GRATEFUL DEAD STUNS CROWD
Magic is alive and well. It exists in the form of one of the few truly unique bands rock has produced, the Grateful Dead, which graced Denver with its presence last weekend, at Mammoth Gardens, leaving at the conclusion a stunned audience literally begging for more.
The Grateful Dead (Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, guitars; Phil Lesh, bass; Tom Constanten, organ; Micky Hart and Bill Kreutzman, drummers; and Pigpen, percussion and organ) produce music on a level that most groups don't even know exist. The songs themselves are mere frameworks, only foundations on which the Dead build their dazzling, multi-layered skyscrapers of sound. Garcia's intricate lead notes darting in and out of the melody, Weir's rhythm abruptly becoming a second lead, the two drummers sustaining a solid beat while weaving other percussion patterns: a breath-taking explosion of unified talent.
The Saturday show began with a boring hour provided by simplistic, unimaginative acoustic bluesman John Hammond. Each of Hammond's songs was characterized by its formlessness, lack of melody and inane lyrics typical of bad blues. After a while, the lyrics were as grating as his wheezing harmonica. After a very long 60 minutes, the Dead came on.
The first part of their set showed a completely new side of the band. Garcia and Weir, armed with acoustic guitars and accompanied by the bass and a drummer, did a series of folk-styled songs with a country flavor which were often catchy and (God forbid) commercial-sounding. This enjoyable new dimension of the Dead deserves to be revealed to the unsuspecting world; the idea of a million-selling Grateful Dead single is amusing as well as staggering.
The electric guitars were brought out after a full hour of unamplification. The band moved into a couple of unfamiliar numbers that had all their trademarks: Brilliant solos by Garcia; rich, full textures of sound backing him; beautiful high harmonies.
Approximately 90 minutes into the set, they began "Dark Star", a complex instrumental structure that included a segment that could only be described as experimental electronic. This probably has its roots in the Dead's earlier feedback experiments, but they have extended the idea into even more exotic territory. "Dark Star" evolved effortlessly into an exuberant, joyful "St. Stephen" that, as usual, served as a springboard for a fantastic musical interplay - Garcia soaring, really excited for the first time, Lesh throbbing, twisting notes out with obvious huge pleasure, Weir erupting from his rhythm pattern to scorch the air with his own lead. The band built to an excruciating climax and then caught its breath to build to another, and another; wave after wave, crescendo after crescendo, finally floating down to catch the "St. Stephen" melody again, which dissolved, incredibly enough, into "Good Lovin'."
Pigpen sang it, grasping the microphone like Jim Morrison, belting out the lyrics in the best Pigpen fashion. Abruptly, the song was James Brown's "It's a Man's World," which metamorphized back into the "St. Stephen" instrumental. A final climax shattered the already gaping crowd. The biggest surprise was that the song was over - one had the feeling that the entire universe consisted of this perpetual motion machine known as Grateful Dead music.
It had lasted 80 minutes, and it seemed like 5. Over an hour and 20 minutes, nonstop, and not once was it even slightly boring. The Dead left the stage, and their subjects screamed and stomped for at least 10 minutes for them to return. Wisely, they did not; after that devastating medley, anything else would have been painfully anticlimactic.
Understatement of the Year: the Grateful Dead are terrifyingly good. They are an overwhelming, almost mystical experience.
Magic is alive and well.
(by Mike DeLong, from the Colorado Springs Sun, April 30 1970)
Our tape should actually be dated 4/25 - see: