Jun 28, 2017

August 23, 1968: Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles


At their best, the Grateful Dead are a wondrous group and they were at their best for a weekend dance concert sponsored by Pinnacle at the Shrine Exposition Hall.
The San Francisco sextet has a number of failings - their vocals are weak, they seem to require at least 20 minutes to warm into excitement, and their original songs are not notable either for lyrics or for melodies - but their weaknesses become insignificant when lead guitarist Jerry Garcia gets going.
Garcia is brilliant, an instrumentalist with flawless timing, great melodic invention, and a magic ability to raise the Dead into continually higher peaks of excitement.
He and they excel at improvising at a giddy pace and nearly every song accelerates into roller coasterish speed at some point to display their staccato abilities. His guitar flights are sometimes beautiful and sometimes frenzied but they are always perfect for the group and the crowd.
Bob Weir, rhythm guitar; Ron McKernon (Pigpen), organ; Phil Lesh, bass; and Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, drums, generate a massive amount of music through which Garcia's guitar romps.
The Dead also are notable for a non-musical quality: of all the San Francisco groups, they probably have played more free concerts than any other. Pinnacle has been having financial problems and the Grateful Dead, who appeared in the first Pinnacle concert, appeared to help them out.
Also on the bill was Taj Mahal, the husky voiced blues singer and harmonica player whose band includes another fine guitarist, Eddie Davis.

Meanwhile, the Kaleidoscope, which again is being run by the people who started it, presented the Moby Grape, Genesis, and the McCoys Friday and Saturday nights.
The Moby Grape, another San Francisco group, has become a quartet with the departure of Skip Spence, who sang, played rhythm guitar, and mugged and danced frenetically during their appearances. Spence left because of ill health.
His absence does not seem to have thinned the group's musical ability, but their Saturday night performance was rather dull except for Jerry Miller's work on lead guitar.
A member of Genesis was in jail Saturday night, so I did not get to see them, and the well-publicized new McCoys don't merit much excitement, but the light show (apparently incorporating the Thomas Edison Castle people from the defunct Cheetah, to judge from familiar slides and movies) was very good.

(by Pete Johnson, from the Los Angeles Times, 26 August 1968) 



[A brief review of the Dead's first appearance at the Shrine, May 17-18, 1968.]

... Meanwhile, over at the Shrine Exposition Hall, the Grateful Dead pummelled several thousand persons with their long improvisational rock music in a show sponsored by the Pinnacle.
The sound of the San Francisco sextet is heavily dependent on lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, whose brilliant playing makes it hard to realize that he is surrounded by routine musicians.
They have two average drummers instead of one good one. Pigpen's organ is generally barely audible and his voice, the best in the group, is mediocre.
Garcia, however, led the group through some exciting blues-based music which roused the Shrine crowd into fervid demonstrations of appreciation.

(by Pete Johnson?, from the Los Angeles Times, 20 May 1968)

Thanks to Dave Davis.

Los Angeles Times staff writer Pete Johnson had also reviewed the Dead at the Hollywood Bowl 9/15/67 and the Shrine Exposition Hall 11/10/67:


  1. A very Garcia-centric review of the Dead; this is one of the early articles that single him out as the standout player in the Dead.
    Johnson also notes the Dead's shortcomings - weak vocals, poor songs, taking a long time to warm up - but Garcia's guitar flights make up for it all.

    It's interesting to see that Johnson's opinion of the Dead had been steadily rising over the past year. In Sep. '67, he mainly noted their weak vocals but liked the Alligator>Caution, "an excellent lengthy tour de force." In Nov. '67 he said they "took several numbers to warm up" but said the new material was superb, including the Other One and another Alligator>Caution with great instrumental rapport (however, they were outshone by Buffalo Springfield, who "made the psychedelic efforts of the Dead sound amateurish").
    I don't know if the May '68 article is his, since I just have the excerpt (it points out Garcia's "brilliant playing" but calls the rest of the band mediocre), but by Aug '68 Johnson calls the Dead "wondrous," excelling at fast-paced improvisation.
    This could indicate either the Dead getting better over the year, or this concertgoer becoming more attuned to their music. Johnson was a somewhat ideal reviewer - if he could consistently praise Alligator>Caution, then long psychedelic improvisations were right up his alley - but the Dead's performances at the time may have been pretty complex for people to grasp live. Johnson repeatedly mentions the Dead taking a while to warm up - and these shows opened with Viola Lee and the Other One! It may have been the listener who was warming up...then again, it may have been more apparent watching the band that they were fumbling for the switch.

    I think it's just incidental that he doesn't name any songs as he had in the '67 reviews; perhaps space was short. In a small irony, the Dead professionally recorded both the Nov '67 and Aug '68 Shrine shows on 8-track, but rejected them for release. (A bit of Nov '67 was mixed into Anthem of the Sun, which was released in July '68.)

  2. I've seen a couple reviews of the Newport Pop Festival (where the Dead played on Aug 4 '68), but little is said of the Dead, among all the other bands. Rolling Stone's brief coverage doesn't mention them; the Los Angeles Times' fuller review (from August 6) gives them a sentence: "The Grateful Dead cleared the air by playing some of the best sounds they've made in Southern California, featuring the telepathic guitar work of Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir." (They followed Iron Butterfly, "an endless set of monotony," so the Dead telepathy must have been particularly refreshing.) I don't think I'll be posting the full Newport Pop reviews.

  3. The 8/26/68 review mentions, "Pinnacle has been having financial problems and the Grateful Dead, who appeared in the first Pinnacle concert, appeared to help them out."

    The "first Pinnacle concert" might have been the Shrine shows in November '67:

    The 9/13/68 Los Angeles Free Press ran an article on Pinnacle (Los Angeles show promoters who put on rock shows at the Shrine), expanding on their financial problems:
    "It was only at the Shrine with its mammoth five to six thousand capacity that many of the top groups could get the price they demanded. Pinnacle never has missed artistically... Groups charge plenty to fill up the big hall, so they seem to make just enough to keep going.
    Recently they had a three day blues extravaganza on the same weekend as the Newport Pop Festival weekend and had dismal small audiences, lost a bundle again, and nearly called it quits.
    The Grateful Dead came to their aid and, hopeful the place would stay in business, played for scale. The three got back on their feet."
    (from John Carpenter, "Pinnacle's Feast or Famine Gamble," LA Free Press 9/13/68, p.35)

    The August '68 shows would be the last the Dead played for Pinnacle (the December '68 Shrine shows were promoted by Scenic Sound), so I presume Pinnacle didn't last much longer.