Feb 22, 2018

November 25, 1968: Memorial Auditorium, Ohio University, Athens


The Grateful Dead, one of the original San Francisco sound musical groups, will give a free concert in Ohio University's Memorial Auditorium at 8:30 p.m. Monday.
The concert is being sponsored by Athens Art Associates, the production company which runs the Appalachian Lighthouse, and the Ohio University Center Program Board.
Also appearing in the concert will be the Tin Foil, a local rock band, and several other local bands. Doors will open at 8 p.m.
The Grateful Dead, subjects of numerous magazine articles and television interviews, have produced two top-selling albums, "Anthem of the Sun" and "The Grateful Dead."

(from the Athens Messenger, 25 November 1968)


There's something about music that this old-fashioned listener demands, if he can be expected to dig it: a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Members of the Grateful Dead, the famed underground rock group from San Francisco, apparently have [dispensed] with such dust-covered notions, for their performance last night in venerable Memorial Auditorium contained only a couple of songs with such construction.
There's little doubt that these fellows are among the most proficient on their instruments in the realm of acid rock. The lead guitarist, particularly, can fashion some things which give the tuned-in listener more than a minimum of thrills. And the two drummers play some fantastic patterns, giving a sturdy understructure to the electric sounds being manufactured by others on stage.
But there's something about 30-minute "songs" which have no melodies, which start nowhere and end nowhere with nothing happening in between, that cause this listener to nod toward dreamsville. And the third piece attempted by the Dead last night most definitely can be placed in that category.
There was a rock group on campus last year called the Headstone Circus. When they wanted to, they played as fine a blues-based acid sound as one could hope to hear. But too often members of the Circus turned introspective and seemed to be telling the audience to do their own thing while the band did its. And the band's thing often wasn't musical and/or entertaining.
Sorrowfully, the feeling emerged Monday night that the Dead, who were good enough to do this gig for free, didn't feel any obligation to entertain the non-paying customers who had filled every nook and cranny of the big old auditorium. So, by 10:45 when another obligation forced this writer to leave, many others had departed ahead of me, many perhaps because they tire of hearing a 10-minute guitar solo without form or structure, despite the undeniable brilliance of the musicians.
What's more, there're two reasons why people go to concerts: (1) to hear the music, and (2) to SEE the musicians. Too often last night, the Dead were in the dark while a boring light show was projected on the movie screen above their heads. These light shows, which seem to be popular together [sic] without the slightest hint of thought or preparation, are distracting and irritating in the extreme. Done properly, they can be a distinct plus to a concert. But last night's light display didn't make that definition.
It's good that Athens was privileged to have the chance to dig the Dead. But it's a shame that the Dead didn't bother to score any points for their side.
As a postscript, I might add that a fellow newsman disagrees "with about 89 per cent" of the above. He stayed until the end of the show and reports that the Dead took a break, moved their equipment and microphones around, the light people reassembled their forces, and the whole thing then wailed until midnight, with some members of the audience dancing on stage.
However, I outrank him in seniority and years, so I refuse him the right of a "minority report." How's That for a Generation Gap, Baby?

(by Robert Powers, from the Athens Messenger, 26 November 1968)


