Dec 8, 2015

October 4, 1969: Boston Tea Party


Saturday night the Tea Party was filled to capacity. I didn't expect the turnout, since the Dead aren't played up as much as blues and English groups in Boston. It seems, though, that their few concerts, along with their reputation as one of the original Frisco groups, have been powerful enough to draw a crowd larger than the sellout at the Who concert last spring.
The Dead weren't the sort of group at which one fires questions - few groups are. After hassling them for a few details, I left it open to them to tell me something that they would like people to know. Something they can't say in their music. Jerry Garcia suggested that people save their pennies in protest against the Vietnam [war] which, if done effectively, would indicate mass distaste with the government, and its war policies. To quote Garcia, "tell your friends to tell all their friends to tell all their friends."
According to Garcia, they foresee the eventual union of all blues, rock, and folk performers, whom they hope to record all under one label, without the profiteering influences of executives. Under this plan, each individual musician would be free to produce his record the way he wants to. The Commons, as they call the growing association, already includes the Airplane, It's A Beautiful Day, and Head Lightshow. Whether such a setup as the Dead envision is merely wishful thinking or, in fact, could become a reality remains to be seen.
They themselves have very few of the production problems of other groups, since they engineer their own records completely. Their new album "Live Dead" will be released soon on Warner Brothers, but the Dead hope to record for Atlantic in the near future, as their contract with WB is about to expire.
On stage, the Dead went smoothly, wildly appreciated by the overflow crowd present. With two drummers, two guitars, a bass, an organ, and Pigpen (Ron McKurnett) "lurking," as they put it, the variety of rhythmic overlays, folk, and jazz riffs was amazing. Their ability to assimilate several traditional styles of music, all completely unrelated, was unique among all groups I've seen. They pretty well recreated the acid-rock scene of a couple of years ago, with the help of the Tea Party lighting.
Before their set, they joked about what they call, "Music Store Monsters," musicians who "show off on every guitar in sight," getting feedback and "crappy" sounding fuzz-tone effects on everything. Although they did use some feedback guitar at the end of the night, they were limited and tasteful about it.
Like just about everyone else, the Dead really enjoyed Woodstock. From what I was told, they got just as much sunburn, and just as soaked as everyone else, although Pigpen admitted he really didn't mind the mud at all.
In addition to their musical talent, the Dead are actually highly sophisticated backstage comedians. A soccer game with a roll (unused) of toilet tissue for a ball followed the interview. I only wish I could reveal everything that happened up there...
Backing up the Dead were the Bonza Dog Band, to my mind, the wrong group for three nights at the Tea Party behind the Dead. Bonza would have nothing to do with them offstage, preferring to sit in a room and consume gargantuan quantities of beer. Bonza Dog Band were primarily a put-down of "ancient greasy rock" groups, admittedly influenced by, and owing a lot to the Mothers.
As you can see, the Dead are very much alive, and doing great things in the studio, on stage, and for the music world. Dig what they are doing on their new album, and don't miss these people the next time they are in town.
FLASH!! Watch this paper next week for an exclusive interview with you know WHO.

(by Brian Pecy, from Mass Media, 15 October 1969)

Thanks to

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Comedy, absurdity and satire were mixed with seriousness and slick musicianship when the Bonzo Dog Band shared the bill with The Grateful Dead at The Boston Tea Party.
After a delay because of faulty equipment, The Grateful Dead appeared only to play background music for pantomime artist Joe McCord.
"The Dead" came back in full force later in the evening and played from midnight until about 3 a.m.

Opening and carrying the show were left to the British-based Bonzo Dog Band, that came through forcefully. This six-member troupe communicated and established warmth with the audience by its heavy reliance on the elements of surprise and ad lib.
"Blue Suede Shoes" was the opening number with the lead singer vividly mocking old "Swivel Hips." The act was purposely halted numerous times by loud bangs, at which time the band went into pre-planned frolics.
The strangest instrument the group employed was a theremin inside a plaster foot which produced siren-sounds caused by the distance of an object from it.
Bonzo Dog entertained by relying on the absurdity in music as all members are obsessed with anti-art. It's almost easy to say that they're so bad, they're good. Neil Innes (lead guitarist) said: "We're set up to entertain" -- and that they did. 

