Mar 24, 2015

November 17, 1971: Albuquerque Civic Auditorium, NM


Country music came to New Mexico, and the natives loved it.
That statement, while an accurate comment on Wednesday night's Grateful Dead/New Riders of the Purple Sage concert, is a contradiction on several levels. Of course, New Mexico has been country music territory for decades; once you set foot outside Albuquerque, it's Cowboy Country. But country and western music has never been much more popular with the "urbane" youth of Albuquerque than with those of Jersey City, Cleveland, or Seattle. Especially not since the Beatles opened up everyone's consciousness to rock.
But the best of the rock artists, including the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, have always recognized the validity of country tunes and lyrics (remember "Act Naturally" and "What Goes On," "Honky Tonk Women" and "Love In Vain"?), though they usually disguised them behind rock fixtures. Now, however, groups like the Grateful Dead, and especially the New Riders, throw in steel guitars, riffs straight from the Grand Ol' Opry stage, and songs by Merle Haggard - C&W has become respectable in the rock world.
But is what they played Wednesday really country music? I would say yes, while admitting the point is debatable. But why debate it? Just admit it's about as countryfied as rock is going to get, and that the capacity crowd at the Civic Auditorium went wild over it.
The New Riders were great and well-received, but it was the Grateful Dead who made the evening what it was. While the New Riders stuck to their country habits, the Dead threw in more of their "harder" stuff, even a bit of the old "psychedelic jam." They got it on at times - really got it on - but only in brief spurts. That was okay with me. Their first number was around 6:30 p.m., the last one around 12:15 a.m.; five and a half hours of the Dead's getting-it-on would have been exhausting, but as it was I left feeling very refreshed and content, renewed rather than drained.
The Dead are such masters of the rock idiom. They had perfect control the entire time. They would often take what seemed like an interminable time to build up even a small well of tension, mostly just gliding along smoothly until suddenly the bottom dropped out of the world and they started to really wail, evoking a spontanteous, delirious, united manic reaction from the crowd. I've never seen anything quite like it here.
The mood of the concert, however, was one of mellowness, largely generated by the music, but helped along by the smoothness of the event as a whole. There was no trouble at all, inside or out. Good. Let's keep it mellow. We need many more concerts like this great one.

(by Charles Andrews, from Lobo, 19 November 1971)

* * *

(The same writer wrote a followup review in the "Spare Change" Arts & Media column a few days later.)

Two great concerts in one week - I enjoyed Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic only slightly less than I did the Grateful Dead and the New Riders.
Sometimes when you "wrestle with the Muse," you lose. I think that happened with my review of the Grateful Dead concert. I meant to rave about it, but it came out sounding "noncommittal," as one person put it. I have to agree, and apologize for not doing it justice.
The concert so wiped me out, I had trouble coming down the next day - not that I wanted to. I'm convinced now that everything I've heard or read about Grateful Dead concerts is no exaggeration. I doubt if we got a full dose of the best they can do, but it was enough to make me a "True Believer." Jerry Garcia once said, "I've been into music so long I'm dripping with it"; I think that's true of the group as a whole. They've been together about eight years now, and it shows. They became well-known with the emergence of the San Francisco sound of the mid-'60s, then faded somewhat (except for their small band of long-loyal fanatics), now are justly taking their place as one of the best bands in the country. May they stay together and play forever.
I can understand now why people think of long concerts when they think of Grateful Dead concerts; their music is the kind you could literally listen to all night. When Crystal Leif promoters were negotiating with the band, they initially insisted on playing for at least five and a half hours, later gave in when convinced the city was serious about its midnight curfew for Civic Auditorium events. But they wound up doing a show about that long anyway - the Dead did a few numbers, starting off with Merle Haggard's and the New Riders' "Mama Tried," beginning about 6:30 "to test the equipment," and didn't finish till a quarter past midnight. The concert's starting time was moved up from the usual 8 7:30, then to 7, and still the Dead had to get out there and start playing earlier than that. It's a welcome switch from the groups who have to be coaxed to do more than 40 minutes. (Anyone remember Creedence Clearwater?...listen quick.)
The broadcast of the concert over KRST may have had something to do with the peace that was kept, for a change. At least no rock-throwing punk could use the excuse that "they're keeping The People from their music." (Another advantage was that there are now some good tapes of the concert around; and you might even see a bootleg album appear.) Too bad, though, that the Nov. 17 concert couldn't have sold out sooner - the Dead had an open date the next day, and would've done another show if there had been the demand. Instead they took a trip to Taos.
Crystal Leif arranged to have a voter registration table set up at the Civic that night (as has been the practice lately at many Dead concerts), and they did a pretty good business, I understand.
One last comment: that fantastic piano player the Dead had sitting in for the ailing Pigpen was Keith Godcheaux, formerly with Dave Mason. (But nobody in town, including Crystal Leif, knew his name; I finally had to consult a recent issue of Rolling Stone.) . . .

