hall to be filled to its capacity of about 1,650.
Among the groups lined up for future Sunday nights are the Rotary Connection, the Spirit, Polcol Harum, the Buddy Miles Express (tentatively), Jeff Beck, and Blood, Sweat and Tears.

(by Allan Holbert, from the Minneapolis Tribune, 2 February 1969)



Minneapolis' first major league rock hall opened Sunday evening with a flourish unprecedented in this chilly climate. Putting heat into the night at the Minneapolis Labor Temple was the incomparable Grateful Dead with a performance worthy of such rock emporiums as San Francisco's Avalon or the Fillmore West.
Playing the first set was a local group, the Black Widow Apology, which was fair to middling, and the whole scene was presided over by the Community News light show, which has come a long way since Dania Hall, the westbank's own rock parlor.
The Grateful Dead is one of San Francisco's ranking rock groups that got a big push back in the early '60s when a Bay Area chemist, Augustus Stanley Owsley III, came to their support with unlimited financial aid that provided the massive electronic baggage necessary for their heavy yet sophisticated sound.
Sunday night, after a slow start and minor equipment trouble, they got it all on more than well enough to justify Owsley's generous support. It would be difficult if not impossible to single out any performer as the star of the evening. Jerry Garcia, sporting a big, bushy beard, played an incredibly deft and lyrical guitar, all the while underscored by Phil Lesch's wandering, penetrating bass. Add to that the complex beats of two excellent drummers and you have the finest rhythm section in all of rock and probably beyond.
The Dead play a style of music that could best be described as seemingly about to fall apart at any moment, yet the group is so tight that regardless of how far afield they may wander, they all come together at exactly the right moments. Sunday night they did it in the extreme. The excitement and tension they generated was so compelling that by the concert's end, despite nearly unbearable heat, they had everyone in the place bouncing and screaming for more. The rapport between audience and musicians was superb.
Taking this concert as a whole, this reviewer would give the new rock hall a triple-A rating. If they needed a full house to get them over the financial hump, they got it and then some. In fact, if fault is to be found with Sunday's show, it's that the hall was too small. A little breathing room would be appreciated, but that's such a small thing to quibble about when the music was so great. More! More!

(by Johan Mathiesen, from the Minneapolis Star, 3 February 1969)

Thanks to Dave Davis.

See also the Tribune review:


Jun 30, 2017

February 6, 1966: Acid Test, Unitarian Church, Northridge CA


Sunday night, February 6th, the Acid Test began in L.A. at the Valley Unitarian Church. Inspired initially by novelist Ken Kesey, it amounts to a revolutionary concept of the function of the theatre and the relationship of individuals in a society.
Kesey was not here; he has ridden into the hills and will return again when his people call "All free!" As it is, although his group had only been here a day, police were hunting down its distinctive bus under orders to roust it wherever it was found. However, I do not get the impression that Kesey's group is dependent upon any one person to do its job nor that it's distracted by persecution.
When I asked Lee Quarnstron, one of the central group, if they began the performance with any set format, he answered, "'Freak freely' is our motto; as long as you hurt no one. We groove together. To repeat any procedure or method is to play an old game. We want to play new games."
Their first performance in L.A. was indicative of their methods. The floor of the room was littered with musical instruments, creatively dressed people, tape recorders, movie projectors, pieces of colored material... The walls and ceiling relentlessly changed color and images; my eyes were caressed and assaulted by random juxtapositions of shapes and colors. It appeared to be an integrated aesthetic fantasy controlled by some masterly yet casual hand.
Then two people, obviously not performers, rose and began playing with a large sheet of cellophane during a particularly beautiful musical session. By really digging what they were doing, they entertained all who watched. Events were moving in harmony despite their seemingly random development. The experience demanded each person to add honestly and creatively. By forsaking your anxieties and bullshit, you surrender yourself to the room and achieve a height of involvement equal to the sum total of all exposed potential in it.
Poet Neil Cassidy went out on an hour's worth of fascinating word salad over a mike while interferometric Del Close began casting magical and ineffable colors onto a wall, directed only by his spontaneous explorations of what he was doing. Hugh Romney began a monologue like an incantation while watching a film being shown on another section of wall. Dick Webster beat his gongs whenever some musician's sound enticed him; musicians tastefully tried musical possibilities until all were in the same place at once. A girl ran in a circle, stopping sporadically to dance enchantingly. Free Press editor Art Kunkin rambled over to a still projector and jiggled the image on the opposite wall for five minutes before I realized he wasn't part of the performing group.
Frightening, insane, chaotic? I suppose the answer depends on where you're at. To me, what went down was a recapture of an experience Man hasn't given himself the simple luxury of since he left his cave. It was a unification which insisted on confident naturalness. There were no distinctions between roles and functions and identities - only good people tripping out on their mutual creative expression and free exultation. I'm sure someone must get his head in a bad place during one of these performances, but it would be impossible to keep it there among such good vibrations.
Quarnstron later told me that all these experiences will ultimately be organized into a movie. The show I came to watch is a show in which I am a performer. To be passive in this experience - as in any other - is to deny myself my own capability.
The Acid Test will be here about two weeks and is currently seeking a place to live, work, perform. The central group works all day on their maze of tapes and films and plays all night to radiate epiphanies. The Free Press and your local grapevine will let you know where and when the next Acid Test will be.
Ralph Gleason, in San Francisco (where the group successfully performed for some three months) has described their efforts with Dylan's lines about Mr. Jones: "Something is happening here, but you don't know what it is." Quarnstron describes them in the paraphrase, "THIS is what's happening here." The difference in tone is crucial: the Acid Test warmly welcomes all who come to it cleanly, clearly, totally. Their Yes is open and unqualified; they say No only to negatives.
Is this a nihilistic Hedonism or a new attempt to achieve fulfillment in a world of increasingly maniacal rigidity? I suppose the answer depends on how up-tight you are, how certain you are of your own validity and stature.

(by Paul Jay Robbins, from the "Happenings" column, Los Angeles Free Press, 11 February 1966)

See also:

Jun 29, 2017

December 6, 1968: The Spectrum, Philadelphia


One of the things you start wondering about, while you are sitting in your red-cushioned seat at the Spectrum listening to a guitar player who belongs to a group called the Iron Butterfly playing on his knees, is if this all means that rock music, the curse of the over-25 class, is finally going establishment.
The scene was Friday night, at the Quaker City Rock Festival No. 2, a concert designed to show off the talents - and the massive electronic sound - of five rock groups, including the Iron Butterfly, which also boasted a topless drummer who played what must be the most monotonous 10-minute solo in the history of man, and a fire, lit in a metal pan on the revolving carpeted stage by the guitar fellow who played on his knees.

The funny thing about it is that you would expect the young people who attend rock festivals to really let themselves go, surrounded by 10,000 of their peers and the sound they love being blasted from about a dozen speakers darn near as big as your refrigerator.
But they sit there, talking to each other, clapping politely at the end of each song (Rock compositions are always called songs, just as the people who play them are always called groups, and never combos.), and, occasionally, a few of them would extend aloft an arm topped by the Churchillian "V for victory" sign, although, I have learned, to them it means peace, or Black Power, or groovey, or something like that.
It was, admittedly, not as good as Quaker City Rock Festival No. 1, which had the Chambers Brothers and the Vanilla Fudge and Janis Joplin with her former supporting group, Big Brother and the Holding Company.

No. 2 started off with the Creedence Clearwater Revival, a group that plays something they call folk rock and has one song, a two-parter, really, called "Suzie Q" which most people can stand and is probably the best thing that they will ever do.
Next team on the revolving stage was the Grateful Dead, and they, too, are not in the class with the Beatles or the Doors or the Jefferson Airplane. Only once, in the midst of a song that lasted perhaps 20 minutes, did the Grateful Dead appear really alive, and that was when a guitarist, with the help of enough transistors and other radio insides to build two television sets, wrenched from his instrument a series of high, feedback-augmented chords that could be compared, favorably, with some of the better compositions of Stravinsky.

By now it is 9 p.m., about a third of the way through the night, and the audience, high-schoolers and college types clad in the usual nonconformist's uniform of long hair and slightly exotic clothes, was acting politely bored, much like a solid, upper-middle-class burgher who has been dragged to a symphonic concert by his wife and is trying to appear gracefully interested and still stay awake.
Part of the problem is the time involved changing the stage between acts. Each group plays for about 45 minutes, and it takes almost that long for the speakers, amps, organs, and funny lights to be put into place and wired together, a hiatus punctuated frequently by an announcer with a 19-word, pseudo-hip vocabulary who urges the audience to be patient.
The other problem is acoustics. The Spectrum, better known for ice hockey and basketball, is not really a concert hall, for one thing, and during the first three sets, the auditorium's amplifier was occasionally feuding with the musicians' amps, creating a sound like that of a very cheap transistor playing at full volume under water.

But the Iron Butterfly scored points with a new number, still not available on records, called "Soul Experience," and with their magnum opus, a 27-minute work entitled, I believe, "In-a-Gadda-da-Zida," which sounds better than it reads, except for the solo by the topless drummer.
It was at about this time, while waiting for Sly and the Family Stone, that the announcer said that the Rolling Stones are coming to the Spectrum in March, their first American concert in four years, and the crowd nearly went wild.

The high point of the night, excitement-wise, was the Family Stone, which attempted to turn on the audience and nearly succeeded. Sly Stone was running up and down the aisles, waving the "V" sign and letting the audience help by yelling something that sounded like "hi ya" every so often, and you could see the tension build, but the bubble broke before more than a third of the people were out of their seats, and suddenly it was a little sad, because the audience could not or would not turn on, and Sly Stone and the rest of his group were in a frenzy that had been beautiful but now slightly embarrassing.
And that is when the half-formed thought about the Establishment gobbling up rock music becomes even more intriguing, because any concert that costs $5.50 to attend cannot be considered in the same class as its origins, those cheap dance halls where musicians like the Beatles starved on 5 pounds a week and devised a music form that could appeal to the young, interest the old, and eventually cause some of the world's stuffiest critics to rank them with Beethoven.

The last group was Steppenwolf (the name is stolen from a book by Herman Hesse), and Steppenwolf was almost good enough to wash away those heretical thoughts. But then you remember that "Born to be Wild" is probably the best song that Steppenwolf has done, and notice that the audience is anything but wild, and then you realize that there was probably a time when even Guy Lombardo was considered new and different, a brief shining moment before he, too, became Establishment.

(by W.G. Tudor, from the Morning News (Wilmington DE), 9 December 1968)


Thanks to Dave Davis

Jun 28, 2017

August 23, 1968: Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles


At their best, the Grateful Dead are a wondrous group and they were at their best for a weekend dance concert sponsored by Pinnacle at the Shrine Exposition Hall.
The San Francisco sextet has a number of failings - their vocals are weak, they seem to require at least 20 minutes to warm into excitement, and their original songs are not notable either for lyrics or for melodies - but their weaknesses become insignificant when lead guitarist Jerry Garcia gets going.
Garcia is brilliant, an instrumentalist with flawless timing, great melodic invention, and a magic ability to raise the Dead into continually higher peaks of excitement.
He and they excel at improvising at a giddy pace and nearly every song accelerates into roller coasterish speed at some point to display their staccato abilities. His guitar flights are sometimes beautiful and sometimes frenzied but they are always perfect for the group and the crowd.
Bob Weir, rhythm guitar; Ron McKernon (Pigpen), organ; Phil Lesh, bass; and Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, drums, generate a massive amount of music through which Garcia's guitar romps.
The Dead also are notable for a non-musical quality: of all the San Francisco groups, they probably have played more free concerts than any other. Pinnacle has been having financial problems and the Grateful Dead, who appeared in the first Pinnacle concert, appeared to help them out.
Also on the bill was Taj Mahal, the husky voiced blues singer and harmonica player whose band includes another fine guitarist, Eddie Davis.

Meanwhile, the Kaleidoscope, which again is being run by the people who started it, presented the Moby Grape, Genesis, and the McCoys Friday and Saturday nights.
The Moby Grape, another San Francisco group, has become a quartet with the departure of Skip Spence, who sang, played rhythm guitar, and mugged and danced frenetically during their appearances. Spence left because of ill health.
His absence does not seem to have thinned the group's musical ability, but their Saturday night performance was rather dull except for Jerry Miller's work on lead guitar.
A member of Genesis was in jail Saturday night, so I did not get to see them, and the well-publicized new McCoys don't merit much excitement, but the light show (apparently incorporating the Thomas Edison Castle people from the defunct Cheetah, to judge from familiar slides and movies) was very good.

(by Pete Johnson, from the Los Angeles Times, 26 August 1968) 



[A brief review of the Dead's first appearance at the Shrine, May 17-18, 1968.]

... Meanwhile, over at the Shrine Exposition Hall, the Grateful Dead pummelled several thousand persons with their long improvisational rock music in a show sponsored by the Pinnacle.
The sound of the San Francisco sextet is heavily dependent on lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, whose brilliant playing makes it hard to realize that he is surrounded by routine musicians.
They have two average drummers instead of one good one. Pigpen's organ is generally barely audible and his voice, the best in the group, is mediocre.
Garcia, however, led the group through some exciting blues-based music which roused the Shrine crowd into fervid demonstrations of appreciation.

(by Pete Johnson?, from the Los Angeles Times, 20 May 1968)

Thanks to Dave Davis.

Los Angeles Times staff writer Pete Johnson had also reviewed the Dead at the Hollywood Bowl 9/15/67 and the Shrine Exposition Hall 11/10/67:

Jun 27, 2017

May 5, 1968: Central Park, New York City


It was a beautiful day in Central Park yesterday for lollipops, dogs, pretty girls, wisteria, and hard rock.
The rock was provided for free by three of the currently best-known groups on the rock 'n' roll scene - the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the Jefferson Airplane, and the Grateful Dead.
The area's normal Sunday denizens - pretty girls in their slimmest pants suits walking dogs in hopes of meeting the lawyers and advertising men in their weekend Nehru jackets and turtlenecks - were all but swamped in the horde of young people who flocked to the concert.
About six thousand, the police estimated, jammed into the plaza in front of the bandstand near the Mall while thousands more sprawled out on the grass and under the trees. A few of the park benches were held by elderly people who listened and watched solemnly.

Free concerts have become a tradition among the oddly named groups in San Francisco who are bringing the music back to its rhythm and blues roots and adding an almost overpowering electronic sound.
"We almost always do free concerts - sometimes after the paying gig (job) we go outside and do another show for the kids who can't get [in]," explained Rock Scully, the Grateful Dead's road manager, as musicians and technicians set up their equipment in the concrete bandstand.
The most popular apparel among the youths was cast-off military jackets, often decorated with peace buttons. Many of them carried photographic equipment, and they showed their affection for the bands by cheering wildly, holding up two fingers in the "V" sign, and throwing lollipops on the stage.
As the wailing notes of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band drifted across the football players on the Sheep Meadow and bounced off the apartment houses on Central Park West, a barefoot blond girl in the back did an intricate dance by herself.

Grace Slick, the lead singer of the Jefferson Airplane, brought the crowd to their feet as she half-growled her lyrics into a hand microphone, and the excitement was maintained by the Grateful Dead, a band consisting of an electric organ, two electric guitars, an electric bass, a Chinese gong, and two complete sets of drums.
The Dead are extremely driving, amplified and hirsute, even by San Francisco standards, and in their finale, one of the drummers appears to run amok and savagely attacks his cymbals, while another member of the band sets off a small explosion.
As the group was playing, Michael F. Goldstein, a public relations man who assisted William Graham of the Fillmore East and Howard Solomon of the Cafe au Go Go in setting up the show, approached a glum-looking police captain near the bandstand.
"It's a great day and there aren't any hassles, captain, why aren't you happy?" Mr. Goldstein asked.
"I'd rather be listening to some Bach or Mozart," the captain replied, "or even Beethoven, heavy as he is."

(by John Kifner, from the New York Times, 6 May 1968)

See also: 

