Mar 1, 2018

June 13, 1969: Selland Arena, Fresno CA


At Selland Arena last night while the Grateful Dead was blowing everyone's mind with hard-driving acid rock, a teenage girl behind the stage was dancing.
This hippie chick, if you will, was twirling, pirouetting and carving great arches with her arms, and it was beautiful. She was simply grooving, doing her own thing, and everyone understood.
Her reaction to the primordial quality of one of San Francisco's best-known bands was simultaneously compulsive and spontaneous, old and new.
The Grateful Dead, after all, produces a sound that is simple and ancient. The Old Testament speaks of making a "joyful noise unto the Lord." Dancing out one's emotions is an impulse older perhaps even than the Bible.
Twang, twang, twang, ker-chunk. Leap, twirl, trist, ker-plop.
Nothing new or complicated about that.
Yet the sound of San Francisco rock is, of course, as new as tomorrow. And if you listen to it carefully - never an easy exercise and impossible in Selland Arena - it includes much more than a simple one-two-three pulse-beat rhythm.

The Grateful Dead sound is an outgrowth of Negro blues of the funkiest sort, standard rock-'n-roll, country-western of the type Gene Autry never knew, and finally the mind-expanding influence of ragas from India.
Ragas foster psychedelic improvisation, and this is where The Grateful Dead excel. Particularly good were leader Jerry Garcia's rapid runs on the guitar and a couple of numbers which featured Pig Pen, also known as Ron McKernan, on the organ and bongos.
Phil Leash, who sometimes goes by the name of "Reddy Kilowatt," was good on the bass, and Bob Weir played a mean rhythm guitar. Organist Tom Constanten and drummers Micky Hart and Bill Kruetzman at times expended more energy than PG&E.
The Grateful Dead is an outgrowth of Ken Kesey's Hashbury experiments and of the Jefferson Airplane. Thus there is a strong imitation of Negro blues, perhaps more than any other component of the sound.
The singing is guttural and the lyrics most often come out as "Ah luhv you, babuh."

It was clear last night that that love was not unreciprocated. The crowd of teeny-boppers and college students was appropriately grateful in their response.
Contributing to the trip-ish effect was the Brotherhood of Fillmore West who provided great swirling blobs of color and design projected behind the stage.
Sometimes the light show suggested messy brain surgery; other times it looked like St. Vitus dance with the yin and yang symbol clashing creepy blue blobs. It was, as they say, out of sight.
The Grateful Dead were preceded by two crowd-warming groups, Aum and Sanpaku, neither of whom seemed wildly original.

(by Gordon Young, from the Fresno Bee, 14 June 1969)

1 comment:

  1. Announcement from the Fresno Bee, June 8, 1969:
    "The Grateful Dead, surviving pioneers with Jefferson Airplane of the so-called "San Francisco Sound," will head a trio of groups from the City in concert Friday at 8:30 p.m. in Selland Arena.
    The crowd-warmers will be a new trio, Aum, whose first album, "Bluesvibes," has just been released, and Sanpaku, a new sextette. The Brotherhood of Fillmore West will supply the light show."

    This was an older reviewer who viewed the youthful scene with friendly condescension. Although it doesn't seem like the Dead is a group he really likes, being "hard-driving acid rock" for the teenage generation (he says listening to San Francisco rock is "never an easy exercise"), he still analyzes their sound pretty well and notes that they excel at improvisation. This particular show was heavy on Pigpen - the reviewer doesn't mention any other singers (or the guests), but emphasizes the "Negro blues" element and Pigpen's guttural "ah luhv you, babuh" singing.

    The section about the Dead being at once old and new, "simple and ancient," is vague and not very thoughtful, but it struck me since the writer was touching on something others have noticed, the Dead's "primordial quality" combined with musical sophistication. As it happens (and it's mostly irrelevant), I found out that this writer was a gay Catholic, which may shed some extra light on his tolerance of teenagers "doing their own thing," and his sudden bible quote (from the Psalms: "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord; make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise") which puts rock music in a very different context. In fact, he may have also written the headline (the Dead "blow life" into the show), which may be a distant biblical allusion - I don't recall any other writer using quite that phrase with the Dead.

    The Fresno Bee had also covered the Dead's May '67 appearance in Fresno, but not their brief Feb '68 show. They wouldn't return to Fresno until '74.