[The rest of the article complains about latecomers and "rude applause" at the LA Philharmonic concert.]

(by Charles Andrews, from Lobo, 23 November 1971) 

Thanks to


  1. It's a pleasure to find such a well-written, thoughtful review - and even more rare to find a reviewer so struck by the show he wrote about it twice!

    His description of the show is perceptive and matches people's reports of other shows: for instance, that the Dead really seemed to get it on "only in brief spurts;" but that the Dead "had perfect control the entire time;" that the crowd's mood was mellow but the music could stir them to a "spontanteous, delirious, united manic reaction;" that despite the show being over five hours, at the end he felt "refreshed...rather than drained," and could have listened to them all night. He notes that the sold-out crowd "went wild...I've never seen anything quite like it here."
    He hadn't seen the Dead before, but this show converted him - he was convinced that whatever he'd heard about them was "no exaggeration," and he hoped they'd "play forever." And this, despite his suspicion that this wasn't one of the Dead's best shows - "I doubt if we got a full dose of the best they can do." Just a small dose was enough for him!

    He did some research, too, talking to the show promoters and looking up the "fantastic," mysterious new piano player in Rolling Stone. Note that the Dead "initially insisted on playing for at least five and a half hours" - this seems to have been a usual request for them as early as 1970 (depending on when they could get that much time), but I'm not sure just when it became a contractual requirement.
    He's very specific about the show times, thankfully - the show was scheduled for 8, but surprisingly, it started as early as 6:30. He makes it sound like that was just a soundcheck - he names 'Mama Tried' as the first song, but it isn't clear whether it was done by the Dead or the New Riders. (It isn't on our tape of the broadcast.)
    It's possible the time was pushed earlier for the radio broadcast. I don't know if the New Riders set was broadcast (sometimes their set went on air along with the Dead's show, but apparently there aren't tapes of all the shows). Our tape of the Dead show is about 3 hours; typically on that tour NRPS would also play about 75-90 minutes. The curfew was at midnight, but the Dead went over by about 15 minutes.

    Confirming the review, one attendee recalls the early start & soundcheck: "We were lined up for the show early... It was cold as could be and started snowing hard, but without much wind. Apparently Jerry Garcia heard about all the folks standing in the snow storm waiting to get in and had them open the doors to the fans. We were treated to about 45 minutes or so of "sound check" by the Dead. After a break, NRPS came out and played a full set (with JG) and then, after the intermission, we got the full Dead show."

    Within days of the show, the reviewer mentions that there are already "good tapes" of the FM broadcast available, which might even be bootlegged. For 1971, that's pretty instant circulation.
    A couple other points of interest: he says the Dead would have done another show on Nov 18 if there had been more demand (perhaps the promoters told him that?), but instead they visited Taos. (Robert Hunter had lived in New Mexico back in '67, and no doubt the Dead had other friends in the area, but this was their first New Mexico concert.) The show was not quite sold-out, by the way - in the radio broadcast, the announcer interrupts the Truckin' jam to say, "We still have over 200 tickets left - so come on down!"
    This is also the first I've heard that there were voter registration tables regularly set up at Dead shows in '71.

    The show is one of the best of the tour; unfortunately only a poor copy of the FM broadcast circulates, and the Dead's master reels have not been made available yet, so it's a relatively unknown show.

  2. I saw that show from down on the floor in front of the stage.
    I was......15 years old, first concert ever.
    I recall the KRST people were pissed because the phone company couldn't support a stereo feed.
    NRPS were great, everyone loved them. I believe they did a set with both bands on stage at one point.
    It was awesome. I remember these huge walls of speakers, and lots of prohibited substances.........
    Good Times.

  3. Re: the Dead's visit to Taos on 11/18/71 - the band had been thinking of moving to New Mexico back in '67, and a surprising number of the band's friends lived in Taos over the years. See: