SAN FRANCISCO SOUNDS
Last weekend, we had the chance to see two of the finer American rock bands live, both from San Francisco, both dating from the original musical upheaval there of three or four years ago. Friday and Saturday, the Grateful Dead, along with John Hammond, played at Mammoth Gardens here; Saturday, Quicksilver Messenger Service, with Judy Roderick and the Righteous Bluegrass Band were in the fieldhouse at CU in Boulder.
At Mammoth, the atmosphere seemed a lot easier than on the opening last weekend; this was due, at least in part to the comparative smallness of the crowd; everyone there seemed a little more at ease, spread out a little further, both physically and spiritually, and the crowd reacted as an entity to the music of the Dead, which is to the credit of the Dead and to the audience as well.
John Hammond came before, though accompanied only by himself, on regular and old steel guitars; the rumors of a big electric blues-rockout did not come to pass. Hammond, however, was quite solid by himself, sounding much as he did on his first two records, which were sort of landmarks of the old folkie revival. He is a blues singer, traditional southern country-type blues, where the roots of people like Muddy Waters and all the others began long ago to grow.
Hammond sang rich and natural, hard but never forced; he did a lot of bottlenecking on his steel guitar, and a lot of pretty intricate rhythm stuff (pounding on the body, maintaining two separate lines of progression), and it all came out earthy and authentic. While Johnny Winter pours lots of his energy outside of his songs (extended fast runs on his guitar, flailing around in general), Hammond pushed all his energy right into his songs, maintaining just below the placid, regular surface of them an immense intensity of gut raw emotion. And that, as far as I know, is what the blues is all about.
And while the crowd got into Hammond (his excellence caught most of them quite by surprise) to the extent of a rousing standing clapping cheering ovation, and hence an equally rousing bottleneck encore, most everyone there was out to see the Dead. Even Hammond announced that he was splitting so that the big boys could come on. As the Grateful Dead set up and tuned up, the crowd drew together to its feet, historical kaleidoscope shift from sprawl on floor folk groove to rock body anticipation.
It is hard to get at length into any of the band as individuals; they have two drummers, both of them competent and skillful, yet subdued to the overall impact of the band's collective sounds; that phrase pretty well describes each of the musicians.
A couple of brief exceptions: Jerry Garcia, lead, was quite the master in his playing of all the situation, so subtle, smiling and winding in his playing all the ends of the band together; that is about as specific as recall allows. Also, during their first set, there were a couple of breaks for a drum duo, which for all practical purposes were four-handed solos. I stood in amazement watching the two drummers carefully sorting out their rhythms, keeping half an eye on each other - you could have seen the vibrations darting back and forth. But that probably just stood out there with the two of them only playing, and hence with all the attention on them; that inter-band communication undoubtedly cascades among them all as they play: all that acid you know...
The Spontinuity light show was small and limited to one screen, but was very good, clever and filled with gentle visual puns.
Anyway, the first set: joyous, all encompassing, a distillation of the deepest primeval energy. All the brightest colors of the rainbow flowing one over the other so fast as to form at surface glance/listen a shimmering gold projection that wound then all around and round the room and all the people...many many smiles exchanged all round.
After a short break, the Dead moved into an acoustic set, couple of guitars, bass (amplified), drums: country-folkish. They drifted through a few numbers, informal relaxed, the sound there being an almost polar opposite to the driving rock of only minutes before. I was beginning to think how much they sounded like the Everly Brothers moved to a higher plane, when, lo and behold, they broke into Wake Up Little Suzie, bouncy and congenial, sorta countrified, very loose, and the crowd got back into the sprawl/talk/listen folk scene.
Right on top of that came through the ultimate rush of rock, nonstop ride back into body ecstasy think/dance music. The Dead got moving on Not Fade Away (old heavy R. Stones number) with a heavy bass pulsing through an exuberant countrified vocal, so sincere. And just as they ended that song (maybe 10 minutes worth), with all the folks just relaxing from it, they held back a bit, then plowed into Turn On Your Lovelight, which is the all-time classic mover.
Pigpen subdued a little on the vocal, gettin' into just tellin' his baby to, well, turn on her lovelight, and the band revved up behind him, came to an abrupt (but logical - not jarring) downshift of tempo, fade out a minute as Pigpen, a little more urgent, on the vocal again, and back to the compelling color merge interweaving of sound; as the music paused it would pick more momentum, on and on; it became impossible for anyone not totally incapacitated to refrain from moving. On and on, layer of music drawing you from your feet up like a magnet.
And as the crowd was getting all into it and getting a little worn out, gauging reststops here and there, the band got really into pouring it on, heavy loud tunnel of sound through the cavern of your mind loud heavy, like as if into a grand finale, and everybody applauding and cheering and ready at last to sit down and catch a well-earned breath, and when you're lonely, in the middle of the night, right, then they get right back into it, turn on your light! and the band turned it on heavier and deeper sound tunnel colors of sound driving over and around and through them...this happened about 8 or 9 times!, climax over heavy climax. When they closed out, the whole audience was stomping the floor, up and down, clapping, calling exuberant sweaty for more...indefinably incredible.
A little while later John Hammond came back and sang, backed by Pigpen on harp and second guitar, a mellow denouement, and we all after a while filed out.
Two days later, we hitched up to Boulder to catch Quicksilver, and, as karmic luck would have it, got a ride straight there (to the concert) with some dope-smoking folks; the fieldhouse, a huge building, had a stage at one end, lotsa folks on the floor, lotsa good will in the air.
The Righteous Bluegrass Band opened, and while they were not outstanding, they were very good and fun. I am not a lot into bluegrass so I did not recognise most of their stuff, save for something from Flatt and Scruggs and their finale, the Stones' Country Honk, really countried up and honked up, fiddle and all, and it was really a gas (what?) to listen to. Judy Roderick, who has been said to be very good, was next, but she and her backup had a lot of trouble and could not get going.
The major hassle was with the sound system: the bass came through too heavy, drowning out Judy's vocal and most of the guitar work. They only did a few songs, spent more time tuning up than playing, and split. I was sorry to see things work out so badly; I would like a chance to see Judy working well. Between Judy and Quicksilver, a dude worked out on congas, very fast and driving, and got many of the crowd (about three or four thou, altogether) up and moving about. I think it was the same dude who played at the Moon Bell, named Couga John or something...
Quicksilver had some hassles getting set up; pianist Nicky Hopkins and his piano got mixed up or something...they continually commended the audience for its patience. But once they got going, they got into it good: three guitars, bass, drums, piano, interplaying well, splashes of ringing color flowing vibrant, unabashed, splashes of piano adding tinkling depth to the texture. Dino Valente did most of the singing, urgent plea to the emotions, stirring and straining to put all his voice into it; the guitars rang on...
One of the highlights was one of their self-proclaimed golden oldies; Hamilton Camp's Pride of Man; that came through an overwhelming swell of those guitars, a collusion of sound color burst on the strident broken in the dust again moral: grandiose as rock can ever be. But the major focus was on the two Bo Diddley tunes they did, Mona and Who Do You Love.
Both with pounding piano began not unlike the recorded Shady Grove, and brought out the bass only later, then left it all open, a forum for the guitarists and Hopkins on piano to work out on and into. Things came through well and strong with Mona, a quarter of an hour or so of one guitar moving on another, then the other, nothing fast or jumping out, but all integrating, constructing brightly flowing surfaces of sound about each other, forming a well-faceted jewel of a whole.
Who Do You Love was about the same as it began and progressed through a similar opening structure; the band moved deftly and well, fast building up almost the momentum of the Dead at Mammoth; layer upon moving layer, etc. However, after about half and hour, they either got all too far and entangled in the web they had woven, or ran out of invention, a web to pull out on; they were just all of a sudden at a loss. Hopkins tossed a few bits of piano in, and they tried to work themselves out of their jam from there, striving and striving...they finally just rared back and broke out and finally made it to a tired end.
But you see that is not a thing to put them down for; Quicksilver just got going all so stoned fast that they lost track of that delicate muse's thread by which they had pulled themselves there; on the whole the Messenger Service delivered, delivered a well-cut, moving music. We got a ride back home, and thought about the enjoyable evening, the enjoyable week just ended.
(by Milt T., from Chinook, 30 April 1970)
Thanks to jgmf.blogspot.com
Alas, no tape!
See also the review of 4/25/70: