Nov 8, 2013

March 14, 1971: University of Wisconsin, Madison


The Grateful Dead are a pleasant and competent band from San Francisco who for some reason have come to stand for all that is admirable and wholesome in hip culture.
Part of this mystique originates from the Dead's legendary alliance with Ken Kesey in the early days of the Haight-Ashbury culture, and their presence through the Hashbury "Summer of Love" in 1967. It was the Dead who played for free in Golden Gate Park, it was the Dead who cheerfully provided a backdrop of lovely sound for Kesey's Acid Tests and Sunday picnics.
The Grateful Dead used to be the Warlocks, but somebody thought that didn't roll off the tongue quite right and they became the Grateful Dead through some strange word associations. The Dead began with a highly electric sound; lots of distortion, feedback, and wah-wah pedals.
As rock music became Big Time Business, hordes of label makers and small-minded thrill seekers attached themselves to the world of electric music. Some came in search of a buck, others just wanted a good lay, but they brought with them a horrifying vocabulary of meaningless tag-ends, and with the easy alliance of the Dead and Kesey, "acid-rock" as a term was coined.
Acid-rock means nothing, of course, but people do get an image when they hear this crass appellation of commercial America. They envision highly electric music, fuzz-tones, feedback, any ponderous or strident stretching of guitar tones. The Dead were the original acid-rockers. Then the Dead got fairly sick of their brand of music, which was limited although at times very compelling, and they mellowed out to everyone's surprise with a country twinge which they have retained to date.
This is all uneasy preparation for a difficult and fruitless task; evaluating the Grateful Dead Concert in Madison on March 14. That concert was no musical event--it was a social event. Why should thousands of people pay three dollars to be admitted into a huge, uncomfortable cave of a building, staffed by a small army of cretinous bullies, for the privilege of sitting in a cramped position on the floor or on one of the awful benches while a dimly-defined band played competent country and western music for three hours?
Consider that until about a year ago, country and western as a musical genre was anathema to the average freak on the street. Country and western is the music of Merle Haggard and Dick Nixon. C&W stands for the extra-straight life, down Texas way, and nossir we don't smoke no marijuana. The reason that the mighty public can flock to enjoy an eminently unenjoyable situation is a sense of mystique that surrounds such social events in this country in the wake of Woodstock.
Every concert by a "groovy" band is now an excuse to recreate the spirit of Woodstock. It is a gathering of the tribes, a place to smoke reefers in open defiance of the security guards, to flash the frisbees and prove that the Fieldhouse belongs to the people. The thousands come not so much in hopes that the spirit of Woodstock will reoccur, they come with the subconscious intent to force the spirit of Woodstock to emerge. "We'll boogie till dawn--or else!!"
The millions of American youngsters who didn't make it to the great mud field in New York will not be cheated by time and circumstance; they will have their Woodstock whenever and wherever they can. Necessary ingredients for one cosmic rock festival: any groovy band, Credence won't do, nor will Blood, Sweat, and Tears. Their vibes aren't groovy enough. But the Dead are probably the most desirable mystique band of all. It's all there if you want it, the legendary San Francisco nights, the promise of non-stop music.
And we come to another interesting selling point. The Dead promised (so rumors went) to play non-stop for four hours. This undoubtedly contributed to the astonishing turnout in the Fieldhouse.
Why would people be interested in four hours of non-stop music? No one, no one can fully enjoy four hours of the very best music in the cosmic world straight through. Aha, my friends, the reason the people came is because nobody planned to listen to the music that much.
The groupies came to group and the hippies came to hip (and the greasers came to grease)--which is just an insulting and facile way to say again that the whole thing was a social event and the promise of four hours non-stop music was merely a guarantee that the magic moment would be prolonged as long as possible. "Maybe we'll force them to stay open past curfew!"
If anyone is interested in the music which the Dead played, they were competent and pleasant. Garcia now devotes his time to the pedal-steel guitar, on which he is very proficient, spinning off some lovely twangy loops in accompaniment to Bob Weir's bland acoustic amplified guitar and pleasing singing. Bill Kreutzmann is a good drummer. All members of the band are effective and they sincerely wish to provide a groovy time. Because their sincerity is evident and their music is pleasant, a good time was had by all. But musically speaking, the Grateful Dead concert was an event of passing significance.

* * *

Rumor has it that some "counterfeit" tickets to the Dead concert in Milwaukee Sunday are being sold in the city. Promoters of the concert say they will not honor these tickets. They say the "real" tickets can only be purchased at outlets listed in their ads and at the door.

(by Mike Baron, from the Bugle-American, March 11-17 1971)

Thanks to


  1. An enjoyably dyspeptic review, full of caustic generalizations. The best praise he can muster for the Dead is that they're "pleasant and competent."
    He does have an interesting point about the length of a Dead show, though, & that (already by 1971) it was more a "social event" than a musical one. Of course if he'd liked the music he might have felt differently! (3/14/71 wasn't the compelling "acid rock" of yesteryear, but it's a fine example of the Dead's early-'71 straightforward "saloon band" style.)
    Our tape is close to 2 hours, so with the NRPS set, the whole show was probably around 3 hours. Don't know if anyone in the audience felt shortchanged that they didn't get the "promised" 4-hour show - the reviewer was probably relieved! I think one of his problems was that he was unable to separate NRPS from the Dead - he describes Garcia on pedal steel & mistakes Weir for an NRPS member, so naturally after an opening set of "bland, pleasing" C&W music he may have lost interest. (He does say the band was "dimly defined," and one witness reports that "stage lighting was minimal, leaving the hall, and sometimes the band members, in darkness.")

    Reviews of the Milwaukee concert coming up next.

  2. I think he thinks Marmaduke is Weir. My guess is he only stayed for the NRPS part, and given he doesn't mention the Riders at all, likely figured the Riders were the dead. He mentions Garcia "now devotes his time to the pedal steel"... makes no mention of him playing electric guitar. And says "Weir" played an acoustic guitar... I doubt he did in 1971, but Marmaduke did.

    1. That's a good guess! It's funny how he gripes about the Dead being an overrated country band and how nobody can enjoy four straight hours of Dead, but he left before the Dead even came on... Actually, this guy seems to be opposed to the whole concert experience in general.

  3. FWIW, I was there - my first Dead show on a snowy Sunday night in Madison - though I was very much into their music and had been trying to get to a show for a year or more - and I was a bit disappointed at the length of it. The absence of either a Dark Star or Other One was probably what had me feeling that way. It was definitely Pigpen's night :-) Having heard tapes of some of the Portchester and Fillmore East shows from the Fall, I guess I'd expected more. The Hard to Handle and Wharf Rat were the highlights for me. Good Lovin' was memorable as well.