May 15, 2017

March 11, 1968: Memorial Auditorium, Sacramento, CA


CREAM should have convinced everybody within listening distance that they are, without any doubt, the finest in the rock idiom. For the very first time in Sacramento's rock concert history, the audience was courteous as well as appreciative.
Ginger Baker's "Toad" solo was inspired as he was encouraged by the very aware audience. Every complicated passage in his improvisations met with an ovation. Of the three times I have seen CREAM in concert, this was the best solo by Baker.
The songs played were of varying origins. Some were unreleased as yet, and others came from either "Fresh Cream" or "Disraeli Gears." "Tales of Brave Ulysseus," "N.S.U.," "Sunshine Of Your Love," "Sittin' On Top Of The World," and the medley of "Steppin' Out" (solo by Clapton), "Train Comin'" (harmonica solo by Bruce), and "Toad."
The policemen deserve a round of applause for their deplorable treatment of the musicians. Baker's sarcastic comment, "We love your police," was an indication of the obviously disrespectful attitude that usually pervades the cops' conduct. As the musicians were filing out of the back door of the auditorium, I heard the comments of the security police, for instance: "Hi, Sweetie" and "Take a bath." And they complain about the kids being badly behaved. I suggest that our lovable men in blue learn a few manners!!
The GRATEFUL DEAD were surprisingly good. The two drummers came up with a counter play that developed into an Afro-Cuban rhythm. The songs they played remained unnamed, but all six members of the group performed admirably. This is the first concert in Sacramento that even faintly resembled a Fillmore happening.
Both of the rock groups received standing ovations. The concert was a huge success. Aside from the ignorance and rudeness of the police, everyone who was there could feel the goodwill towards everyone. It was the first beautiful happening in our city.

(by Mick Martin, from the Pony Express, Sacramento, 15 March 1968) 

No tape, alas!
See also:

* * *

(Here is another Cream review by the same author, seven months later.)


The last two weeks were brim-full of superlative concerts by some of the best well-known and unknown rock groups. Anyone with a fast car could have caught them all and, as an afterthought, should have. Many once-in-a-lifetime rock milestones were happening; I will try to acquaint you with them.

Best of the lot was the really enjoyable CREAM concert at the Oakland Coliseum. [October 4] After listening to four other CREAM concerts, I was ready to be hyper-critical of what they played. I couldn't be. As the rest of the capacity crowd, I was aware that three musicians were spontaneously creating on stage and listened appropriately.
The songs played included tracks from their three album releases: "White Room"; "Politician"; "Deserted Cities Of The Heart"; "Crossroads"; "Spoonful"; "Toad"; "Sunshine Of Your Love"; and "I'm So Glad."
The introduction and conclusion to "Toad," which involved all three artists, was terribly sloppy. The solo was not the best I have heard by Ginger Baker, but it was adequate. "White Room" and "Politician" were earmarked by fine solo passages.
"Spoonful," more than ever before, was the best tune. It was inspiring to hear the interaction between Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Baker. They go into some very pleasing variations. Musically it was exciting to try to follow them simultaneously through the individual and collective improvisions.
[The opening bands:]  The COLLECTORS were fair. At times I felt they were almost into it, but their attitude was all too unsure and they didn't make me want to listen. IT'S A BEAUTIFUL DAY, on the other hand, was captivating and polished both at this concert and at the Fillmore West the week before. The violinist is a true craftsman; his emotions are easily felt through his music. The rest of the group makes statements that are just as effective. I can see considerable success here.

SUPER SESSION featured an added treat. [Fillmore West, 9/28/68] Mike Bloomfield was hospitalized; so, on Saturday night, Carlos Santanna and Steve Miller jammed with Al Kooper and his sidemen. Miller was poor; he wouldn't get into it. Santanna, on the other hand, was creative and positively engrossing. The interaction between Kooper and Santanna was very pleasing. It's going to be a nice LP. (They were recording live.)

In Sacramento, The GRATEFUL DEAD, TURTLES, YOUNGBLOODS, INITIAL SHOCK, SANPAKU, and FAMILY TREE played to a surprisingly small crowd of 2,000. [Memorial Auditorium, 10/5/68] The TURTLES were funny and entertaining. They were a release from the intensely musically innovative atmosphere. Mark Volmann is a comedian, in the truest sense of the word.
The DEAD, INITIAL SHOCK, and SANPAKU were the musical highpoints of the evening. SANPAKU's hornmen are so beautiful, their solos are always different, and yet they build to a completely emotional climax. Their original material is well arranged and worth repeated listens.
INITIAL SHOCK and the DEAD were better than ever and twice as groovy. Both groups always provide me with the feeling that I have heard something worthwhile, and on this night I felt they did exceptional jobs. YOUNGBLOODS were nice, and FAMILY TREE shows promise. It was an enjoyable evening, but I can't wait for Sacramento to get it together and support promoters like Whitey Davis, who really cares about music.

(by Mick Martin, from the Pony Express, 10 October 1968)