TORONTO AUDIENCE APATHETIC
Something unfortunate happened at the O'Keefe Center in Toronto last Saturday afternoon. The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane were met by an unresponsive audience, and gave the audience what perhaps it deserved - an almost wholly uninspired performance.
Rock is an active art, demanding an active response. Active in this sense is subjective and broadly defined - it might be dancing, might be sitting while moving with the music, or even sitting motionless. None of these is inherently active or passive; what is essential is an effort to reach out and meet the music. Physical manifestations can easily be deceptive - they were last Saturday. The people dancing on stage were, for the most part, contemporary counterparts of those who were doing it on American Bandstand ten years ago. A few seemed to have really felt the music, but the majority were up there either because it was the thing to do or because they had a better view from onstage than from their seats.
Returning to the program itself, the planning was disastrous. It catered to the wishes of the audience, shying away from any attempt to change those wishes for the better. Thus, the Dead found themselves degradingly sandwiched between Luke and the Apostles (Toronto's most famous and most offensive white blues group) and a 20-minute intermission. Faced with poor programming, a hum in their sound system which forced them to eliminate everything soft and slow in their repertoire, and finally with an audience who came only to see the Airplane (just as they flock to hear Paul Revere and the Raiders), the Dead failed to bring across their beautiful and unified sound. The beautifully ugly Jerry Garcia smile was conspicuous in its absence.
As far as the musical quality of the performance is concerned, the Airplane clearly outclassed the Dead. The honor was a somewhat dubious one, however - it proved that the Airplane sound can survive even when they don't feel it, while the Dead sound loses its impact under such circumstances. In any case, it would be senseless to generalize from this performance, for it was the exception rather than the rule. But it points up a problem that these groups, and many others, will have to confront in the near future. It is this: that in order to succeed financially, they will have to perform in many cities to audiences even less receptive than in Toronto. Most likely they will fail there, as they did in Toronto, to turn people on to their music in the way they would like to. They will probably learn (and from some of Garcia's comments it seems they already have) that their music, powerful though it is, cannot break down the barriers which people have conditioned themselves to live behind. If their goal is to spread the love message throughout the continent, they will fail. It is for this reason that last Saturday afternoon was a sad one.
The Grateful Dead are at their best, it seems, performing to their own audience on their own terms, and this was obviously an impossibility at O'Keefe, since neither was the case. Due to the structure of the program, they were unable to let Pigpen go off into a 30-minute blues like Midnight Hour. He is the best white blues singer anywhere, but the crowd wanted none of it. Good Morning Little Schoolgirl was beautiful, but got neither response nor applause. The song that went over best was the folk song Rider (of Kensington Trio [sic] and Serendipity Singer stock), and I'm afraid it was accepted not on its own merits but rather because it sounded more like the Airplane than anything else they did.
The Airplane flew most smoothly when Gracie Slick sat down at the organ to let Marty Balin take over the lead singing. He is far better in person than on record, while the opposite is true of his female counterpart. Today (which is either cliche-ridden or brilliant, depending on the circumstances under which it is heard), was the best song of the afternoon, because Marty felt the music, as even this audience was able to discern.
Somebody to Love and White Rabbit, with Gracie singing lead, came across with too much strength. It seemed that this beautiful yet sinister evangelist was standing on stage imploring the audience to love, while as they had seen a moment before, she really didn't seem to practice what she preached. This overbearing evangelism (Feed your head! Feed your head!) grates on the consciousness of the listener rather than soothing it.
The difference between the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead is one of approach rather than message. The message for both is love (in case Time and Newsweek haven't reached you yet) and freedom. The Airplane screams the message loudest and least subtly, and thus seems to have reached more people (in terms of popularity). The Dead attempt to bring it across through their love for the music and for their audience (when it is theirs), and through a complete lack of pretension. Their subtlety is their greatest asset, and will prevent them from becoming commercially successful in the sense that the Airplane is. The Dead should not waste their sound on people who don't want to hear it.
Next week the Spectrum will publish a review of this concert by Eric Steese, in "The Grump."
(by Danny Rotholz, from the Spectrum, Buffalo, 11 August 1967)
* * *
When I sort of talked myself into attempting a review of the Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, and Luke and the Apostles as they appeared in Toronto, it appears that I considerably underestimated the task. Those who try to dabble in words forget that there are things subjective left in the world, or I at least committed such a transgression.
I find myself confronted with the problem of trying to conceive of a program of music and color in very cold and inadequate words of black print. I do not readily see a solution that I can approach in less than a few thousand carefully chosen words, but bear with me and we will try.
Chronological order of program - Luke and Apostles, the Dead, an intermission and the Airplane. The first is a Toronto group added to the program after appearing with the other two groups in a free concert in front of the Toronto City Hall - and how would that turn Frank Sedita on? [The mayor of Buffalo - ed.] Two light groups involved - Headlights from San Francisco providing a rear projection operation directly back of the performing group, and Sensefex from New York attempting to befuddle the rest of the theater.
And whence from here? - into a sort of never never land where the main object seems to be to overwhelm the defenses of the individual and pull him into a world where color, patterns, and music relate in a fashion which invalidates cause and effect, action and reaction, and simply exists.
Into a wall of sound, color, movement and activity where it is impossible to notice everything at once even though the mind desperately tries in order to have something concrete to fix on, a tie to a normality it can understand and remember.
It turned out to be a mixed success. It drove a number of people out of the theater, but it also pulled a crowd of devotees to sit and dance on those portions of the stage not occupied by the performing group. It appeared to my rather unknowing eye that some of the devotees may have had a little something extra in the way of pharmaceuticals of one kind of another going for them, but that is purely subjective. Suffice it to say that the groups accomplished their desired effect - if I am right about what it was - in at least as many people as they drove out.
I would guess again, that the largest portion of the audience, including myself, were torn in a variety of directions. Ego dominated, and raised on the Protestant Ethic, we knew that this was bad, way down in our heart of hearts. But because of embarrassment, stubbornness, or fascination, we had no real desire to leave.
One hears much talk of hippies these days, and these three groups seemed somehow to speak of that movement. I have watched and listened to a fair number of jazz groups but I do not ever recall seeing an as impromptu, instantaneous, spontaneous and unconcerned performance in my life.
In trying to analyze my own feelings about the seven hours or so I spent in the O'Keefe Centre I am not even sure I enjoyed it. I suspect that you can write a review of an evening like that only if you can remain completely apart from it. This I could not do, yet neither could I allow myself to become a part of it and try and describe it from the inside. I was only a befuddled observer, which I expect is obvious from this word hash.
Let me say that I was not prepared for the musical talent I found. I am lyric oriented usually, having at best a very poor ear, but both the Grateful Dead and the Airplane managed to convey something to me through music alone - even if I am unable to express what it is they transmitted. And I have come to the conclusion that it really is not that important to understand the words to the songs, especially of the Airplane. The voice is simply another instrument to be blended into a collage of color, sound, and moving bodies. With one exception, Miss Grace Slick.
Miss Slick, to crib a line, makes the Airplane fly. She is the only difference in their first and second albums, and the difference is large. Good they were, now - they may very well be something unique and impossible to classify. She should have no voice left by the end of one song - much less a performance, but it never seems to crack, squeal, or even waver. It simply skewers you into a seat and holds you, especially if you are male.
I quit, I have tried, and I suspect failed, to communicate the happening - and I finally think I have an inkling of what that word means now - at the O'Keefe.
And if you ever, ever, ever have a chance, see the Jefferson Airplane, and the Grateful Dead - then sit down and write me a letter describing it.
The imagery must exist, but it is beyond me.
(by Eric Steese, from the Spectrum, Buffalo, 18 August 1967)
* * *
JEFFERSON AIRPLANE BUZZES CANADIANS
TORONTO - The Jefferson Airplane landed in Canada recently with the Grateful Dead aboard and proved a big success for their hippie and pseudo-hippie fans, at free "we love you" concerts in Toronto and Montreal, and a slightly better than 50 per cent draw at the O'Keefe Centre in Toronto at a $4.50 to $2 ticket scale.
The July 30-Aug. 5 engagement of the Jefferson Airplane, RCA Victor artists, and Grateful Dead, Warner Bros. artists, at the O'Keefe Centre was heralded by SW Magazine, a national publication with a circulation well over half a million, as "the coming of age of rock 'n' roll," as much because of the setting as because of the sound.
Certainly the two San Francisco groups, plus the local Luke and the Apostles, and the light show by Headlights supplemented by Sensefox Inc. [sic] of New York, made up the furthest-out attraction yet to play the O'Keefe, which brings to Toronto top Broadway musicals, ballet, opera, drama, and such concert stars as Harry Belafonte, Liberace, Judy Garland, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.
For the first time in the eight-year history of the prestigious, 3,200-seat showplace, patrons climbed on stage to dance or listen, danced in the aisles, and stayed after the concert to dance on stage again to improvisations by all three groups playing together.
Audience reaction to the O'Keefe Centre performances again reflected the power of records, as The Airplane's biggest disk hits, "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love," drew the strongest response.
The Airplane and the Dead reaped maximum exposure in the press and on radio and TV during their Canadian visit. Their free performance in Toronto's City Hall Square a week prior to their O'Keefe opening drew crowds estimated at from 10,000 to 40,000, only exceeded by the wordage covering the event in the three daily papers. They co-operated fully with TV and radio interviews.
Another free performance at Place Ville Marie in Montreal drew 20,000 to 25,000 and again, full media coverage. They returned to Toronto Aug. 7 and 8 to tape an appearance on an upcoming CBS-TV "O'Keefe Centre Presents" show and drew a capacity audience for the taping sessions.
(by Kit Morgan, from Billboard, 26 August 1967)
Thanks to Dave Davis.