Apr 5, 2015

July 11, 1969: New York State Pavilion, Flushing Meadow Park


. . . Going to the New York State Pavilion of the World's Fail is not an appealing idea any time, and it was the last place I wanted to be Friday night - even if the Grateful Dead were there... I was down. Only because I had heedlessly committed myself, I went to a midtown office building and climbed onto a school bus hired by the press agent, alone and unable to bring myself to talk even to people I knew. Flushing Meadow Park, I hear, is a nice place for bike riding and sundry Sunday occupations, but to me it's an unmarked maze designed to trap people into death by overexposure to Queens. Directions for drivers just aren't there. Even the bus driver got lost. But when he finally got us to the Pavilion, it was revelation city...
The ad had called the Pavilion a ballroom, but that sounds like Roseland. It is open space, open all around to the sky and roofed finally three or four storeys high, if there were storeys which there aren't, vast and open all around you for skipping and dancing, which was actually happening. You can walk up to the bandstand close enough to touch a leg of whoever it is you want to touch on the leg on stage. No goddam revolving stage, no goddam lightshow, and no seats anywhere. When you get wiped out from skipping and dancing you can give in to the charcoal hamburger smell, luscious, which nags at you all evening because they've been shrewd enough to put the grills upwind, up on the balcony in the prevailing southwest wind. You walk away from the stage without the desperate feeling that the music is going to - whoopsh - stop and disappear without your constant attention. It'll be there when you get back, in fact it follows you to the balcony and to a picnic table where you can sit down with your food or without it overlooking the flow. When you go back down you can plant your ass on the mosaic New York State on the floor, if you must, but it's just about impossible when the Grateful Dead are playing.
The Dead, as usual, took half of a marathon set to warm up, but once they did they were unapproachable, irreproachable, as usual better than ever before. Pigpen, happily, was out front toward the end, swinging and singing up a "Love Light" that galvanized band and audience alike. Pigpen is music, head to toe, and it's a gas to see him in the group again. He transforms them when he swings in. Jerry Garcia's pedal steel guitar is a joy. The sound he gets on it is unlike any other steel guitar, just as his electric is unlike any other. His acoustic encore was as loving as the old days of San Francisco were said to be. The Dead are still like that.
It was a night of flow, relaxed and together, music and people both. Booking for the rest of the summer is somewhat less inspired, but there are highlights to look forward to - this coming weekend, Chuck Berry himself and James Cotton; later on, Charlie Musselwhite, Buddy Miles, among others; and as a grand grand finale, Paul Butterfield and Muddy Waters on the same bill. The Pavilion is a bargain at $3. I'm told the subway is easier traveling than driving - express a few stops on the IRT Flushing line to Willet's Point (Shea Stadium), and a 15-minute walk or possibly a taxi ride. If I have any taxi adventures I'll tell you.

(by Annie Fisher, from the "Riffs" column in the Village Voice, 17 July 1969)



Two more 7/11/69 reviews:

See also Lucian Truscott's review of the 6/22/69 Central Park show, from the 6/26/69 Village Voice:
And Annie Fisher's review of the Dead's May '68 NYC shows, from the 5/16/68 Village Voice:
And Robert Christgau's account of their June/July '69 NYC shows, from the 7/27/69 New York Times:

* * *

The same Village Voice issue also contains a positive review of the Rolling Stones' 7/5/69 concert in Hyde Park ("the biggest, most vital, most moving rock concert ever"), a negative review of Blind Faith's 7/12/69 show at Madison Square Garden ("there just wasn't any feeling...lots of noise from the stage, and not much music"), and a review of the Velvet Underground's 7/11/69 show at the Boston Tea Party, which I can't pass up:

The Boston Tea Party, that town's answer to the old Balloon Farm, closed its doors last weekend. (It will reopen soon in a new and, alas, spiffier location; what the world really needs is fewer plastic pop palaces and more drafty old halls where kids, of all ages, can go cheap, sit on the floor and groove, or dance in wild abandon.) Anyway, to enhance the nostalgia, and add a touch of class to the proceedings, the Velvet Underground were asked to attend. The Velvet's cult is particularly strong in Boston. In fact, their cult is strong in almost every burg except their home town (New York), where they still seem to be regarded as local freaks.
I hadn't seen the Velvets in live performance since they held forth in the Gymnasium, which must be two years ago. (However, I can [ -- ] among that singular crew which has the pleasure of enjoying the Velvet's company on social occasions from time to time, and that, along with their albums, seemed to suffice.) But I am glad I decided, on the spur of the moment, to barrel up to Boston to catch them Friday night.
I hate to sound like Andrew Loog Oldham gushing liner notes on an early Stones album, but I realized after the sounds and images of the Tea Party concert that I had been right all along about the Velvets. They are one of the most brilliant groups around today, playing rock and roll, playing just music, knocking out strong stuff that one can dance to or freak out over. I had become accustomed to defending the Velvets against their detractors, but more on the basis of friendship than deep conviction. However, after listening to them go from "I'm Waiting for My Man" to "Jesus" (a remarkably original gospel-hymn) and then on to "Sister Ray," I am convinced, once again, of their merits. So was the audience, who gave them a standing ovation.
It was a joy to hear Lou Reed bursting out with "I'm Set Free." The song is a testimonial to the fact that the Velvets are indeed free of the Warhol stigma that stayed with them long after they left Andy. I was also relieved to discover that, although it sounds a bit different, "I'm Waiting for My Man" loses none of its power now that John Cale is no longer with the group. (He is doing very well on his own, incidentally.)
Cale's replacement, Doug Yule, plays bass (very well) and organ. Yule, it seems to me, fits right in with what the Velvets are into since Lou Reed (in his own words) "saw the light." He is an affable young man who fortunately did not lose his identity upon joining Lou Reed's band.
And that is something else I realized: the Velvets are Lou Reed's band. But that does not mean that Lou can do without Sterling Morrison's stoic presence or Maureen Tucker's distinct and incredible style of drumming. I think all the Velvets understand that. I think it is important for Lou to know that Sterling is there, looking for all the world like Gary Cooper. And Maureen, bless her little heart, has held them all together through many a long set with her relentless beat.
Someone (I think it was me) once said the Velvets were the Judy Garlands of Rock. And they are. But, unlike Judy, they have managed to evolve slowly, giving themselves time to mature and to appreciate themselves and their music, without being eaten alive by a voracious cult which just happened to have the intelligence and the sensitivity of appetite to dig them in the first place.
Yes, I am happy to announce that the Velvet Underground are alive, and well, and making live music. And the next time they are in Boston, or Philly, you really should catch them.

(by Richard Nusser, from the Village Voice, 17 July 1969)

https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=vOwjAAAAIBAJ&sjid=K4wDAAAAIBAJ&pg=1595,473568&hl=en (pg.36)


  1. Robert Christgau wrote of this show (after describing their Fillmore East set a few weeks earlier) -
    "They returned for an appearance at the Pavilion, a canopied open-air ballroom at the New York State Pavilion of the World's Fair. With little advance publicity, they drew almost 5,000 fans. The Pavilion is perfect for rock--spacious, airy and far from Manhattan. The spirit of the place infused everyone, and the Dead played one of those titanic sets we'd always dreamed about. It lasted two hours and featured lots of unfamiliar material--some more country songs and a wonderful Pigpen rendition of Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle." For that entire time the bulk of the audience stood and listened. Miraculously in this era of concert rock, many people were dancing. The set ended with three long improvisatory pieces, including "Love Light" and an encore of "Cosmic Charlie," from Aoxomoxoa. The country and soul songs are essentially warm-ups for this, the Dead's true music... They are expected back at the Pavilion before the close of the season."

    Christgau also mentioned in his 7/24/69 Village Voice column:
    "The Pavilion in Flushing Meadow, where the Grateful Dead played to 4600 people and Chuck Berry to 700 (for shame), could become the first good music scene in New York. Not only should you give it a try, you should consciously support it..."

    The Dead's shows on July 11-12 marked the opening weekend of a summer-long Music Festival at the Pavilion (produced by Howard Stein) - all shows were $3. The Pavilion was described in the ads as "an outdoor ballroom with dancing and food":
    "The Pavilion is located amidst the fountains, green grass and open spaces of Flushing Meadow Park. You can put yourself in the middle of this unhassled, free-form ballroom and let the sound take you where you want to go. The music is heavy and continuous, the food good and inexpensive, the atmosphere the way it must be...free...with the kind of freedom that allowed San Francisco to give birth to electric blues. Come and spend a summer with us."

    According to Annie Fisher's review, the Pavilion atmosphere lived up the hype. Note that she got to the show on "a school bus hired by the press agent" - when Howard Stein was doing rock shows at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester the next year, he also invited the press to a party at the Dead's 3/21/70 show there, and brought them in by bus.
    Fisher had seen the Dead frequently in 1968, though I don't know if she saw them in early '69. She says they "took half of a marathon set to warm up," but once they did they were "as usual better than ever before." She was delighted to see Pigpen sing Lovelight (he also did 3 other numbers in the show) - it "galvanized band and audience alike... He transforms them when he swings in." (Our tape cuts out 9 minutes into Lovelight, but we do have a marathon version from the next night in which Pigpen encourages audience members to sing.)
    Oddly, she says "it's a gas to see him in the group again." She must have heard the report that he was leaving the band (Christgau also mentions it), but Pigpen had been present at all the band's NYC shows.
    She praises Garcia's pedal steel, which he played for a couple songs (including Hard to Handle). But it's really intriguing when she says Garcia played a loving "acoustic encore" - what could that have been? Christgau said Cosmic Charlie was the encore. But he also reported that at the (lost) 6/20/69 Fillmore East show, Garcia & Weir had played a "brief acoustic spiritual" as the encore. (Possibly Cold Jordan.) At any rate, Garcia did play a long acoustic Mountains of the Moon the next night.

    1. What is the reference for that first Christgau piece you cite?

  2. Sorry, never mind, must be the NYT you cite above. Thanks!