Jun 22, 2015

October 9, 1972: Winterland


I'm not sure whether the Grateful Dead is or are back in town, but whatever the case, dearie, it's time to haul out them rock and roll cliches.
Bill Graham has long been fond of saying that, when they're on, the Dead is the world's greatest rock and roll band. He was at least half right on Monday night at Winterland - the Dead was on. They played for nearly two hours, took 30 minutes off to regroup, then returned for another 120 minutes. Being a mere mortal (Dead buffs are not mere mortals), I vacated the sweltering premises after the first half of the four-hour extravaganza, but I can only assume they got better. True to Dead precedent, the evening was anything but normal, even for Winterland. The only thing that didn't happen was a repeat of the mass freak-out which marked their last stay at Winterland.
Otherwise, business as usual. The evening raised in the neighborhood of $10,000 for the band's roadies (so that they might buy a house, and what other band jumps to mind for giving benefits so that their roadies might buy a house?), and a touch-football game was played on the Winterland floor until 8:15 a.m. It was suitably entitled the Toilet Bowl. The trophy - engraved, of course - need hardly be further described. Graham's home team lost to the roadies, 36-18. He is appealing the outcome. On the basis that he lost.

The evening started appropriately enough: A girl, in disarray and not quite herself, was curled up on the Winterland basement parking lot floor, taking comfort from her attentive beau. This in itself is not of great moment, but they were occupying Bill Graham's parking stall. When the Dead play, apparently, nothing is sacred. Then into the hall, full but not jammed, where Graham associate Jerry Pompili smiled and cooed, "Don't drink anything you haven't opened yourself."
On the stage itself, Noelle Barton, the Dead's house dancer, was doing her rope trick - the rope being her body - and Jerry Garcia regarded his court with a beatific combination of sleepy contentment and total, unwavering concentration. Heavy Water, which has been doing the Winterland gigs of late, flashed its kaleidoscopic light show overhead, the stage was crammed with a motley ranging from the Jefferson Airplane's David Frieberg to Gay Talese, author of "Honor Thy Father," and strange Day-Glo painted beasties roamed unfettered through the night. Some celebrants popped off a string of firecrackers, others teetered merrily in the highest reaches of the upper balconies; bothered neither by acrophobia nor a healthy concern for their own well-being.
It was then, vintage Dead, and unfettered by [the] reserved-seat formality of their four Berkeley Community Theater concerts in late August. Monday night brought their total attendance to some 18,000 in the last seven weeks. They probably could do it again in the next seven.

As for those threatened cliches, well, the band hit 'em all. Lead guitarist Garcia, rhythm guitarist Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh, drummer Bill Kreutzmann and new kid piano player Keith Godchaux shook, rattled, rocked and rolled, they boogied and smoked and cooked and trucked, they got it on and got it off, mellowed and laid back, uptight and outasite, whatever that means, and so on and so forth. They moved, is what the Dead did, and not just from point A to point B.
The set - or [the] first half of it - began kind of easy, with the country-rock sound that has predominantly identified their music of the post-"Viola Lee Blues" period. Garcia and Weir split the vocal chores pretty much down the line, integrating their singing flawlessly with the instrumental work, ambling through such as "The Streets of Laredo" like your basic old cow hands. Godchaux's rolling piano, with the feel, if not the technique, of honky-tonk, beautifully complemented matters (as in, How come they never had a piano before?) and his wife, the lovely Mrs. Godchaux, bobbed in now and again to warble a few notes herself.
The crowd, as always, went mildly berserk at every opportunity, throwing their hands into the air like thousands of tiny shrimp waggling in a wading pool.
But it was on the last tune, lasting 20, even 30 minutes, that the Dead outdid itself. It began as an irresistible, underplayed, non-Rolling Stones rocker, striking like a rattlesnake in slow-motion; moved into an extremely complex section of Garcia and Weir entwining each other in molten guitar lines, rolled back and forth from ensemble to solo to duet, dissolved into an area that was almost Pink Floyd, then broke out with long, sweeping lines by Garcia, riding the rhythm section like BART to the end; no crash except from the audience.
There, appropriately, the first half ended. And for once, the audience didn't have to go through the tiresome encore ritual. They knew the Dead return, at least under these circumstances.

