Feb 17, 2012

September 15, 1967: Hollywood Bowl


Two of the best-known San Francisco rock groups, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead, held forth at the Hollywood Bowl Friday night. A third northern combo, Big Brother and the Holding Company, backed out without notice.
Although there were a few good moments, it was generally a bad evening, thanks to inept sound balancing, bad singing and an exhibitionist audience (spurred by some poorly chosen words from Grace Slick and Marty Balin of the Airplane).
The Grateful Dead were hurt most by the acoustic imbalance, which sapped their voices of any ability to compete with their instrumental sound level.

Weak Vocals

At best they are not an overpowering singing group. Against the handicap of underpowered microphones, their vocal efforts became foolish, with the exception of Pigpen's (group organist and subject of several pop posters) delivery of "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl," a good blues number.
Weak microphones crippled "Cold Rain and Snow" and "Five," both of which are predominantly vocals, but they recovered with "Morning Dew," during which they invited the audience to dance on the grass which carpeted the front of the stage.
A few straggled up at first, then more, until the crowd numbered about 200 for the Grateful Dead's last number, an excellent lengthy tour de force punctuated by applause for Jerry Garcia's lead guitar playing. The gyrating extras did not interfere with the performance and left when the Dead quit for intermission.
Surrounded by metaphysical props (an hourglass, a world glove, a wooden Indian, a weathervane capped by a gold eagle, a wooden rocking horse, a wooden seal, a wooden cat with a monkey's face and a purple altar), Jefferson Airplane began their set with "Somebody to Love," featuring Grace Slick.

Sloppy Singing

The microphones still were weak as the sextet progressed through "She Has Funny Cars," "Young Girl's Sunday Blues," "Martha," "Two Heads" and "It's No Secret." Both Marty Balin and Miss Slick sang with more vigor than precision, a sloppiness most notable in their final three songs: "Plastic Fantastic Lover," "Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil" and "White Rabbit."
Grace Slick asked for dancers after their third number, but Bowl guards enforced a demilitarized zone in front of the stage and allowed no one through.
Balin remarked that the guards could not stop 20,000 determined people (he was about 5,000 off in his audience estimate and about 19,500 off in his estimate of determination, but perfectly correct in his assessment of uniformed tactical capabilities).

(by Pete Johnson, from the LA Times, 18 September 1967)
Thanks to snow & rain at the Transitive Axis forum.


(The Jefferson Airplane set was also taped by the same taper.)

* * *


Jefferson Airplane, the recording group that headlines the all-San Francisco rock show at the Hollywood Bowl on Friday, Sept. 15, has plans to present a show the likes of which have never before been seen at the Bowl.
More like a "happening" than a straight concert performance, the show will also feature The Grateful Dead and Big Brother and the Holding Company.
The three groups have all worked together many times at San Francisco's Fillmore Auditorium and are familiar with each other's styles.
Although details have not yet been worked out, plans are being made for the three groups to close the show in a free-wheeling jam session backed by a wildly surrealistic light show protected on a giant screen by Headlights, a group that specializes in these light projections.
Jefferson Airplane has had such hit recordings as "Somebody To Love," "White Rabbit," "Ballad of You And Me And Poohneil," and an album "Surrealistic Pillow" that has been a national bestseller for the past seven months.

(from the Valley News, 8 September 1967) 

* * *


San Francisco came to the Hollywood Bowl last weekend, and the Bowl will never regain its former austerity.
The music was original San Francisco - Jefferson Airplane headlining and the Grateful Dead taking the first hour.
The real stars were the members of "Headlights," begun by two men and a girl, the people who ran the first light show in Frisco, and then developed it to a fine art at the Fillmore Auditorium.
The trio and their helpers used a movie screen in the centre of the Bowl for part of the show, then also flashed pictures and lights on the massive seashell-shaped Bowl itself.
It seemed unlikely that anything could make the 17,500-seat Bowl (which was three-quarters full) anywhere near as intimate and involving as the Fillmore, but Headlights almost did.
The main attraction on stage was the dancers. Both groups were uncomfortable without the usual web of people writhing around them and invited the audience to come up on stage, though the security police tried to stop them.

(by Tracy Thomas, from the "America Calling" page, New Music Express, 30 September 1967) 

Thanks to Dave Davis.  


  1. = Beat It On Down the Line!

  2. In the 3/9/68 issue of the Los Angeles pop-news magazine KRLA Beat, there's an interview with the Jefferson Airplane that mentions this show (at least, the Airplane's set) -
    "The Airplane caused quite a stir in this city last summer when they played the Hollywood Bowl. It seems that they wanted the audience to be able to dance - a perfectly logical request except that the Bowl is a concert stadium and not a dance auditorium, a fact which the police noticed immediately as they tried to undo the 'damage' Marty, Paul, and Grace were doing.
    'It's important for the audience to dance so that they won't feel inhibited, they have to feel free, and not have cops standing around...that's a drag, no one can enjoy themselves.'
    Then Paul added, 'I also like wiggly bodies, they turn one on. The audience is more involved, dancing is like applause, it shows they are with you, but unlike applause it goes on all the time.'"
    http://krlabeat.sakionline.net/issue/9mar68.pdf (p.6)

    I also wrote a little description of the Airplane's set in a comment elsewhere:
    "I checked the tape of the 9/15/67 Jefferson Airplane show, which is quite an interesting example of 1967 crowd control.
    For the first few songs, the Airplane are concerned that no one is dancing: "Why don't you dance? You can't dance?"
    But security is stopping people from dancing; the band replies: "Come up and dance, how can they stop you? There's about 20,000 of you! You got feet, come on up!"
    The appeal works, all too well. A few songs later, the band appeals people to move away from the monitors and to sit down - the crowd has to get off the stage.
    Then the security head stops the show and tells everybody to clear the stage & sit back down before the show can continue.
    Later on Grace asks people to please bring back the stage props.
    There are also a couple announcements from the band - "We'd like to invite you all to the park tomorrow," & "Come to our party tomorrow in the park." On tape, though, the park isn't identified."

  3. I added a short announcement before the show, "Jefferson Happening Set To Go."
    Apparently the Airplane were planning something like the after-show jams that had taken place in some of the Canadian shows that summer - for instance, at the 7/31/67 Toronto show, one reporter wrote, "After the concert-dance, another dance occurs right on stage...all three bands jam for a straight 50 minutes."
    The idea for the Hollywood Bowl show was identical: "plans are being made for the three groups to close the show in a free-wheeling jam session."

    As far as we know, this didn't happen (at least, it wasn't taped or reported). Maybe the bands' enthusiasm was dampened by Big Brother dropping out of the show, or the heavy police presence squashing the audience at the Bowl.

  4. I added a brief review from the NME (the British weekly music paper). The reviewer had nothing to say about the music and was more impressed by the light show ("the real stars"). But she does mention that the bands were "uncomfortable" when not surrounded by dancers, and concurs with the other review that both bands invited dancers up on stage, despite the police efforts to stop them. She was probably unimpressed with the "original San Francisco" bands since they're barely mentioned; instead "the main attraction on stage was the dancers." But I suspect her reporting took her to San Francisco at some point since she mentions how "intimate and involving" the Fillmore was. I'd like to find more early reports from the British music press - I wonder what their readers made of the San Francisco scene at the time.