Feb 24, 2018

January 10, 1970: Community Concourse, San Diego


The Greatful Dead, heroes of countless tales from the underground, players of many free gigs all over the country, and the best goddamn rocknroll band in the land, is coming to good ole San Diego by the sea. They will be playing a concert at the Community Concourse, January 10th. The Dead probably has the most devoted following of any of the bands that have been around for a time. When the Dead are in town, all the freaks suddenly appear out of nowhere to dance and laugh and enjoy the good long sets. Of all the bands in San Francisco that started out so promising before succumbing to the tasteless type of the mass media, only the Greatful Dead has remained to remind us of what Free music is all about. They are the band that cut a couple records only because they were badly in debt from playing free gigs and helping others out.
The list of events that they have participated in is endless: the Trips Festival, the 67 Peace March, Monterey, People's Park benefits, outside San Quentin walls while the abortive strike was going on, the Great Be-In, inside the Fillmore for bail money for Street Fighters, outside the building of Columbia University when it was occupied by our brothers, inside the Family Dog to help Chet Helms try and salvage something from the remains of the hip community in San Francisco, in parks in San Francisco, New York, Denver, and other cities. These are a few of the more memorable happenings that come to mind.
They tried to start a dance hall for the People that didn't have the bread to get into Graham's Place. They were in on most of what has been going down in San Francisco for the past five years or so. Their house has been the scene of innumerable parties and at times the hub for many of the musicians in the bay area. They are coming here just after the release of their latest record. Live Dead (Warner Bros.) is a two-record set that captures the intensity and feeling of their music. As on their previous album, Aoxomoxoa, Owsley is one of the consulting engineers.
Jerry Garcia is perhaps the most underrated guitarist playing today. He is ignored by all those 'hip' rock critics that seem to abound everywhere; the same guys that tell us what rock music is all [about].
The two percussionists, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, are rarely mentioned but their sense of timing puts many prominent rock drummers to shame. Phil Lesh and Bob Weir compliment Garcia to make a formidable threesome on guitars. Tom Constanten is on keyboard and of course Pigpen is there on organ and congas. I suggest that you stick a speaker in each ear and sit back and enjoy a couple hours with Live Dead. The concourse is not the best place to listen to music, especially the Dead, but until we can support a place where we can listen and dance to music, it will have to suffice. Try to scrape the bread together and go hear the Grateful Dead; you won't be sorry.

(from the San Diego Street Journal, 2 January 1970)

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Rock music from San Francisco has grown less important in recent months as many of the good bands have fallen apart and acid rock, the music form peculiarly San Francisco's since 1965, has faded away.
The Grateful Dead, who are generally credited with being the first of the city's popular underground bands, have, however, played it smart and explored other musical territories.
Saturday night in concert at the Convention Hall, the Dead proved themselves a spunky cowboy band instead of specialists in acid rock. The group image has changed. Everybody has shorter hair and wears a lot of woodsy, Marlboro-looking costumes. They have that same sort of free-for-all atmosphere on stage as always and the new music goes down very well indeed.

The Dead appeared about 11 p.m. and the set did not break up until almost 12:30 a.m. One of the first things we heard was an old country song, "I Know You're Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone," delivered with lots of down home plunkety-plunk. Throughout the set there were songs about bandits and card games, Santa Fe and West Texas County and holdups. "Drive That Train" and "Don't Murder Me" were especially fun.
But the Dead saved the best for last - Ron (Pig Pen) McKernan's "Lovelight." The tune [has] been a part of the Dead repertoire for almost as long as they have been alive, but it comes out differently at each performance, lasting anywhere from two minutes to two hours.
Saturday night's "Lovelight" ran for about 45 minutes. McKernan, who usually plays conga drums and harp with the Dead, built things up and let them fall and did it all over again and again singing "Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine." The set broke up joyfully with the audience clapping and dancing and stomping.