(by Charles Martin, from the Boston Globe, 9 October 1969)

Alas, no tape!  

Thanks to Dave Davis.

See also another review of the Boston Tea Party run:  


  1. Mass Media was the student newspaper of the University of Massachusetts Boston. It's great to have another review of this "lost" run along with Lenny Kaye's review - both of them agree that the Tea Party was filled with an "overflow crowd." Clearly, after the Ark shows in April, the Dead had gained a big following in Boston, and they would return to the Tea Party in December.

    This reviewer doesn't say much about the set, except that he was impressed by the Dead's combination of styles, and the show ended with some "limited and tasteful" feedback. Pigpen's main role was "lurking!" (Kaye said his appearances were "enjoyable and altogether too brief").
    The Bonzo Dog Band did not seem to go over well - the other reviewer did not like them either. It's funny that backstage they "would have nothing to do with" the Dead.

    The writer points out the Dead's penchant for backstage comedy - not that many interviewers mention this, but as Weir pointed out years later, it was central to the Dead's bond. Along with the doubt some story involving nitrous oxide tanks or such has been omitted when the writer says, "I only wish I could reveal everything that happened."
    I'd like to hear the Dead's jokes on "music store monsters!"
    He doesn't seem to have interviewed them for long, but he got a number of brief but interesting comments. It's rare that Garcia ever mentioned the Vietnam war, but his suggestion that "people save their pennies in protest" is an odd one!
    Also note that when Woodstock was actually a recent event, the Dead's reaction to interviewers was not "we blew it," but what a good time they had. (When questioned by Helix the week after Woodstock, they also didn't mention the music at all, just the positive social side of it.)

  2. "The Commons" is an interesting reference. The writer takes it to be the Dead's idea for an eventual merging of all kinds of groups, where musicians will be able to record as they like without the segregating pressures of record companies. This idea, to some extent, came to fruition in the "PERRO" sessions of 1970-71. But what's more intriguing is that "the Commons" was also the name of the community meetings that started at the Family Dog in August '69, where musicians and the public gathered to exchange ideas and plan events. (This hasn't been written about much - perhaps the best source so far is Michael Kramer's book The Republic of Rock.)
    For the Dead, the two ideas may have merged to some extent - in that August '69 Helix interview, Garcia mentions that one thing he's heard at the Family Dog is "lots of musicians talking up getting together some kind of recording company that would be fair to musicians, that would be musician-owned." The inclusion of a light show (probably Glenn McKay's) in the "growing association" indicates the Dead weren't just thinking of a recording company, so the writer may not have caught all the details in his brief summary.
    While it was true that the Dead "engineer their own records completely," the writer concludes that they "have very few of the production problems of other groups" (in fighting record-label oversight, for instance, or perhaps bad production by outmoded producers) - without being aware that they'd stumbled into new problems, such as being deep in debt after spending month after month making their albums.

    One unique bit of info - the Dead reveal that Live/Dead is coming out soon on Warners, but they "hope to record for Atlantic in the near future, as their contract with WB is about to expire."
    Little did they know, Lenny Hart had renegotiated with Warners and extended their album they wouldn't get to record for Atlantic after all. (They were perhaps interested in that label because of Atlantic's R&B/soul records.) Bizarrely, Warner Bros (the parent company) had bought Atlantic Records in 1967! - though the two record labels were run independently.

  3. I added a short review from the Boston Globe. Unfortunately the reviewer had no interest in the Dead at all, devoting the entire review to the Bonzo Dog Band.

    But there are a couple points of interest here. This is the best contemporary witness for the Dead backing mime Joe McCord during this run. Another reviewer who attended on Oct 2nd says that the Dead's first set was "an insipid and seemingly endless group of pantomimes for which they received an enthusiastic round of applause."
    It's likely that the Globe reviewer was there on Thursday the 2nd as well, though it's possible Joe McCord had a little set each night. But here the mimed first set is attributed to "a delay because of faulty equipment." (Not the last time that would happen to the Dead!)
    The Dead returned with a vengeance though, playing from midnight to 3. This is just as long as the marathon Boston Tea Party sets we have from April & December, so we're probably missing some great shows from this October run.