GRATEFUL DEAD: INVENTIVE, EXCITING MUSIC
The Grateful Dead at the Hollywood Bowl Saturday night played improvisational music that was inventive, moving, exciting and inspired. When they were doing their simpler, more country oriented stuff, it seemed almost as if they were slacking off, almost as if they were just filling in time.
Perhaps the lesson is that the simple approach can be just as pleasing and worthwhile as the more complex. Or maybe the lesson is only that the Dead, in their less inspired moments are still better than 95 per cent of the bands around today.
Their style – or styles – can only be described as Grateful Dead. For while country is very noticeable in their recent work, the blues, rock and jazz amalgam is strictly their own. Again, while neither Phil Lesh’s nor Gerry Garcia’s voices is perfect, they lend the music a feel that is distinctly the Dead.
As is customary, they played long enough (over two hours with intermission) for even the most avid Dead freaks to be at least partially sated. The only problem with their selections, including magnificent jams, was that there wasn’t time for more. There could be few complaints when they played “I Know You Rider,” “Sugaree,” “Sugar Magnolia,” “Casey Jones” and “Trucking.”
As beautiful as their songs are, the real treat of any Dead concert is the improvisations they run off their songs. Early in the evening, the jams, although shorter than in previous years, lacked nothing. However, for a period after intermission the normal Dead togetherness seemed to falter.
At the end of “Trucking,” the drummer slipped into a solo which lacked cohesiveness and seemed like something out of a battle of the bands contest. Then Garcia and Lesh began chasing a musical idea and missed, leaving them in something of a hole, trying to sketch something out of notes that didn’t seem to be there. The drummer and bass player seemed not only unable to help but determined to make things worse.
They managed to escape for a short period into a more familiar piece and then, with a great deal of courage, began again toward the musical idea that had eluded them the first time. This time they found a path for the early picked treble notes and then pushed the piece into a writhing vortex of atonality. After their trip into the whirlpool of sound they pulled themselves back out again, this time with success.
It is this kind of commitment to excellent music (in this case, the willingness to risk failure in order to achieve something worthwhile) that makes the Dead one of the major groups today. For while they may not sell the most records, or play to the biggest audiences, they continue to grow and produce the kind of music that is greatly rewarding both on the musical and personal levels.
Appearing with the Grateful Dead was New Riders of the Purple Sage, a group playing in the soft country manner, with occasional hip lyrics. Their smooth style is as something [sic – soothing] as honey down a sore throat.
(by Chris Hosford, from the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, June 20 1972)