Mar 1, 2012

1969: Live/Dead Reviews #2


This flight did not begin on earth, no: Dark Star is an opening poem to the colors from the void. Side one of a total of four begins to this most beautiful of melodic explorations. Even as the band shuffles into position they have departed planet limitations. Phil is propelling even as he prepares to soar, imparting visuals of silent space, probing here, thrusting there, threatening to connect and depart, but first for a moment of self-inspection, yes I is right, Jerry are you there???
The guitar murmurs in sleepy reply as the rhythm flows from in behind the theme and all is motion. Yes, I am here, the sun is always sleepy at dawn, but it is singing in eight minutes. Like a cat awakening, energy is half-scale but a moment before it becomes full-tone. On, then, and the plane is not just one: it is a boggling quantity on an ever-ascending series of plateaus.
Outer space has an infinity of wonders. Like the silken gold flow that must be the passing, in an inaudible distance, of molten fire - the stream of a comet, no a family of comets - the organ is this. And more. It is the color of space, the pure seeingness of purples and scarlets that we see but rarely only because there is so much else to drink.
And there is a terrible vocal, but that is all right, the instrumental voyage is so stunningly beautiful that nothing can obstruct it. The band leads you into constantly unfolding worlds of magic, dark and light, there is no distance, that has lapsed long since, all is within your reach, and all that remains is for you to touch...
The Grateful Dead are a family of diverse powers, but ecstasy is their chief calling. Their fourth album is entitled Live-Dead, a two-record set that collects in one package all the essence of their various beauties. The first side is a boiling radiance of almost excessive melodic joy that furrows the mind for 23 minutes. Jerry wrote Dark Star, and for me it is the ultimate expression of classical aesthetics and balance, fused miraculously into a climbing and darting structure of dynamics that somehow imparts the fervor of rock, while sacrificing none of its exquisite loveliness.
We greet the band's new organist, Tom Constanten, in clearer light than ever before. His involvement has grown and spiraled, at least to my ear, very subtly. Maybe a strange, maybe a wholly mistaken flash, but he appears a magnificently patient man and musician both. His first appearances in the group with public performance were times of patient learning and adjustment (to be sure, still true, but then more so than now). Until the present, when we hear him as an understated energy level, perhaps such because the ensemble emphasis of the Dead is and has always been the guitars. But in Dark Star, when Bob and Jerry retreat to quiet for periodic spells, there is Tom, in easy, airy flow, as tasteful on his instrument as anyone in the band.
Physical presence comes two steps more immediate as everyone wanders into Saint Stephen, gathering its breath within itself only to lose it in a great gasp of power, the magnificent drums marching the path to release from borderlines, tumbling like maverick children down an endless hillside, the guitars singing like sunlight down on them, but yes, quiet again as energies again gather, and the cycle repeats again, then launches itself into full-blown odyssey that is suddenly become The Eleven, which ends the side, but not before you can hear welling up, and then away, the drive of the band into Lovelight.
The flow of these first two sides is like a river that is running up its banks, but almost too slowly to perceive with the eyes, or the ears. You are borne aloft from all-in-harmony softness and color in Dark Star to poetic mischief and underpinned strengths and lulls in St. Stephen to the unceasing waves of The Eleven and its velver hammerheading from both instrumental and vocal perspectives, with the voices in ragged outpourings of earthy masculine ebullience so typical of these incredible human beings, to the first traces of the 15-minute Lovelight excursion.
Which occupies the entire third side, as monstrous as we all expected, with its tidal-strong punctuations and phenomenally eclectic yet individual soloing by Jerry, each musician turning, molding, shaping the directions to travel. Phil hinting at the theme in the middle of some weird digression, almost as though to scold in his freaky way that things are getting loose boys, let's bring it on up, the drummers doing the same when the rhythm tends to lax, tightening things together, everybody caring for everybody and the whole being as pure and as strong as imaginable.
The fourth side I won't speak of. The rest is enough. Death Don't Have No Mercy, Feedback, and Goodnight are the titles, but the other three sides to this gift have drained me dry. There is nothing left to say, it is all too sacred.

(by Raymond Lang, from the "Viola" column in the Daily Californian, January 20 1970)

* * *


This album is truly beautiful. It consists of a non stop, four side, live set by the Grateful Dead; excellently packaged and presented. In all ways it is the definitive Dead album, in which the Dead prove themselves to be one of those groups, who, in common with the Jefferson Airplane and The Band, are able to play together with almost supernatural rapport and empathy.
In terms of material, the album contains a fifteen minute version of 'Turn on your Love Light' (an amazing piece of rock and roll improvisation), a twenty-three minute version of 'Dark Star', a Rev. Gary Davis blues, 'Death don't have no Mercy', 'Saint Stephen', 'The Eleven', 'We bid you Goodnight', and 'Feedback', an eight minute track which is exactly what the title claims.

(by Mick Farren, from the International Times (London), 27 February 1970)

* * *


I wasn't expecting too much from this, having been bored silly by the Dead on their previous three albums. But all the fuss is clarified on this double-album, recorded in person, which allows them to stretch out and take their time layin' the licks down.
'Dark Star' is almost worth the price of the album, as Phil Lesh brings his bass guitar up to join the guitars of Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir in the front line for some surprisingly delicate and inventive interplay.
Pigpen gets off some nice backup organ behind the stunning Garcia on 'Death Don't Have No Mercy', while the unusual choice of 'Turn On Your Lovelight' works well. Listening to this, you can glimpse what all the fuss has been about.

( by Richard Williams, from Melody Maker, 14 March 1970)


  1. I added a second review from the underground London paper, the International Times. Unfortunately it's quite short (only four sentences) - most of the IT's album reviews were longer - but extremely positive.

  2. I added a brief review from Melody Maker, from a reviewer who didn't like the Dead until hearing this album.