Jul 17, 2012

April 25, 1970: Denver


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:


  1. A well-known review of a great show. It's nice to see a contemporary newspaper reviewer who was a fan & understood what the Dead were up to. He describes the show well and even prophesizes "a million-selling Grateful Dead single"...

    (Strangely, Tom Constanten is STILL listed as a bandmember, even though the reviewer must have noticed he wasn't there!)

    I suspect the reviewer had seen them previously - they'd played in Boulder & Colorado Springs in '69.

    It's truly a pity that our audience tape cuts out right at the high-point of the show - considering what the review says, we're missing quite a jam.
    Our tape of the electric set is 70 minutes - this reviewer says the electric set was some 80 minutes long. (Unless I'm misreading him and the medley alone was 80 minutes!) He also says the acoustic set was 60 minutes, of which we have only 30.

    The JGMF blog cites another newspaper review of this show; it would be good if that could be transcribed.

  2. By the way - when the writer says the Dead "produce music on a level that most groups don't even know exist," it's almost a direct quote from Lenny Kaye's review of Live/Dead in Rolling Stone. It could be an intentional quote, or perhaps just a coincidental phrase.

  3. I as there. as I have posted before. John Hammond opened but could not find his sync.

    I am most certain the Dead played three sets. Electric-acoustic-then electric. No NRPS nor any steel guitar. They did do that space jam referenced then absolutely segued into the Rascals tune Good Lovin. The power was cut off around 2AM as Mammoth Gardens was in what was essentially a residential neighborhood which frowned upon loud music being played in the wee hours.

    Power cut twice then the band called quits.

    Is there no one else out there that remembers this? Sigh-----

    1. It is remarkable enough that one person remembers. For most Dead shows from this period, we don't have a single eyewitness report... Without the tapes, they're blanks! In this case we're relatively lucky in having an (incomplete) audience tape, a newspaper review, and a couple audience members who've reported their memories. It's a shame the beginning & end of the show are missing, but at least we have something - unlike the day before, 4/24, where we only have a vague report. (The JGMF post has more details.)

  4. Ken Condon wrote me:

    Just checked in here again after a year to see if anyone else posted. Here’s what happened.

    I was attending University of Denver and Mammoth Gardens--a converted roller rink--had just recently started a series of shows. Jethro Tull and John Sebastian come to mind. We were tossing frisbee that Saturday afternoon and someone said the Grateful Dead are coming to Mammoth tonight. Anyone wanna go?

    I had heard their first album that came out in 1966 but didn’t think much of it. So I thought--Grateful Dead--another has been bay area group but what the hell, I’ll go. I wasn’t expecting much to tell the truth and coming from Hawaii I had been spoiled by all the famous groups that came there in the 60’s. Hendrix, The Doors, Blind Faith the past summer, and many more. So I was not a Dead Head by any means having never heard them live before.

    So our group filed into Mammoth and we brought some whippets (nitrous oxide) and a bag of buds. We came prepared but I expected little. Hammond opened and looked lost and could never find a groove. I remember wondering if he had been dosed (I had heard the stories) as he indeed had a strange look on his face. Mercifully he ended his gig and left the stage.

    The Dead came out, I was about ten feet from the stage in the center, everyone on the wooden floor--not for long, and the place had about 300 people in attendance. The rest was history. I was totally and absolutely blown away and became a huge fan of them after that. Attended perhaps 10 more shows over the years, including the Autzen shows in the 80's that were good and in various other places, but the subsequent ones I saw never reached the level of excitement I experienced that night at Mammoth. I just could not believe what I had heard from a rock band. Perhaps part of it was that it was so unexpected.

    The band would have likely played all night so that was why the power was cut twice to try to get them to stop. The first time they just fired right back up. It was funny and amazing. And I was in awe.

    I was a real fan afterwards but never considered myself a Dead Head as to me Dead Heads were sycophants who followed the band like mindless disciples never being critical of a performance when sometimes I think they should have. At (later) times, Garcia sometimes sang like shit and the band was too high to play well. Just a personal observation.

    Ken Condon

  5. Are you still out there Light?

    For some reason I decided to check back in on your blog. It’s been many years. I was hoping somebody had followed up on my letter to you but apparently not.


    1. Still here!
      Although I wish all the people who saw the Dead in the '60s would write detailed accounts of their memories online, few ever do. Whole shows have vanished unremembered! But you never know when some old-timer might speak up...

  6. Thanks for sharing your recollections, Ken. These posts stay up and someone may Google an old memory and spark a new set of responses. In the meantime, yours stand for posterity, and are appreciated.