(by John Wasserman, from the "On the Town" column, San Francisco Chronicle, 11 October 1972)


Thanks to jgmf.blogspot.com


  1. Wasserman only stayed through the first set of this show, so he missed Grace Slick drunkenly staggering onstage with an impromptu blues scat to start off the second set. There seem to have been plenty of other guests hanging round the stage, too.
    He writes that a "mass freak-out...marked their last stay at Winterland" - I assume he's referring to the 5/29/71 acid incident. Presumably he forgot that the Dead had played Winterland three times since then. Nonetheless, a Graham associate still warns, "Don't drink anything you haven't opened yourself."
    His knowledge of the Dead is spotty - he knows enough to talk about their post-Viola Lee country-rock period, but he mistakes El Paso for The Streets of Laredo, and he doesn't recognize Playing in the Band (the last tune of the set; an awesome version by the way). His description of the show can be condescending - "time to haul out them rock and roll cliches" - but Godchaux gets some extra praise. The crowd sounds as wild as ever for a Dead show.
    Noelle Barton, "the Dead's house dancer," had been a resident of the Olompali commune and friend of the Dead's back in '68-69, and was probably a regular at local Dead shows since those days.

  2. The dead.net site has some memories of this show:
    "We arrived to see "Grateful Dead, NRPS, Toilet Bowl" listed on the marquee. Turns out that after the show, Bill Graham had a touch football game vs. the Dead's crew... Grace Slick came onstage with the boys at the beginning of the second set. She seemed completely ripped. They played a short bluesy jam with Grace lending some off the cuff vocals for a minute or two before she began going from one mike stand to another, raising, lowering and generally screwing them up. Bill Graham came on and escorted her off to the side of the stage, where they could be seen dancing later during Truckin. Also, during the end of Sugar Mag, Graham slowly brought the house lights up until the room was as bright as day."

    "They had Winterland set up sideways. The stage was in the middle along what was usually the right-hand wall so the floor was wide instead of long. When Grace Slick came out at the beginning of the second set...she was really drunk. Jerry and Bob just kept their distance and eventually (probably about 2 minutes in) Bill Graham came out, put his arm around her, and dragged her off the stage...
    We were lingering at the end of the show and were among the last left of the audience when the bouncers stopped saying "everybody out" and announced "anyone staying needs to clear the floor and get up on the stage out of the way"... By the time I made it to the front part of the stage the football game had already started... The football game was between the dead's crew and Bill Graham's crew with Bill Graham and Weir also playing on their respective teams... I'm pretty sure that the dead's crew lost."

    "At the end of the show, there was no announcement of the game, and they began to clear the house like that was it, time to go home. We stayed in the lower floor seats and they cleared Winterland normally, but never insisted that we leave. A handful of other fans who had figured out the "Toilet Bowl"...also stuck around quietly in the lower seats, waiting expectantly while they cleared the house. It couldn't have been more than 20 fans as I recall. Eventually they shut the doors, and about 15 minutes later the two teams came running out in t-shirts, tank tops and shorts, whooping and obviously excited about the game... One team was made up of Bill with a headband and his Crew, and the other team was made up of Dead Roadies, I don't remember if Bobby played, but I think he did. We went over and got on the stage. It was a real loose scene where everything goes. All the Dead family were partying on the stage. They had a big cooler with Heinekens... Phil was sitting on a toilet that they had set up in the front center of the stage, drinking beer, obviously in a good mood. As the game went on, I remember a ring of empty beer bottles gathering at the bottom of the toilet... It had a wood seat that had been engraved around the ring: "Dead Ringers Vs. the Graham Crackers"... That was the prize for the "Toilet Bowl" game they were playing. Graham's team eventually won, the game was over, and we were asked to leave."

    (Oddly, both accounts say that Graham's team won the game, contradicting the article.)