Aug 29, 2018

September 26-27, 1969: Fillmore East


If you live on the East Coast, and somehow never crossed the wide Missouri and the Continental Divide...or if you've flown into L.A. on some amphetamine trip, your mind clouded by the classic New York myopias, "Smog, Hollywood, Cops, Reagan" and those sad things, it is unlikely that you have much of a feeling for the serene, WILD magnificence that is the West. Movies, television, pictures, stories don't really do it. What blows the mind is the reality of that space and that landscape, not the images of it. Sure the self-destructive poisons alive in the land are thriving in California, but then most things thrive in California. What other state could have Timothy Leary as a potential gubernatorial challenger to Ronald Redneck?
The lack of understanding is too bad. New Yorkers come on a bit paranoid and snooty. Californians are defensive and put down New York for the squalor and lack of air, sunlight, not to mention the inhuman current of life...but all that is beside the point.
IF oh IF ONLY, the true heads and spirits of California could get it together with the true heads and spirits of New York, America would have two golden coasts, and dealing with the middle of the country and that darkness would take care of itself. It's beginning to happen, just needs some weeding and watering.
That's why when, on the very same evening [Sept. 26], New York was being treated to The Greatful Dead, the Fish and Country Joe, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and (wonder of wonders) The Byrds, there was a certain feeling of celebration at getting such a rich hit of California all together.
It was a chinese puzzle deciding whether to go to the early show at the Fillmore (Dead Fish) or at Carnegie Hall, but the promise of a Byrds-Burritos jam at the late show, which happened, was the answer in the coins. Sha Na Na was also at the Fillmore, but the baby-sitter was late...the people next to us said "yes, they already played"..."Oh yes, they were quite good, very, very good!" And these were people from a foreign land, so Sha Na Na it looks like all that college education is paying off. Sorry. It won't happen again.

The Dead were the first group of the "put it together yourself one night California rock festival," and the Byrds were the last. To love the Dead is to know them live, and the East got their first taste of the wild, open, acid spontaneity of San Francisco when the Dead played outdoors at Thompkins Square and Central Park 2 years ago. Indoors, less success. Their music is complicated, delicate and subtle, on record it might have sounded monotonous, and their completely relaxed manner in concert went right past Easterners unused to the magnificent phenomenon of mutual, free-wheeling head tripping, and full of expectations of a structured stage performance. That kind of entertainment formality is alien to the Dead. Either everyone is busy grooving on the ecstasy of the music or it's all a drag. Without this good-friends intermingling of vibrations the Dead don't make sense, even to themselves.
But the Fillmore Friday night was a gas. Even Bill Graham is pretty proud of his new snack bar and has filmed an outasite short about it in which everyone seemed (and was, according to one of the chicks behind the counter) stoned out of his loving head. Didn't mention two weeks ago, because I hadn't discovered it, the orange juice in cans, thin cylinders of really good juice.
The Greatful Dead...grateful? dead? How do you mean? Stoned into eternity? Dead to the American amphetamine-money-success-hate-fear thing? The Dead are alive and dead too... If you get into this while you're listening to their music it will take you a long way.
Although guitarist, singer and composer Jerry Garcia is the axis of the group, I think their performances depend on the remarkable fact that the Dead have two drummers, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzman. When the set started on Friday there wasn't very much happening, just sound, and even that trailed off (relaxed all right) while the drummers looked at each other and fooled around...and then, VOOM, the drums were suddenly locked together. Like a VCLO taking off they shot, at 45 degrees, right up into the clouds. Overwhelming. That double percussion, when it hits, transforms them. They got off into what may be the most beautiful side of any of their albums, side one of "Anthem of the Sun". Garcia was raised by a Hopi Indian woman.
"Anthem" has a connection to nature and ecstasy that Western culture is only just rediscovering. But the culture of the West is a release of spirit and natural stoned state impossible to conceive of in the East. Get out in the desert, the sage brush, wander the piney mountains of California, groove on the different shades of green, purple blueish green, tanish green, sea green of the brush on the ocean hillsides between San Francisco and Los can love New York after California.
I would also like to thank Mr. Garcia and companions for their performance of "He Was A Friend of Mine"...oh lyrical, wonderful music. Greatful, grateful, great, full!
Once upon a time a wild Mexican rolled out of the hills, marijuana billowing from his nostrils, bandoleros across his bare chest, hat over his eyes. His name, my friends, Country Joe! And his faithful companions The Fish! What wild music they made. That was once upon a time.
Mr. Joe McDonald, American citizen and musician, has just returned from Europe. He has enjoyed himself, sampled the cuisine, experienced the cultural deceleration, and for some strange reason developed a Jim Morrison fetish. Well, guitarist Barry Melton, who has survived the European ordeal true to his origins and is really carrying the group along, made lots of fun of him for doing all those silly things. Joe, wearing an all-white outfit, did a couple of songs which didn't light any fires and went off stage and changed his clothes. Mind blowing. Changed his clothes! Dear Joe, go back into the hills, smoke some more weed, and fight a coyote. Then come back and let us know how you are.

Natural California: rough, pure, wild, mind-blown. Sophisticated California: cool, fast, Mississippi river boat gambler slick in a way that insults the Dude. Talk about speed, cool, smooth, and you're talking Byrds.
Superbyrd Roger McGuinn rides the wind. Even Dylan learns from the Byrds. Dylan, the Airplane, and the Byrds are the great American originals.
Who are the Byrds? Well, that's the problem. They change around a bit. Gets so confusin' they hardly know themselves who's singin' and playin'. Why on the album cover of "The Notorious Byrd Brothers" they even put a picture of a horse... And just when you think "aw c'mon now," you realize they've been gone for a while, just putting you on.
Dylan and the Byrds, heads and spirits of the East and West together since the days of Mr. Tambourine Man. No other group has more fully or freely done Dylan's songs. In fact, like Bacon and Shakespeare, maybe Dylan is really a Byrd or vice versa. The title song of "Nashville Skyline", "Nashville Skyline Rag" credited to Bob Dylan, was released several months before the Dylan album on the Byrds' "Dr. Byrd and Mr. Hyde", as "Nashville West" (a slightly different version, sure, but the same song) credited to the ex-Byrd, now Burrito, Graham Parsons. See what I mean.
And so the Byrds flew into Carnegie Hall to lay a little gold on the folk and split for the canyon. Another disconcerting vibration of their - and California - cool is a remarkable lack of insistence on competitiveness. This can really throw a New Yorker died in the purple of the scramble. It's like, "We're the Byrds, and we're cool and this is what we do." It's not indifference, just part of the style of the wide open spaces. The very fact that you're together is proof of mutual interest. Why say more?
Carnegie Hall is a barn as far as the sound system goes. It's as if the speakers were jammed into the speakers backstage. The seats, however, are incredibly comfortable. (Hey, Mr. Graham, check it out.)
Before things unroll any further let me tell you that the wild, weird, really country, really funny, really funky "Holy Modal Rounders" got it going. A group of long standing recently expanded from two to five (piano, drums, and second guitar added to the original (incredible) fiddle and guitar band), national prominence is suddenly theirs with the release of "Easy Rider" to which they contributed "If you want to be a bird", while stoned Hopper, Fonda, and Nicholson do highway acrobatics on their glittering bikes. The Rounders are something to see. A mind-twisting fiddler and a spectacular version of cajun Doug Kershaw's "Alligator Man."
The sound system (we are promised that the amazing Pavillion crew will absolutely transform it before the Zeppelin arrives) was so lame that serious musical talk is pointless. Gram Parsons (along with another ex-Byrd Chris Hillman, Sneaky Pete, and Chris Ethridge - the brothers Burrito) kept holding his guitar up to the microphone. He did it with love, but you couldn't hear it anyway.
The Flying Burrito Brothers played Burrito, Byrd, and Dylan music. The Byrds played Burrito, Byrd, and Dylan music. And when they guessed it, and I can't quite remember who did exactly what exactly when. "Dark End of the Street" was done sensationally well with Gram doing the singing. "Sin City" and "Wheels of Fire" also made it through the system more or less together. A fair approximation of the concert and subsequent brief, brief jam (it wasn't worth more under the conditions) with magnificently improved acoustics can be had by playing, in almost any order, "The Notorious Byrd Brothers", "Sweetheart of the Rodeo", "Dr. Byrd and Mr. Hyde" (all Byrds) and "The Gilded Palace of Sin" (The Burritos - dig the marijuana leaves embroidered on Gram's white suit on the cover). If you like, throw in a little "Nashville Skyline" (the Mad Hatter) and "Music From Big Pink".
It was beautiful to have seen them, and so I'll close now with a passage from Parson and Hillman's "Sin City"...could that be us?

"A friend came around
Tried to clean up this town
His ideas made some people mad
He trusted his crowd
So he spoke right out loud 
And they lost the best they had. 

This old earthquake's gonna leave me in the poorhouse. 
It seems like this whole town's insane. 
On the thirty-first floor 
A gold-plated foor
Won't keep out [the] lord's burning rain."

(by James Lichtenberg, from the East Village Other, 1 October 1969)

Thanks to

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SEEING DOUBLE  (excerpt)

[ . . . ]
I went to Carnegie Hall to see the first of Pavillion promoter Howard Stein's rock concerts in answer to Bill Graham. I just wish this midnight concert had been better attended. Although there were problems - namely vocal mikes that were distorting all the vocals - the concert built steadily to a smash finish. It began with a very free ok set by The Holy Modal Rounders, followed by a set by The Burrito Brothers who became progressively more appealing and went off to cheers.
The star attraction, The Byrds, did a nice set - virtually the same they did this past summer at the Fillmore East.
The evening's highlight was a jam by The Burrito Brothers and The Byrds. There were five guitars, three drummers, and one tambourine-vocalist (Graham Parsons of the Burritos) and the sound was tremendous. They did a too short twenty minutes climaxed by a stunning version of EIGHT MILES HIGH. At the concert's conclusion they offered two roosters to anybody who would give them a decent home. The fowls were a present to some of the Byrds.
Saturday [Sept. 27], I tripped down to the first show at the Fillmore East. I skipped SHA NA NA (like cyanide you can take them only once). I arrived towards the end of THE GRATEFUL DEAD's set. I must say that they were lively and the most together that I have ever heard them. They were followed by Country Joe and The Fish - with three new little fishes - Mark Kapner (Keyboards and burning uke), Doug Metzler (Bass), and Greg Dewey (Drums).
Enhanced by a FAR OUT version of The Joshua Light Show (why with all the power coming from the front lights can't I see the musicians' faces?) Joe did a very entertaining set of twelve numbers, that were being recorded live by Vanguard. The group was very free and foolish. At one point, lead guitarist Barry Melton was writhing all over the stage floor, and I thought for a moment that it was Iggy Stooge. Barry Melton was also responsible for the evening's "incident". As part of the "show", he pretended that his guitar would not play. Prodded by Joe to hurry up because the promoter would become upset, Barry yelled "FUCK BILL GRAHAM!" The audience cheered this statement. Country Joe told Barry that he should not have said that as Bill had been very good to them. The number - the last of the set - was eventually concluded.
Naturally, the audience, or part of it, screamed for MORE (the subject of a very interesting editorial in the Fillmore's program). I assumed that there was no encore, because it was 11:40 and 2,800 people were waiting outside for the 11:30 performance to begin.
Backstage, after the set, Joe and his manager Ed Denson were having an intelligent conversation with Bill Graham about the lack of an encore. Graham maintained, rightly so in my opinion, that the audience response did not indicate the need for an encore.
Joe and Ed Denson maintained their opinions that Bill was wrong.
Later Denson told me that he felt Bill was angry about the FUCK BILL GRAHAM remark, and that is why there was no encore. Denson said Bill was furious but cooled down. Denson felt, as I do, that Graham despite all the rap is a good guy who is one of the few promoters in the country who can be counted on for gigs. We also felt that Graham is most responsible for the success of the rock underground today. We agreed that Graham's promotional brilliance and tenacity made a dumpy old movie house one of the most important outlets for rock music today.
[ . . . ]

(by Robert Weiner, from the East Village Other, 1 October 1969)

See also:

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A bonus review of the Byrds/Burritos show:


Carnegie Hall in the hands of "the other people" always conjured up for the cultural plutocrats the nightmare vision of young people running rampant through its august corridors, dropping acid in the water coolers and painting the walls in psychedelic tinges. Such I suspect were the thoughts of the Carnegie management before September 26 when it was decided to re-open the hall to popular culture after the invasion of the Beatles in 1963.
Things have changed indeed for everyone concerned. Howie Soloman, promoter of the Pavilion series this summer, negotiated with Carnegie Hall representatives and achieved the impossible. He opened the hall again to pop music, giving to this city's youth yet another place in which to enjoy good music.
Prior management policy aside, Carnegie is one of the better places to hear pop music. The acoustics still drive the purists wild - even balcony seats are fantastic because the sound rings true. Besides acoustics, Carnegie is accessible from all the boroughs by the subway. In this department as well, Carnegie can't be beat.
Beyond that, nothing extra has been done to the hall, no light shows to distract from the performance, no free grass in the lobby for ticketholders. However, it does offer a unique opportunity to practice one's own sort of fantasy out. Imagine hairy freaks invading the sacred environs of the first tier boxes, red velvet boxes with places to hang "Madame's" cape or "the Gentleman's" cloak.
It is a beautiful place to see so many in a place which was formerly reserved for concert subscription addicts...I digress.
September 26, kicked off by an evening of Country-Rock music, [formally] ushered in the new season in grand style. Performers in this gala were the Holy Modal Rounders, an infamous electric jugband troupe, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and The Byrds. Before the concert review, a short parenthesis. (Marring the overall effect of this opening night was the execrable PA system. The fault, however, was not with the promoter but with the hall's union which refused to help install a more effective system...union red tape forced the performers to use a system normally reserved for the hall's organ. The result was that alternatively, the PA was too loud or not loud enough. Hopefully that will be remedied in some way by the coming weeks.) Oh yes, the concert...of course!
The Holy Modal Rounders have been in existence in one form or another since 1963. They specialize in electric-eclectic jugband music. No, they don't have traditional instruments like washtub bass, washboard percussion, or jugs. They have modified everything so that there is electric bass, one drummer with a full complement of drums, and one rather far-out fiddle player who waltzes between and during numbers. They are not polished musicians, nor do they need to be for the type of music they do. Jug band music requires country soul and makes no bones about fluffs, clinkers, or broken strings. All is taken with good humor and the Rounders are both goodly and humorous. They write songs which are topical and satirically biting in their commentary and wit. Some of their better known numbers include "Half a Mind", "The STP Song", and "Take-Off Artist Song". They are worth seeing and hearing because they represent in many ways the true jugband spirit.
The Flying Burrito Brothers are made up of old Byrds members, Graham Parsons (2nd generation Byrds), Michael Clarke, Gene Clark, and Chris Hillman. Their speciality seems to be country music with a lot of LA syrup which the audience seemed to enjoy very much. No matter, I guess that 3/4 Byrds is better than none at all (wasn't that the way the saying ran?). All personal matters aside, plastic country music is what they play and play rather well. Their only redeeming feature (and alone worth the trouble of enduring the Flying Burrito Brothers) is Sneaky Pete, probably the best pedal steel guitar player in the business. He plays lead on most tunes instead of doing the rhythm and twang bit. After the demanded encores, the Burrito Brothers emerged after the Byrds set to jam and make the reunion scene to the delight of the audience.
Which leaves us with the Byrds, very unlike the original product, but as tight as they ever were due to the unity-influence of Jim McGuinn, personification of the Byrd heart and soul. There's not that much one can say about the Byrds as they are, they have a pleasant sound if you're into the country music renaissance. The Byrds, The Band, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young have done much to turn on many to the country music sensitivity. At the same time, it would be foolish to say that they play authentic country music. One could, however, have a real country music show in New York City featuring Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, Flatt and Scruggs, or the New Lost City Ramblers. Hell, why not give it a try.
Although the concert itself was disappointing in spots, Carnegie never had it so good. The audience was never more alive. George Szell never got that type of standing ovation accorded to the Byrds, but then again, I wonder what would have happened if some sneaky promoter put the Julliard String Quartet onstage in drag and had them jam with The Nice. No matter, it was rather a happy situation for all concerned.
Carnegie was chosen for its excellent acoustics and in lieu of a real bathroom setup, it will have to do along with the Fillmore Auditorium in providing the New York area with another place where musicians can expose their craft. Though playing in this august hall definitely sacrifices certain intimacies of the small club atmosphere, it more than makes up for it in the numbers of people who can be reached in an evening's 2 concert set.
Finally, I don't think that the Carnegie concert will conflict with the Fillmore Auditorium - God help the city if there was an entertainment war. There's enough of an audience for both places. The opening of Carnegie may even clue in other halls to take a step into the present decade and modify their attitude about this generation and its music.

(by David Wally, from the East Village Other, 1 October 1969) 

The same issue also ran this notice:

Prospect Park Be-In
Sunday Oct. 12
12 noon at The Meadow
Betw 1st & 3rd St
GRATEFUL DEAD (supposedly)

1 comment:

  1. Yes, the same issue of the East Village Other ran three different reviews of the Byrds & Burritos show, and a couple reviews of Country Joe & the Dead...
    The funny thing is, these Fillmore East Dead shows still remain somewhat mysterious - despite numerous witnesses, several newspaper reviews, and two partial audience tapes, the setlists are still mostly guesswork.

    Both reviewers went to the early Fillmore shows so they could head to other shows later; at that point many New Yorkers were still content with catching the Dead in abbreviated hour-long sets, before discovering that the Dead would actually play til dawn if you let them.
    Weiner, in the second review, missed most of the Dead's 9/27 early show, so he only says they were lively and together, before describing Country Joe's set in detail. Note the audience demand for an encore from Country Joe (and the backstage argument which prevented it) - I wonder what the program said about audience cries for "more"?
    Also note how well the Fillmore kept to the show schedule: at 11;40, "2,800 people were waiting outside for the 11:30 performance to begin." (And this is the set in which, one audience member recalled, "Garcia 'apologized' to the audience for not being able to play too long because it was the 'chickenshit early show.'")

    Lichtenberg has many interesting comments on the Dead:
    - he associates them with the wild open spontaneous California spirit, and contrasts them with the New York crowd, fearing that their relaxed style goes over New Yorkers' heads;
    - he mentions that they're successful in outdoor park shows, but in theaters not so much, due to their music being too "complicated, delicate, and subtle";
    - he says their shows depend on the audience all grooving together to the music: "Without this good-friends intermingling of vibrations the Dead don't make sense, even to themselves."
    - he also says their performances depend on the two-drummer power, and until the drummers take off, the shows don't get going.

    Setlist-wise, he says the Dead played the Other One ("side one of Anthem of the Sun") and He Was a Friend of Mine. Now this is curious, since the tape accepted as being from the 9/26 early show has a Dark Star suite, and it's hard to believe that the Dead would cram all that jamming into a short early show, even in '69. So now I'm thinking the tape may actually come from the late show, in which Death Don't was followed by a big Pigpen hand-clapping number (probably Lovelight).