THE DEAD RAISE THE SOUND
26,000 amps and 400 speakers bring Dead gig alive
The home of the World Champion Oakland A's provided an ample setting for this show, soaked in the California sun and built around solidly California bands. Upwards of 30,000 people parted with $8.50 each ($10 at the gate), and there was room for all. Not much room near the stage once the music started, to be sure, but there were plenty of seats with unobstructed views and unimpaired sound. Not a corner of the open, 55,000-seat stadium wanted for loud, clear sound, primarily due to the Dead's incredible sound system.
Unveiled recently at San Francisco's Cow Palace, the system consists of 480 speakers arranged on scaffolding 30 feet high and at least as wide, and powered by 26,400 amps. The clarity is amazing, and in combination with the volume could probably fill Death Valley with sound.
"A Day on the Green" started a little before 10 AM with a jumping set by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. Fifty minutes of music done in their usual near-parodic style included Billy C. Farlow and his rockabilly Elvis routine, some fine pedal-steel, saxophone and fiddle work, and of course the inimitable, growly Commander himself with "Hot Rod Lincoln."
The New Riders of the Purple Sage followed an enthusiastic reception, and turned in their standard set, light country with a strong rock beat. As usual, the dope songs got their big roars, in particular Peter Rowan's "Panama Red" and the epic of "Henry" from their first album.
It was an hour and a half of frisbees, streakers, getting high one way or another and sun before the Beach Boys appeared, three of them ostensibly delayed in traffic. The band numbered nine, with Dennis Wilson contributing on keyboards. As soon as they launched into "Wouldn't It Be Nice," the crowd was theirs, a sea of bobbing heads and waving arms stretching across the entire field. They moved through many of their standard hits not mechanically at all but con brio, and the tunes appear to have aged magnificently considering the mileage they've received. "Surfer Girl" and "Surfin' U.S.A." maintained their respective moods, the former dreamlike and the latter nailed solidly to a Chuck Berry foundation. A "sociologically significant" tune about "the wheel...in fact, a particular set of wheels," as the introduction went, turned into "Little Deuce Coupe;" also included were "Fun, Fun, Fun" and "California Girls." Their final encore, "Good Vibrations," really tore the place up and struck the keynote for the afternoon.
Finally came the local favorites (and some folks' world champions). The Grateful Dead played as long as the other three bands combined and in so doing reaffirmed their reputation. Some of the interplay between Keith Godchaux's piano and Jerry Garcia's guitar was sublime. The first 90-minute set was given mostly to set tunes, with little exploratory instrumental work. That was saved principally for the second half. Most notable were "China Cat Sunflower/I Know You Rider" and a version of Bob Weir's "Playing in the Band" that completely encompassed "Wharf Rat" as well as much improvisation. They closed with a churning "Casey Jones" and a wild "One More Saturday Night," Weir proving again that he is one of the best screamers around.
It was a day remarkable for its music and not for any pseudo-event happening around the music. Security was gentle, and aside from the delay preceding the Beach Boys, everything moved apace. Ticket prices were high, but in this instance justified by the high level of quality in the production and music.
(by Phil Sherwood, from Rolling Stone, August 1 1974)
See also this description of the day's events:
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