THE DEAD – GRATEFULLY ALIVE
The Grateful Dead are enough to restore your faith in rock ‘n’ roll. In a time when, more than ever, the popular performers depend on gimmick more than talent, the Dead continue to be succesful by producing good music that is fun to listen to.
The Dead, along with the New Riders of the Purple Sage, were at Boston Garden on Monday, April 2. To paraphrase Janis Joplin, they sure turned a bunch of freaks into a party. The crowd of 16,000-plus was totally captured. There was none of the implied satanism of the Stones or the sexual ambivalence of David Bowie, just a couple of bands and a lot of people having a good time.
The New Riders opened things up, doing nearly two hours of their country-rock standards and a few new songs. One thing they’ve picked up is the old Motown hit “Take A Letter Maria.” Not many groups could pull that off and make it sound respectable. Marmaduke and company did. Other more familiar songs were “I Don’t Know You,” “Louisiana Lady,” and “Last Lonely Eagle” off the first album; “Truck Drivin’ Man,” “Rainbow,” “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” and “Willie and the Hand Jive” from the second; and “Sutter’s Mill” and “Groupie” from their latest effort.
Particularly worthy of note was Buddy Cage, who did a fine job on pedal steel guitar. His addition made the New Riders independent of the Dead, as Jerry Garcia was no longer needed on pedal steel. Cage has proven himself to be, along with Poco’s Rusty Young, among the best on the instrument.
The last few weeks had not been good ones for the Grateful Dead; singer Ron “Pigpen” McKernan died from a combination of liver and kidney problems – too much booze – and guitarist Garcia was busted in New Jersey for possession of marijuana, cocaine, etc., on his way to a Springfield concert date. If the Dead were down, though, they didn’t show it. The only indication of Garcia’s latest run-in with the law was the absence of “Truckin’” from the program.
When the Dead lift songs, they do it with class. Their opening number was Chuck Berry’s “The Promised Land.” Other borrowed songs were Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” and John Phillips’ “Me and My Uncle.”
One change within the band has been the emergence of Bob Weir as a songwriter and singer. He did two songs from his solo album, Ace, and more of the new songs than Garcia. Weir also did a flawless job on rhythm guitar. The Dead performed a surprising amount of new material – most of the second set was unfamiliar.
The older songs were a mix from just about all the periods the Dead have gone through: “Beat It On Down the Line” from their first album, “China Cat Sunflower and I Know You Rider,” also oldies redone in a medley, and quite a few songs from Grateful Dead and Europe ’72. Phil Lesh also got a chance to sing his “Box of Rain” from American Beauty, which, unfortunately did not come across as well electric.
Lesh was shortchanged by the poor acoustics of the Boston Garden, as was pianist Keith Godchaux. Neither could be heard clearly, at least from where I was sitting. Keith’s wife Donna helped out with the singing, and did one lead vocal on a new song. Unfortunately, the lyrics of it and many other new pieces were unintelligible, thanks to the low quality of the sound.
Probably the best thing the Dead played was an extended “Playing in the Band.” Garcia’s solo was the best he played all night, and possibly the most powerful lead I have ever heard him do. As far as audience reaction, the big winners were the closing sequence of “Sugar Magnolia,” one of their best songs, and “Casey Jones,” which crashed forward hypnotically for ten minutes before reaching its climax.
Although no encore was apparently planned, the band had little choice as the crowd, hardly thinned at 1:45 am, stood on their seats and lit matches, screaming for more. And they got more – “Johnny B. Goode,” and the beautiful a capella “We Bid You Goodnight,” the perfect ending to a fine show.
(by Ken Davis, from the MIT Tech, April 27, 1973)