Jul 18, 2012

May 2, 1970: Harpur College, Binghamton NY


The article above this one raves about Pentangle. Sure, they gave a fine concert.
BUT...they didn't approach the Dead. The concert was the finest in Harpur history...the finest the Dead has ever given on the East Coast to my knowledge. And the finest concert I've ever seen - and that includes a 3 hour thing in Tompkins Square by the Blues Project, Janis and Big Brother's finest moment at the Fillmore East and also all of Woodstock.

Waiting at the door. Tons of freaks waiting also. Painted. Tripping. Stoned. The doors open. A mad rush for the floor. Balloons fly through the air. "Clear for an aisle." "Anybody got any matches?" "No Smoking." "Anybody want Electric Wine?" Whoo. Whoo. Screams. A Bird Call.
Then the dead. Garcia and Weir come out and do acoustic stuff. I don't remember most of it. Some was really fine. Most was really fine. An acoustic "Beat It On Down The Line" that was really fantastic. Sit down. Everybody sit down. Garcia plays "Don't Murder Me." Screams. We sit and stand. End of acoustic set.
"Where's the electric?"

Announcing the NEW riders of the Purple Sage. Out comes some blond haired freak. Marma-Duke? Fine country music. The crowd roars but "where's the electric?" Riders do a fantastic version of the old Jack Jones song "The Race Is On" and a great "Weight" and "Lodi" which puts Creedence to shame. Then out comes Weir and they sing some more country stuff.
The Electric. Garcia plays the first two notes of St Stephen and the crowd goes berserk. The light show (Better than any I've seen) flashed St. Stephen with horns and snake hair. St. Stephen more powerful and better than on Aoxomoxoa or Live Dead and the crowd fills in the album screams.
That's It For The Other One, the long first cut on the second album, endless and non-ending and phenomenal. Garcia's guitar is cosmic. Then a song I don't know. Someone told me it was the Train song. People flopping on top of themselves. Garcia throws in a Dark Star riff I think. Sit down, people scream. Good Lovin or maybe it was Dancing In The Streets. Pipes and Joints flow to the Music.
Pigpen gives a stirring rendition of Good Lovin and Garcia gives a break which almost goes into Lovelight but never quite makes it.

Cosmic Charlie and people jumping up and down. The hour grows late and the Dead is giving their best concert on the east coast and where? AT HARPUR. Here. Binghamton dinktown USA and the dead are amazing.
On the screen a cartoon: A guy rolling a stone and falling under it again. Cold Rain And Snow, one of the best things in the set. The music comes on and keeps coming.
Everybody gets water and runs through the rain; People look dazed. Some sitting giving TRIPRAPS and others sleeping.
Cool, calm, collected and totally controlled and superb Morning Dew OFF THE FIRST ALBUM. THE DEAD NEVER DO ANYTHING OFF THE FIRST ALBUM ANYMORE. bullshit.

Followed by Viola Lee Blues with three buildups, the last ending with people screaming and shouting and Garcia pulling the most phenomenal notes out of one guitar. AND WE BID YOU GOODNIGHT, which they don't stop singing because no one will let them go.
But they do and the concert ends.
five and one half hours.

(by Richard Wolinsky, from the SUNY Colonial News, May 5 1970)

* * * 
As a bonus, the Pentangle review from the same issue: 
Pentangle. A light flight through the warm night, cooled by the supercool of taste, perfectionism and Britishness and the airy, soothing voice of Jacqui McShee. Jazz, blues, and folk weaving in and out of a strange medieval tapestry. 
I could go on and on like this; I'll admit to being a Pentangle freak. I don't know if you liked the concert. If you are a lover of hard rock, that's o.k. with me. But if you have to be hit over the head with amplification, or stimulated by the theatrics of a Mick Jagger, the subtlety of the Pentangle concert may have been too much for you. Even to one familiar with the group's sound, the volume problem of the concert came as a surprise. Miss McShee's vocals were perfect, but the intricate guitar work of Bert Jansch and John Renbourne was often nearly lost. In addition to this, Jansch [seemed] to have difficulty using the microphone for his vocals and banjo playing. I spoke to him about this during intermission; he explained that "we aren't used to playing in such a large hall." The Pentangle is a group that would be shown off to better advantage in a small club, and they seem to be at their very best in the recording studio. 
Although Jansch and Renbourne are great, versatile instrumentalists, they are obviously more comfortable with acoustic guitars. The liner of their most recent album, "Basket of Light," proudly proclaims that "All instruments played on this album are acoustic." On record, Jansch and Renbourne alternately caress and tear the hell out of their strings - the range of expression they achieve is incredible. But in the concert, Renbourne used a hollow-body electric and Jansch played an acoustic with clamp-on pickup. The electrification, though necessary, proved to be limiting -- Renbourne and Jansch simply could not play as they do on the records. Still their virtuosity was something to behold. Although Jansch has the bigger reputation (as a guitarist and as Donovan's prototype), Renbourne stood out as lead player. He displayed a great deal of fluidity, in contrast to the percussive guitar sound usually associated with the group. The concert was a demanding one; you really had to listen carefully, but it was all there. 
[ . . . ] Pentangle bassist Danny Thompson is...a fantastically agile bass player, [and] Thompson became the group's main crowd-pleaser. His extended solo excursions were very impressive, and his playing was every bit as witty as his featured song, "Blue Monk." I sometimes found myself wishing that Thompson would back off a little, but whenever he resumed back-up duties he blended right back into the group context. (No, I take that back -- Pentangle is such a perfectly balanced group that everyone is playing lead all the time.) Danny Thompson is a fine instrumentalist, and maybe he can do the vocals if Miss McShee should ever quit. 
Terry Cox, the percussionist, was much like Thompson in his ability to move in and out of the spotlight. To play drums in such a delicate group is a demanding job, and one which Cox carries off well. His drumming might be described as communicative. Cox's glockenspiel playing is a perfect touch, and his harmony singing is excellent. 
An added note on the Pentangle rhythm section -- their use of shifting time signatures is one of the most sophisticated things in popular music. For example the song "Light Flight" goes from 5/8 to 6/4 to 7/8 -- smoothly and effortlessly. Who could have ever figured that out? I read it on an album. 
In this concert, the Pentangle concentrated on material from their first and third albums. They opened with an impressive "Sally Go Round the Roses," but quickly warmed up with "Bruton Town" and several unfamiliar songs. High points of the evening were a brisk "Light Flight," a beautiful "Hunting Song," the hypnotic "Lyke Wake Dirge," and the intricate instrumental "Bells." The Pentangle closed the second set with a jam on the mystical "Pentangling" and came back with a slow, bluesy "Way Behind the Sun" for an encore. 
By the way, I can think of few things sillier than clapping or stamping one's feet in time to a Pentangle song. The group probably had a secret laugh every time they changed rhythm. Thanks, people, for making it harder to hear. I hope you had a good time at the dances. 
Miss McShee, I hope I haven't slighted you in all this talk about instruments. You too are an instrument. You sit there like one and you sing like one. What would be ostentatious vocal gimmicky for anyone else is natural for you. What a voice. 
What Pentangle gave us was an evening of extremely tasteful and beautiful virtuoso performances, bringing together many diverse traditional and original styles in a truly distinctive sound. I hope you enjoyed the concert.
(by Paul Bethge, from the Colonial News, Binghamton University, 5 May 1970) 
Pentangle played there on May 1. The 4/14/70 Colonial News had an article on the "Spring Weekend" schedule:

All those persons holding tickets for spring weekends at Stony Brook and Buffalo should read on about Harpur's "Spring Week" (and cross their respective fingers that no one cancels out). 
This year, aside from the annual Spring Weekend, to be held May 1 and May 2, there will be two additional concerts given the following week. All concerts are being sponsored by [the] Convocations Committee and Student Center Board. 
On Friday night, May 1, there will be two performances that will take place in the men's gym. Pentangle will be on first for two fifty minute sets, with a fifteen minute intermission. They will be followed by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, who are appearing at Harpur for their third time. Tentative plans are being considered to remove all seating from the center of the gym for Butterfield, and to hold a dance concert. A feasible idea has not yet been reached. 
Both groups have signed with Convocations for $3,500. 
The Grateful Dead will appear on Saturday, May 2, also in the Men's Gym. They will be preceded by a group, The Riders of the Purple Sage. The length of the Dead's set has not yet been determined. Seating for the concert is indefinite at this point. The Dead is appearing for $4,000. 
Following the concert, there will be [a] dance in the Women's Gym. It will begin at about 11:30 p.m. The band is known as The Jam Factory. They will perform until 2:00 a.m. 
Ticket prices and sales have not yet been announced, but they will be the least expensive prices of the year. The reason for this, according to Convocations, is that the committee has met its budget requirements for the year. It is able to forego profit necessities. 
After Spring Weekend, there will be a concert held on Tuesday, May 5. The group is the Incredible String Band. ISB has signed a contract for $3,000. They will be appearing at the Fillmore East for an entire week at the end of April. At Harpur, they will appear without their mime troupe. 
James Taylor, a popular country singer, will perform either the following Friday or Saturday, May 8 or May 9. Taylor has released one album on the Apple label. His contract is for $3,000. 
Both performances will probably take place in the Women's Gym. The tentative prices have been set at $1.25. The date of sales has not yet been established. 
The possibility of having one concert each month for next year is being examined by Convocations and the Student Center Board. 
Other activities for Spring Weekend include a picnic at Chenango Valley State Park, a road rally to that park, an outdoors barbecue, and a movie. 
Last year's performers at Spring Weekend were The Chambers Brothers and Iron Butterfly. It was one of the more successful weekends in Harpur history. 

The April 17 issue had a schedule correction - the Butterfield concert was moved to a different gym: 

The schedule of concerts listed in the last issue of the CN was wrong. It seems that no one is really quite sure about concerts; also what's Spring Weekend without confusion? The list below is the final, unexpurgated list announced by the Student Center Board. 
Friday, May 1 at 8:15 pm, Pentangle will be featured in a concert in the men's gym. This will be followed by a dance-concert given by Paul Butterfield in the women's gym.
On Saturday, the Grateful Dead will perform at 8:30 pm in the men's gym. There will be none of the usual seating arrangement. At 11:30, the Jam Factory will play for a dance to be held in the women's gym.
Tickets for the above events will go on sale Saturday, April 25. Prices will be: Pentangle $1.00, Paul Butterfield $1.00, The Grateful Dead $1.50, Jam Factory $.50.
...Because the Grateful Dead concert will have no seats and Paul Butterfield is a dance concert, only Pentangle will have reserved seats.

Other Spring Weekend events included a raft race, a road rally, a buffet dinner in all dining halls, a picnic at Chenango State Park, and an open jam session and free movie ("The Wild One") in the Social Room.
See also


  1. This article was also included in the Dick's Picks booklet.

    Another rave review from someone who was a fan of the Dead and clearly knew what he was seeing. Sounds like he can barely contain himself enough to write the article.
    "The Dead is giving their best concert on the east coast and where? AT HARPUR."

    Ironically, Cold Rain & Snow is called "one of the best things in the set," in spite of the tuning troubles. (One of four songs off the first album, although some say "the Dead never do anything off the first album anymore.")

    It's interesting how fans identified the songs on Workingman's Dead, which had been played live for months, but hadn't come out yet so they didn't know the names. Dire Wolf is known as "Don't Murder Me," and Casey Jones is "the Train Song."
    Note the emphasis on the excited 'freak' audience. It sounds like a lot of people at Harpur were repeat attendees of Dead shows!

  2. As security for the show, and former drug counselor at the High Hopes Drug Counseling Center, he is correct. I saw 14 shows and this was the best. Second show in this format, the first at Fredonia a flop. They did not have the supplies or the " spirit " of the crowd on the dead side of Harpur.

  3. Hey anonymous! I also volunteered at High Hopes and was at the concert at Harpur. I've been to many shows; most of them in the 70's. This was the best with a couple at Fillmore East sharing second place.

  4. I added more articles from the Colonial News - a review of the Pentangle show the day before the Dead, and the concert schedule for the Spring Weekend at Harpur. The Dead were the most expensive band...Dead tickets were $1.50.