WINGING THROUGH THE NIGHT
The Grateful Dead don't look as if they're ever going to die. Consider: Seven concerts in one week at the Academy of Music, every one of them sold out within hours, more by ESP than advertising, and with the final one Tuesday night Dead heads still milling and boogeying in the back of the theater and along its aisles with undiminished joy, like puppies in a pet shop window.
The word is that the week's series will help finance the Dead's travelling expenses for a two-month, seven-country tour of Europe beginning Saturday when they open at London's Wembley auditorium. (Originally they were booked to play the Rainbow, London's brand new rock and roll showplace, but that auditorium has gone into financial disaster only four months after American John Morris' triumphal opening of it.)
Not that the Dead have to play to exhaustion in order to afford some plane seats, but they carry a reputation of being richer in communal feeling than in material possessions. Anyway, the Dead apparently like to play to exhaustion: the open-ended concert is their trademark.
The keystone, leader-guitarist Jerry Garcia, has grown a fierce-looking head of hair and beard over the years, but stuck in that wiry jungle is a persistent cherubic smile which tells the truth about him: open mind, open hand of welcome. Despite a couple of departures, the basic Dead core remains, guitarists Phil Lesh and Bob Weir, drummer Bill Kreutzmann and organist Ron (Pigpen) McKernan, who seems to have been born with a crushed felt hat in the middle of his head. A new member is pianist Keith Godcheaux, whose wife Donna sings occasionally with the group, thus breaking the Dead's all-male vocal pattern.
Although producer Howard Stein has presented the Dead before, this was his debut presentation of them in the 14th St. Academy and, sitting in the vastness of the 3,400-seat, double-balcony theater, surrounded by lights, smoke, yells, music, a stretch of space jammed with humanity trying to surge to the ceiling, you could imagine yourself on some bizarre super 747, without windows, winging through the night.
The Saturday night concert was a benefit for the Hell's Angels, some of whose members had been arrested on charges requiring high bail. The benefit idea didn't please every Academy crew member or every musician, but there has been an associative alliance between Dead and Angels since the Dead's 1960s West Coast beginnings, a time when they and the bike clubs there got together to share their rock music and acid experimentation. There was a similar Dead-Angels concert at the Anderson Theater here November 1970.
Jerry has had a long friendship going with Sandy Alexander, president of the New York Hell's Angels, and he told me in conversation before the concert, "Sandy is a good cat. I imagine there are people who would disagree but what the heck, I'm talking about him and me, not the world. I see this as a party to promote good feelings among whoever, specifically among us and the Angels."
When I relayed this to Sandy, he responded with a flow of mutual admiration, "Jerry is one of the most beautiful persons in the industry because he plays with all his heart for the people, for music, not money."
The Angels, augmented by out-of-town members, arrived in a spectacular motorcade of roaring Harley-Davidsons and rented stagecoach, and proceeded to party as invited. Backstage and in the theater, apple wine, beer, and Angel esprit colored the evening till 2 a.m. closing. There was an almost olfactory on-guard air among the audience, which usually smells mostly of grass and Patchouli, but then the Angels' physical appearance has a way of inspiring caution, even among those who affected leather gear to show their identification with the spirit of the occasion.
Jerry opened the Dead set that evening with "This is dedicated to the Hell's Angels and the United States of America" after guest artist Bo Diddley had advised the audience, "Git happy and don't git nervous, huh-huh-huh..." Outside a busload of TPF policemen sat through the night, bored by inaction. The greatest hazard, it turned out, is one encountered at any Dead concert: getting yourself lashed across the face by some teenage chick's wildly swinging pendulum of hair while she dances in a trance to that goodtime Dead music.
"Calibration," hour-long show of Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service in San Francisco concert, 6 p.m. Saturday over Channel 5...
New Riders of the Purple Sage, country spinoff of Dead musical friends, will play the Academy May 2 with Alex Taylor as guest star...
(by Ernest Leogrande, from the Daily News, March 30 1972)
Reprinted in the Dick's Picks 30 booklet.