Editor, The Messenger:
Bob Powers' criticisms of the Grateful Dead in his review last Tuesday show the difficulties a nervous system over 30 has in accepting the spiritual basis of present rock music. But he has taken a lot of wattage from rock in the past year, and should be ready to understand this latest phase of the evolution.
The 30-minute "songs" he didn't understand are the rock versions of Indian ragas and mantras. Recorded ragas usually run for 20 minutes. Ali Akhbar Khan has recorded a 40-minute raga on two sides. But live ragas in India and at pop festivals often run for several hours late into the night or before dawn.
A raga is a spiritual work with two or three stringed instruments and tables [sic], or drums. It flows from a musical motif which expresses one of the dozen or so basic emotions, and works through both free and well-ordered elaborations of the motif. Recent rock extends and amplified the same energies of the central nervous system which ragas and mantras served in the Orient. The electrical bass is the key to this current phase. The spinal system responds whether the ears do or not.
The Grateful Dead are not merely entertaining, or amusing themselves. They are focusing spiritual energy with a receptive audience. The energetic dancing and ten-minute ovation at the end showed the mutual communication. The Dead gave and the living were grateful.
Powers also missed the final unaccompanied mantram, "Lay Your Head on Your Savior's Breast, Good Night." The chant was intentionally subdued and repetitious. A Mantram is a sacred formula, originally Hindu and Buddhist, for prayerful repetition, aloud or silently. Private mantras are given by Yogis to their disciples. The mantram is what we know as a prayer. It works to open the whole person to the source of his spiritual powers.
So Powers' label "acid rock" is incorrect. The spiritual essence of this phase of rock is properly known as "[raga] rock" and "mantra rock."
Five major events have focused spiritual and creative life in Athens in the past month: the appearances of Marshall McLuhan, Tim Leary, and Sidney Cohen, the Yoga program by disciples of Swami Satchidananda of New York, the Beatles' latest album, and the Grateful Dead concert. A new, massive phase of Athens' spiritual evolution is taking place, and Athenians deserve perceptive reporting of it. It is still uncomfortable to those who want to agree with Powers' evaluation of the Grateful Dead. But these related surges of energy I am pointing to cannot be overlooked.
Athenians need to recover their inner vitality and outer affection for the rebirth of the whole community. We all see the threat of abrasive encounters between groups of people who would rather fight than free their minds. A wide variety of sources makes it possible for everyone to share in the more peaceful life forces, as it fits their character. A sacred consciousness in a softer weaponless environment is going to nurture good community feeling.
We are participating, willingly or not, in the most massive evolution of spiritual consciousness in human history. It is happening very, very fast in Athens. We have stopped waiting for Godot, because he isn't coming unless we do. So, the Beatles' invitation: "Dear Prudence, won't you come out to play?" Become as a child, and take part. Everyone can. Rock, raga, mantram, Yoga: all of them are forms of holy playful love.
Richard Rickets, Athens Route 1

(from the Letters to the Editor, the Athens Messenger, 3 December 1968)

Alas, no tape!

Thanks to Dave Davis, who discovered these articles and the true date of the concert.

See also: http://deadsources.blogspot.com/2015/08/november-23-1968-memorial-auditorium.html

1 comment:

  1. Along with the actual date of this free show, we have a couple very interesting reviews here. (With the Ohio University Post article already posted, this makes three contemporary news sources for the show - and not a single song title between them except for We Bid You Goodnight!)

    With the show starting at 8:30 and at least one opening band appearing, it's possible the Dead didn't come on til 10 or so, and including a set break, only played until midnight. (Powers only stayed til 10:45!) "Every nook and cranny" of the auditorium was filled with an enthusiastic audience, with dancing on stage and "a ten-minute ovation" at the end. (Many people left early, though.) There's no mention here of the power being cut at the end, which a couple later witnesses attest to.

    This is a rare example of a newspaper presenting multiple, divided opinions of a show. Powers, the main music critic, was an older listener who's happy to call himself "old-fashioned," and as might be expected, he's not too thrilled with the Dead's music, finding it long, tedious, formless & unmelodic, despite praising their instrumental brilliance. (It may well have been Dark Star that made him nod off!)
    A fellow reporter disagreed, though, saying the whole thing "wailed," and one reader wrote in to disagree with Powers' whole outlook. He accurately says that the Dead aren't just playing "rock songs," they're also borrowing from the Indian raga tradition using very different musical structures. He also emphasizes the spirituality of a Dead show: "They are focusing spiritual energy with a receptive audience." Though he might overstate the "spiritual evolution" of Athens and the Dead's "mantra rock" essence, still, the Dead at the time saw themselves in much the same way - Phil Lesh has frequently spoken of the spiritual aspect of the Dead's shows, and they did end their shows with a religious prayer.

    On a minor note, the show announcement states that the Dead are "subjects of numerous magazine articles and television interviews," which in 1968 seems like an overstatement. (And their records were hardly "top-selling.") But maybe even in Ohio, they could frequently be spotted in TV interviews?