Dec 23, 2015

1971: Live Album Review


Those of you who have seen the Dead recently know that they are into a straight hard rock thing. This is a reversion to their early sound, and up until now the best representation of the group has been on a live album made in 1966 (Vintage Dead, Sunflower records). The Dead's current style has alienated a lot of their old fans from the period when they were into long improvisationals filtered through a lot of acid and general flower punk mysticism.
It seems that sometime between the release of Live Dead and Workingman's Dead, Garcia and his boys got turned onto beer and steel guitars; it was a great gimmick for Workingman's Dead, and the image of the group as post psychedelic era rednecks served as a decent vehicle for Jerry Garcia's steel guitar and Bob Weir's background tomes...unfortunately the boys took it to heart and recorded an album full of bucolic whimsy called American Beauty. American Beauty did and still does sound like out takes from Workingman's Dead.
These days Jerry Garcia has his spin-off group, New Riders of the Purple Sage, as an outlet for his pickin' and grinnin', and Bob Weir has been listening to old R&B 45's. The result is on the group's new album, Grateful Dead, which is such a reminiscence trip it's enough to scare you off. (The title and personnel are the same as their first disc, and the cover is a reproduction [of a] 1966 Avalon Ballroom poster.)
Instead of just a memory exercise, the new Dead album is a logical extension of everything they have done, see, there's a few long improvisations, and there's easy to take folksy stuff for all the new fans...and then by the time the second album in the double set comes on and things start to drag, Jerry Garcia hits a damn familiar riff and jesus christ if the whole band doesn't play the hardest sounding Johnny B Goode since the Steve Miller Band backed up Chuck Berry in 67...things go uphill from then on, and it sounds better the second time.
The album should be titled The Grateful Dead Play Hard Rock...and they play it as good as anyone else. The new Dead album and the Allman Brothers' live album are the only two indispensable sets I've heard yet this year, no doubt about it, everyone has to hear them once.

(by Charles Eschweiler, from the Behrend Collegian, 7 October 1971)

* * *


GRATEFUL DEAD (Warner Bros. 2WS 1935) - This double record set has been out two months now, but it's so good I couldn't let it pass without comment.
The Dead, a San Francisco group, used to be one of the noisiest, [most] outrageous groups around. That was in the mid-sixties. However, two years ago they took up the country flavor in their Workingman's Dead album and continued it in American Beauty.
Both albums made the Dead a commercial success. This new album, recorded live in several halls, is also making money. Lots of it.
The Dead deserve it. Their playing is as free and musical as any group around. It is also intelligent, disciplined, and controlled.
Is it contradictory to say they are free and disciplined? Listen to the medley "Not Fade Away" and "Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad."
Jerry Garcia, lead guitar, Bob Weir, rhythm guitar, and Phil Lesh, electric bass, have a ball weaving melodies around the other, and doing it so subtly that most people will miss it.
The best thing about the medley is that it doesn't stop. And you can listen to [it] again and again, still captured by the rhythm, and be intrigued by the melodic lines.
"Bertha," "Me and My Uncle," "Playing in the Band"--  the same for all these songs too.
What keeps the Dead from being phenomenal is their voices. They're not bad, but they're not strong or particularly sensitive either. "Me and Bobby McGee" is instrumentally fine, but in no way does it compare to Janis Joplin's version.
Onlv one song was too long -- "The Other One" which runs the length of one side. Drummer Bill Kreutzmann keeps the group moving, but when he solos, he can't keep himself moving.
The Dead get an A minus.

(by Jay Shore, from the Santa Cruz Sentinel, 2 January 1972)

See also other reviews of the album: 


  1. A student reviewer with some interesting opinions...
    For one, he seems to dismiss Live Dead ("long improvisations filtered through a lot of acid and general flower punk mysticism") and says that the Dead's best representation on album was the Vintage Dead record of a 1966 show! (So perhaps garage-rock was this reviewer's bag.)
    He also has little fondness for the "bucolic whimsy" of American Beauty, calling it "outtakes from Workingman's Dead," which he also wasn't thrilled with, considering it a decent redneck-style gimmick.
    The long improvisations and "folksy stuff" don't excite him too much - what he likes best on this album are Johnny B Goode and (by implication) Not Fade Away, so his preference was for hard rock.

    He has some interesting brief perceptions, though. He's seen the Dead recently, or at least heard from people who had (maybe during the Dead's April '71 jaunt through Pennsylvania), so he's aware of their turn towards a simpler rock style live (what Garcia called "a regular shoot-em-up saloon band"). He also knows that "the Dead's current style has alienated a lot of their old fans" - which was true, but he's also noticed "all the new fans" from the recent "beer and steel guitar" records. He might not have been surprised when this album quickly became the Dead's most successful record - as he points out, it offers something for everyone.
    It's also interesting that he calls it "a reminiscence trip," in somewhat direct competition with the Vintage Dead album (which used the same '66 poster on the cover), so he sees the material here as "a reversion to their early sound." (It was certainly a reversion to doing lots of covers on an album.)
    Overall it's a positive review from someone who doesn't sound like he was a big Dead fan - the other reviews I've posted were from longtime Dead listeners who responded to this album with mixed feelings or disappointment, aware that it wasn't the best the Dead could do live, nor did it come up to their older material. Nonetheless this album hit the spot for newer listeners, or those more into "straight hard rock" - this reviewer puts it right up there with the Allman Brothers At Fillmore East, a bold claim.

  2. As a postscript -
    Eschweiler, who wrote music reviews for the paper for a couple years, reviewed Pink Floyd's album Meddle in the 1/27/72 issue of the Behrend Collegian, comparing them to the Dead:

    "Pink Floyd has always been a cult group, you either like them or not...they aren't making any compromises. The group's limited appeal has kept them buried away too long, so they have finally made an accessible, thoroughly enjoyable album with "Meddle."
    The majority of the tunes on "Meddle" are free improvisational things quite reminiscent of the Grateful Dead's total improvisations on "Anthem of the Sun," "Aoxomoxoa," and "Live Dead". They come out of nowhere and take off into the ozone with vengeance. Floyd is more electronically oriented than the Dead ever were, but they never fall victim to their technology. . . . I recommend "Meddle" as the perfect introduction to Pink Floyd's music."
    (He also recommends Led Zeppelin IV as one of the best albums of late '71, and an improvement over Zeppelin's earlier records.)
    ("Led Zepplin Improves Sound, Pink Floyd Improvises Meddle," 1/27/72 Behrend Collegian)

  3. I added a short enthusiastic review from the Santa Cruz Sentinel - not a very deep review, but this reviewer also likes the music and the Dead's new direction, and he has a good description of the Not Fade Away medley. His only complaints are the singing and the drum solo.

    Jay Shore would also review Garcia's solo album in the Sentinel (2/20/72), as well as Weir's album Ace (7/10/72).
    He liked Weir's album, and gave it a B: "Weir plays fine guitar; writes bouncy, fun music; but has definite vocal limitations. His range is small, and though he sings with strong emotion, there is little variety in his tone.
    There is a spontaneity, good-time, non-commercial character to much of the Dead's music, and it is clear from this album that Weir is at least one of the guiding forces behind that feeling.
    [The songs] are light, unmuddled rockers and make the album well worth purchasing by a Dead fan."

    He did not like Garcia's album much, calling it "less melodic and more studio-sounding than Weir's effort."
    "Garcia manages a pretty full sound; not much is missing except variation in his style.
    His melodies are predictable, their country rock flavor is turning sour. Still, you can't knock Garcia's knack for slicing the right note and keeping things in perspective: he doesn't play on simply to hear himself.
    The surrealistic album jacket is not explained till side 2, the first half of which is electronic music that I could easily do without. Not much invention, color or purpose for my taste... I can't rave about this music. Garcia gets a C."