The Sons of Champlin, who preceded the Dead, tried the same sort of audience participation, but didn't do it nearly so well. The Sons' problem of the evening seemed to be deciding whether or not to play. The band took 30 minutes to arrange equipment on stage and spent another 30 minutes clunking about through fragmentary repertoire before getting into anything solid. Once, the whole set dissolved while the lead guitarist went over to play the piano, which he then decided didn't work. He tried the organ instead. That did work, in fact it worked very well through the rest of the set. The band sailed with him at the keyboard.
Before the Sons we heard Aum: A guitarist and vocalist who breathes [mouthy] sighs into the mike while a drummer and bass player make powdery noises that sometimes go rough and angry. The vocalist screams then - but not very well.

(by Carol Olten, from the San Diego Union, 12 January 1970)

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The Grateful Dead finally came to San Diego last Saturday night, almost legendary heroes to the faithful followers of the "San Francisco Sound" and among the most highly loved and respected of all movement musicians. They exhibited a large part of their wide versatility, going through a series of country numbers before getting into some of the improvizational jams for which they are so well known. They were good, but certainly not the enthralling, totally involving energy you sense if you turn up their "Live" album and lie on the floor for two hours.
Great musicians are not those who display unerring technical brilliance or consistent instrumental virtuosity. They are people who can appear together before a collection, large or small, of 'their people' and capture with their music the emotional feelings and expressions of those people. The music these people create functions in a reciprocal relationship with the emotions of the listener; the more closely the musicians are in tune with and can express the feelings of the audience, the more their music will amplify and augment those feelings, each building and reinforcing the other to produce a true musical experience.
Rock concerts are very different in San Francisco, largely to the degree that the emotional lives of the people who go to them differ so markedly from San Diego. Concerts up there are attended by people who are (relatively speaking) somewhat unique in at least one important respect: they live in a community in which they are able, for reasons of number, to live emotional lives which are less fettered and encumbered by the collective stoic rigidity of the larger society than nearly every other such group of young people.
So in the Bay Area people come to groove with the music; they can, to a great extent, allow their feelings to flow naturally with the music, providing the musicians with the reciprocal stimulus they need to create something meaningful. The Grateful Dead have been part of the people of San Francisco for years, struggling with them to build their community to fulfill as much as possible their collective needs.
Seen in that light, it is easier for me to understand the difficulty with which they "got it on" at the Concourse last weekend. One hardly wonders, what with hundreds of rows of carefully aligned and immovable chairs and plenty of cops to keep us out of the aisles where we might be free to move around a little. When we were shown to our reserved seats by petite, reserved usherettes properly coiffed and outfitted, we might have thought the evening's fare was Dvorak and not the Dead! Trying to groove to rock in that kind of atmosphere is like trying to make love tied to the bed.
You can't respond to rock in that Concourse, or anyplace else in San Diego, for that matter. And if we don't respond, the musicians will not be able to respond to us, so we won't get a truly meaningful musical experience in San Diego, either. That's because rock concerts are such a good business here -- our natural energies are so strait-jacketed in this town that we spend an enormous amount of money every weekend to go and have incomplete, stunted musical experiences.
That has to go. The commercial exploitation of our musical needs has gone on far too long, and we've all been at fault. If we could put together free concerts on our own, concerts where lots and lots of people could come and be free to listen and feel, then groups like the Grateful Dead, and the Sons and Aum, would come and play good long sets and we'd all be able to cut our [subsidization] of the Concourse and the city to a minimum. Some of the old Translove Airways people have been trying to do that for quite a while. They deserve the support of all of us who want freer access to our music.

(from the San Diego Street Journal, 16 January 1970)

Thanks to Dave Davis.



  1. The Street Journal was a radical underground paper, and the article here gives an idea of how lots of young people perceived the Dead in 1970. The writer is familiar with many of the Dead's activities over the past few years (though he exaggerates their devotion to free music). They were considered the People's band, participating in righteous causes, preserving the ideals of the '60s, even going in debt to help others out: "only the Greatful Dead has remained to remind us of what Free music is all about." They are, in short, presented as legendary heroes of the underground, as well as being "the best goddamn rocknroll band in the land."
    (Although, given that this was written in January '70, he quietly omits Altamont from their list of accomplishments!)

    The mainstream Union reporter is not quite so dazzled, and sees the Dead more on strictly musical grounds. She seems relieved that acid rock has "faded away" and the Dead have turned into a cowboy band, playing pleasant fun country-style tunes like "Driving That Train" and "Don't Murder Me."
    She must have seen them before - she notes that they dress differently now, but the "free-for-all atmosphere on stage" remains the same, and she's apparently heard them do Lovelight before.
    She says Lovelight was 45 minutes - though the Dead could do such epic versions sometimes, this one only runs about 25 minutes on tape; but even 45 minutes of Lovelight wouldn't be enough for the joyful audience "clapping and dancing and stomping." Like other reviewers, she notices how much better Pigpen is than other singers at stirring up the audience.

  2. I added the show review from the Street Journal. Actually the music isn't reviewed so much, it's more of a radical-sociological viewpoint on how the Dead play in different locations.

    After quite a buildup for the Dead ("almost legendary heroes," "highly loved and respected"), the reviewer admits that actually their live album is better than the show! On the album, they display "enthralling, totally involving energy," but in San Diego, they were merely "good."
    He blames the city and venue. I can't tell if he's actually been to San Francisco (I'd guess not), but he says the people there have different emotional lives than elsewhere - they're more free and unencumbered, while the young people of San Diego are rigid and strait-jacketed, unable to respond to rock music and hence doomed to "incomplete, stunted musical experiences." In San Francisco, "feelings flow naturally with the music," so rock music can thrive; but in the Concourse, confined to their seats by cops and "petite, reserved usherettes"(!), the audience can't get it on.
    To some extent, this parallels how the Dead themselves felt - needing to be "in tune" with the audience, playing the right environments - but the writer has more requirements. For him, the Dead are "movement musicians" who play for "their people," the assumption being that great music must reflect the people's feelings. Indeed, when he calls the Dead "part of the people of San Francisco," their importance doesn't seem musical at all: the Dead are "struggling with them to build their community to fulfill as much as possible their collective needs." (Just how Mao might have put it! Although Garcia also said similar things about the Dead's role in their community.)
    As with many other underground papers at the time, the Dead are seen through a political perspective, showing how they were placed on a cultural fault-line: on the one hand, considered a people's band, part of "the movement" and leaders of righteous causes; but for that reason, they were also at risk of disappointing or betraying their "faithful followers" if they acted like an Establishment band, playing for "bread" or not agreeing to do the endless free shows people demanded of them.
    This writer supposes that the "commercial exploitation" of the audience can end, that the people can "put together free concerts on our own," where the Dead can play all they want for nothing and people can at last groove freely. The next year or two would see record gate-crashing at Dead shows by kids with similar demands, until Garcia came to hate the whole concept of "people's music."

    1. I should add, the complaint about the Concourse as a bad venue for rock music (and the seated concert as a bad context to experience it) was echoed in many other cities.
      For instance, an article from the Rag, an underground paper in Austin, Texas:
      "It is generally known that dancing and good times are basically what music is all about. It is something to get involved in... You can go to rock concerts and be ushered in and sit there and watch the band perform in concert - the band plays and you sit there and watch. Total detachment of the band from the audience is forced by the structure of the event. Unless the bands happen to be really strong - like the Dead, the Airplane, the Stones - and get everyone off their asses and jumping around. Concerts can really be a drag. It would seem that rock music should be available in a free environment. Where you can be free and easy and go ride the music, not be hassled by cops and the like."
      (from "Yep, You Can Even Dance at the Vulcan," the Rag 2/3/70)