Feb 21, 2012

December 20-21, 1968: Shrine Hall, Los Angeles


In a Shrine Exposition Hall almost cold enough to form icicles on the amps, Country Joe and the Fish, Spirit, and the Grateful Dead headlined Scenic Sound's pre-Christmas week-end pair of rock concerts.
Scheduled as an "extra added attraction," the flu-ridden Sir Douglas Quintet was inadequately replaced by both the Comfortable Chair and the Mint Tattoo.
Produced by Doors duo Krieger and Densmore, the six men in the Comfortable Chair displayed no particular individual brilliance nor any cohesive group identity.

The Mint Tattoo unwisely offered lengthy over-ambitious improvisations, and this quasi-blues trio seemed bland and diffuse in the Shrine's vast chilly reaches.
On Friday, the Grateful Dead was plagued by sound system deficiencies on the main stage that particularly weakened vocal contributions. Nevertheless, the Dead's "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" and "Turn On Your Lovelight" - the latter a particularly effective example of tightly-organized ensemble playing - produced the evening's first real excitement.

Back on the better-sounding sidestage, Spirit earned the concert's most enthusiastic response with their instrumental variety, creative use of feedback, and sheer performance power.
Less an actual unit than a showcase for individual members, Spirit's only weakness is its rather flat vocals.
Rather remote in his one-man center-stage set, percussionist "Pulse" showed the impressive ability to operate his own blacklight and sound effects equipment while executing a complex series of sonic maneuvers on the congas and bongos. With more careful pacing, his act should really develop into something astounding.
The evening ended with a long set by Country Joe and the Fish, not the most reliable of performers, but here in exceptional good form.

With a negligible amount of their frequently emphasized protest material and a concentration on instrumentals (given the present sound system, a good idea) Country Joe provided extended variations on such material as "Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine," "Here I Go Again," and "So Nice to Have Love," the last a surprisingly commercial-sounding pop ditty handled with evident sensitivity.

(by Lewis Segal, from the Los Angeles Times, Dec 24 1968)

Thanks to snow & rain at the Transitive Axis forum. 




SHRINE, LOS ANGELES - It was like World War III last Saturday evening at the Shrine with three rock groups, The Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish, and The Spirit. The Spirit, a jazz-influenced rock band, simulated the sounds of marching soldiers, gun battle, and an air-raid siren during their numbers.
Ed Cassidy (he used to be Cass Strangedrum with the Rising Sons) is hip beneath glowing baldness and an unbelievably good drummer. Heavy on the tin, his foot creates crashes and banging solid beats. Each musician plays around the talent of Cassidy, and he sits, like the Mr. Clean of Musicland.
The Grateful Dead, whose live performances used to be disappointing, were excellent. The double drummers create an unusual, interesting sound, which distinguishes the San Francisco based group. The lead singer, a small Buffalo Bill wailer, somehow manages to sing above the throbbing beats of the seven members group. Oblivious to the audience (sadistic indifference), they seem to be performing for themselves. But their self-satisfaction brings great delight to the young crowd, decked out in rented costumes, grooving on the chairless floor of the huge auditorium.
Country Joe and the Fish are neither unusual nor individual. Country Joe and Banana, the only stars of the group, liven what would otherwise be a dull performance. But when left alone, the rest of the group functions as a lifeless automatic unit, free from singular identity. Billed as the starring group, Joe and the Fish were the last performers. By this time, the crowd, which wasn't large to begin with, dwindled rapidly and seemed just as bored by the Fish as the group was about their performance.

(from Cash Box, 4 January 1969) 

Thanks to Dave Davis.



  1. Though the Dead only get a brief mention in this article, it's notable for a few reasons.

    For one, it illustrates what the experience of a "whole show" was like, rather than just the Dead's set. It's interesting to see that the Dead seem to have been upstaged by both Spirit and Country Joe.
    They may have been adversely affected by equipment trouble, the (literally) cold atmosphere in the Shrine, or whatnot - on our tape snippet, they abandon the Eleven, not a good sign! (Their show the next night was better, and was about 80 minutes long.)
    We also learn that the Dead played Schoolgirl, not on our tape. As usual, the reviewer is most impressed by the Pigpen tunes - Schoolgirl and Lovelight.

    The Archive link has an interesting eyewitness review of the show.
    "There were a lot of great bands at this concert: Spirit, Comfortable Chair, and Country Joe & The Fish, besides the Grateful Dead. I remember the Grateful Dead didn't play all that long. It was a fun, old time, original rock festival type concert. Everyone sat on the floor, there weren't any seats. Everyone was real friendly... Plus, it was just a few days before Christmas. I remember Randy California, of Spirit, worked one of the Christmas Carols into one of his guitar solos. They had different stages set up, so while one band was playing, another one was getting ready, so there was only a short break between bands. And you'd turn and face one band and then the other. I remember Jerry's solos involved a lot of going up and down the neck, in a rather fluid manner... I think he was playing his SG. It was a great concert, and Country Joe & The Fish came out and closed the show. They were great, too!"

  2. Just tonight, I was discussing this show as the first professional rock concert I had been to, at age 14. What a trip to have my 30 year old son pull up this archived piece! And then to go to the link and hear actual archived audio. It blows me away as much as the show did that night! Being taken to this show was a holiday gift from my older sister. What a long strange trip it was! I remember Spirit being incredible and playing the aforementioned song calling it "Christmas Spirit". What nobody has mentioned, were the visuals provided by the combined efforts of The Thomas Edison and Castle Lighting 360 degree light show! That was a time when sound reinforcement and stage lighting had not quite evolved into the industry we have today and the Light show ruled the rock scene. Thanks for the great memory!

  3. Good to see an old-timer remember the show too!

    It looks like the first reel for this show is missing so we only get to hear the end of the show, but we have the next night's Dead show complete.

  4. I added a review from Cash Box of the 12/21/68 Saturday show. This reviewer didn't mention the additional opening bands that had played on Friday - maybe they didn't play again, or maybe he missed their sets, or in his limited space didn't think them worth a word.
    He says the Dead had been "disappointing" in the past but are now "excellent." (I wonder which of their shows he was disappointed by?) He likes the double-drumming and Pigpen, the "small Buffalo Bill wailer." But he doesn't think much of their stage presentation - they're "oblivious to the audience [and] seem to be performing for themselves." But the small crowd loves them nonetheless.
    He really doesn't like Country Joe & the Fish, whom he calls lifeless and dull. It seems some in the audience agreed - Country Joe made the mistake he'd repeat in later years of going on after the Dead, only to find that the crowd "dwindled rapidly."