Sep 14, 2018

1969: More Live/Dead Reviews

“Live/Dead” (Warner Bros. 1830) is the new Grateful Dead album, live tracks from a number of locations including the old Avalon Ballroom (where “Dead Don’t Have No Mercy” was cut). It’s far and away the best thing the Dead have offered on record in terms of getting across what the band really sounds like. It ought to be their most successful disc, too, since it not only sounds like the band sounds but it’s attractively programmed and mixed and the lyrics come through clearly and with meaning. The continuing dialogue between Garcia’s guitar and Lesh’s bass is fascinating.

(by Ralph Gleason, excerpt from "The Stones' Music - 'Let It Bleed'," the San Francisco Examiner, 14 December 1969)

* * * 


The Grateful Dead's new double-LP package, "Live-Dead" (Warner Bros. 1830), is not only the best Dead on record, it also contains some of the most interesting music recorded out of the "rock" scene this year.
Actually it is the direction in which the Dead are now pointing, toward new sounds and structures in electronic music, that makes the whole 75 minutes almost consistently fascinating.
The Dead here present the most impressive concert-rock efforts ever recorded by a San Francisco group. The Dead may not (yet) be up to the integrity of the Who, and that group's rock-opera "Tommy," but guitarist Jerry Garcia and his Dead colleagues certainly have some classy sequences on this new pair of records.
The opening selection, 23 minutes of it, is titled "Dark Star," and after four playings I still kept discovering new sounds, attractive matchings of guitars, beautifully produced (and executed) audio changes, and care with dynamics. And rhythmic change-of-pace, great get the idea?
Besides Garcia's elegant guitar, which is featured, but not at the expense of others, there is remarkably fine bass guitar stuff by Phil Lesh, and all kinds of fillers and strong support by Bob Weir, the Dead's other fine guitarist.
There is little, here, to suggest a swing away from the Dead's usual extended blues improvisations to a more "country" sound (which, presumably, is where many groups think things are at, right now) but this collection of music definitely emphasizes the great three-guitar teamwork (including the bass) that Garcia, Weir, and Lesh have developed.
Pigpen McKernan's organ lines flow all through things, and he sings Blind Gary Davis' mellow "Death Don't Have No Mercy" in a warm and sympathetic manner.
"Turn On Your Love Light," second longest track, is recorded live and is a bit sloppy, but wildly spirited. It's a rhythmic romp with plenty of both the drummers (Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart) and great splitting of solo roles, separated by stop-time rhythmic gaps.
"Saint Stephen" is a wild and weird combination of almost medieval mysticism and frenzied hard rock, plus some obscure lyric lines by Robert Hunter. It dissolves, with an eruption of free-sound, into "The Eleven," which ends the concert.
My only criticism would involve the singing, or more accurately, the inconsistent stereo sound balance on the vocals. But I stopped worrying about the words rather early in the listening, and just let the voices fall into place as if they were additional instruments.
Which, of course, they are. 

(by Philip Elwood, from the San Francisco Examiner, 24 December 1969)

* * *

on Warner Bros.-Seven Arts

Good old Grateful Dead! A two record set, recorded live, that flows like an acid vision. Almost everything is fine; the only thing I can think of to complain about is that "Lovelight" doesn't get me off as good as it does in person. But a phonograph record just can't handle the kind of vibration that the Dead put out when you're in the same room with them, and maybe it's just as well; when you stand away from the music, a little, you can really appreciate all the musicianship that's there. Garcia, a gliding, joyous lead - playing the way everything looks when you're so stoned you can't find compartments any more. The rhythm section is also looking out for your head: Micky Hart, Bill Kreutzman, Phil Lesh, as free in 11/4 as in 4/4, making the change so smooth it's hard to pick up exactly when it happens.
The programming of the record is perfect too - which it should be, since it just duplicates a typical Dead set.  [line missing]  "Dark Star" and "Saint Stephen" to get you centered and calm, "The Eleven" to get you standing up and (at the Family Dog, anyway) dancing, sliding into "Lovelight" which blows your mind and gets you so whacked out jumping and bopping that you're glad to fall on the floor and just listen to "Death Don't Have No Mercy". Now the acid (or whatever) is probably coming on heavy, so the Dead (ever heedful of your state of consciousness) get into "Feedback". Then, finally, "We Bid You Goodnight" gives you back your head again and sends you out into the night. Whew!
It's all here, and it's as good as we all hoped it would be. Hey, Grateful Dead, thanks for "Viola Lee" and thanks for "The Eleven," and just fucking thanks! What would we do without you? 

(by black shadow, from "Record Wrap," San Francisco Good Times, 18 December 1969)

* * *

Warners 1830

It's taken almost four years, but the Dead finally have a waxed impression of the things they do live so well. It's a double-record set, all live, that completely eclipses the faults of their previous albums, including their other live work ("Anthem of the Sun"). This set is well-mixed, completely non-commercial in approach, and completely free-flowing.
Here, finally, we can hear Jerry Garcia's remarkably fluid guitar runs as they zig-zag in and out of the ever-changing layers of music that the group as a whole puts down. And, for a change, you can hear each individual instrument and (if you really want to) you can clearly understand the vocals. But vocals, to be sure, aren't the forte of the Dead on this set. Except for the 15-minutes of "Turn On Your Love Light" where the vocal bridges are used to draw the audience into the music even more, the seven titles on this album are largely instrumental. More than 75 grateful minutes of Dead music.
As a live album, it avoids the failings of other live sets - the long, extended applause sessions and introductions are omitted in favor of jamming in the most possible music. (Besides, those on-record applause and introduction segments are becoming more and more reminiscent of those television studio applause you have to conform to the reactions of other people. And that's the beauty of Dead music; five different people will react five different ways to it.)
There's really nothing fancy on this set; nothing that the Dead wouldn't have done on any of their live gigs, whether they were being recorded or not. The opening track, "Dark Star," is more than 23 minutes of the best instrumental whallop the group has ever gotten into. This is carried over into "St. Stephen," reworked from the version on "Aoxomoxoa"...they just put more feeling into it, further illustrating the stimuli that a live audience injects into a group. But there aren't too many groups who can work off the energy they receive from the audience and send it back to them in spades...and of those groups that can, they're probably from the San Francisco area. Listen to the interaction at the end of "Love Light," when the vocalist completes his chores with a final "Yeah," hears the audience response, and yells "and leave it on."
Until, perhaps, Quicksilver's next album (set for release in January), LIVE DEAD has got to qualify as one of the best albums ever done by a San Francisco group.

(by Pete Senoff, from "Record Raps," the Los Angeles Free Press, 19 December 1969) 

The same column also had a review of Pink Floyd's Ummagumma, which I'll include: 

The Floyd started a couple of years ago as England's first "psychedelic" band. They were touring with their own self-contained light show before news of the San Francisco experiments ever reached British shores. Their original repertoire was pop, but done with a smattering of electronics...their first album was a studio gem. But the epic and most-remembered cut on that album was "Interstellar Overdrive"...a 2001-like opus conceived and staged live before the movie was even filmed. It was an all-encompassing electronic space trip, done with a mixture of conventional instrumentation and electronics. 
A second album and a soundtrack have since passed, with the Floyd taking every opportunity to further refine their space music to an art. They've progressed beyond "songs" as such and into long compositions - variations on a theme. Almost an Anglo-counterpart to current Zappa themes. In the realm of musique concrete, it can't readily be appreciated by lead guitar freaks and "if you can dance to it, it's cool" cultists. The last time Pink Floyd played L.A., they shared a Pinnacle bill with Jeff Beck. [7/26-27/68] Predicably, Beck got the adulation and the Floyd garnered a host of blank stares. However, it's a different story in England, as they're regarded as cult figures, akin to the reputation the Dead enjoy here among a pseudo-underground.
Needless to say, this new double album is already a minor classic on the continent. Made up of a live record and a studio project, it's a good indication of the progression the Floyd have made since last year. In live concert situations, they've been experimenting with an Azimuth Coordinator Sound System, using four speaker units in a close approximation to true 360 degree sound...far more dynamic than ordinary stereo. Although this effect couldn't be transferred onto the vinyl, the four live compositions most certainly do refute any claims that the group is dependent totally on the studio. In truth, they aren't very exciting to watch live, but they amplify this attribute by being super-audio attractions; that's why their records are still the best vehicles for communication. The four live things are rearranged versions of earlier classics, including a more intricate "Saucerful of Secrets" (from their second album). 
The studio record gives each member about 15 minutes to compose, arrange, and play to his heart's content, backed instrumentally by the rest of the group. Most of the compositions are pretty abstract, encompassing diverse elements of every conceivable nature...classical piano, vocal choruses, electronics...even sea gulls. 
It's an engrossing set, one that can best be appreciated through headphones and the best possible stereo system.

* * *


Most albums recorded live are distinguished mainly because of the applause and shouts the fans give the performers after each number. Other than that, they might as well have been recorded in the studio, for there is no great difference.
Grateful Dead's new album (Reprise) is not just recorded live in concert, it is totally Alive. The plastic disc which serves as the divider between the listener and the band is gone, the Dead are right exactly next to you, playing with all their energy for all it's worth.
Long known for the togetherness and energy which they display during concerts, the Dead prove capable of keeping this aliveness or spontaneity intact on their album, where groups like the Airplane or Traffic become deadly boring when their live concerts are released on record.
No member of the Dead stands out above the other, they are a group, and each member's playing (or singing) becomes part of the group's texture. And yet, there is still beautiful jamming and soloing by individuals in the Dead, which makes their music so unprogrammed and exciting; but we still know that the Grateful Dead are performing a number, not just jamming for the hell of it, as Chicago or Led Zep constantly do.
"Saint Stephen-Eleven," "Turn On Your Lovelight," and "Dark Star" are examples of the Dead at their best, through extended jams and solos; yet never losing touch with their basic composition. I liked "Death Don't Have No Mercy" the least, it's a slow blues number, and up until that point the Dead were just too vibrant and moving to switch to such a slow song.
This album is really quite an accomplishment, the Dead have succeeded in putting together a live rock album that really preserves the power of their music performed live, and it should be picked up on.

(by Steve Rosen, from "Musix & Other Noise," the Spectator (Bloomington, IN), 4 February 1970)

* * *

Rock group at its best

The Grateful Dead is one of America's finest rock groups, although it has yet to release a best-selling album. The group's latest, "Live Dead," probably won't make it either, but it should, for the Dead today are playing what rock probably will be all about in a few more years. 
"Live Dead" is a low-priced double album of the Dead at their liveliest best. It's like hearing the group in concert at the Kinetic Playground again, where the Dead played on and on, bringing the crowd to its feet and then back down into a tightly huddled core, with eyes closed and heads bobbing.
The Dead has the ability to hit you with volumes of revelations, to make its music speak without words, and to do it so clearly you think you can touch their intangible sound.
Beginning with "Dark Star," they go through countless changes until they have completely left "Dark Star" and are jamming. After 10 minutes or so, if you can manage to think about it, you realize you don't know what you are hearing. By the time you realize that, they've managed to pull the pieces together and are again doing "Dark Star."
Side two begins with "Saint Stephen," the kind of tribute to Stephen Foster that brings you up to your feet, impatient to sing along.
"Stephen" flows unsuspectingly into "The Eleven." Jerry Garcia's guitar surges forth, and the song takes off. The lyrics are rushed over and yet they are clearly audible. "William Tell has stretched his bow till it won't stretch no furthermore and/or it may require a change that hasn't come before." Garcia's guitar takes off again, and everything falls in line.
Five minutes later, we're back to the beginning, picking up the lyrics that were passed over: "Now is the time past believing, the child has relinquished the rein, now is the test of the boomerang, tossed in the night of redeeming."
"Eleven" then beautifully fades into "Turn on your Lovelight," which continues on side three.
"Death don't have no answer" is the first song on the fourth side. It sounds like the theme song for a heroic, nearly Biblical epic that has one major message: Don't die for something, live for something.
"Death" is followed by nine minutes of "feedback," which seems to have come straight from the crypt. Here again, the Dead show they are not amateurs experimenting with bleeps but are far ahead into the electronic age.
"Feedback," like the rest of this album, flows from beginning to end and finally works its way into the last lyric, with which the Dead usually ends a live set: "Lay down my dear brothers, lay down and take your rest. I want you to lay your head upon your Savior's chest. I love you - ah, but Jesus loves you the best, and I bid you good night."
It's magnificent.

(by Wayne Crawford, from the Chicago Daily News, 5 February 1970) 

* * *


Physicality - that's the thing. And it's all around us. Nude theaters, erotic flicks, bare-skinned photo journalism. More directly - a greater than ever before emphasis on exercise, self-defence, non-verbal encounter, and just plain old physical self-awareness.
But what happened to pop music? Peaking at the greatest popularity, the most lucrative financial return and widest cultural influence in its history, pop found itself, in the late sixties, moving further and further away from the activity which was at the very core of its existence - dancing. "Rock is becoming just like jazz," one listener has said. "It just isn't very good dance music anymore."
One of the reasons that so many sophisticated rock groups came out of San Francisco in the mid-and-late sixties was that dance-music remained a necessary part of their repertoires. Balancing musical adventurousness with solid, danceable rhythms, groups such as the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead demonstrated that it was possible for a rock group to grow into a complex artistic organism without severing the vital tendrils of rhythm that tie it to its public.
The Grateful Dead were at the Fillmore last week, playing their music, showing us that physicality is still the thing in pop music, and reminding us that a band that can't make people dance had better not plan on staying around very long. When Ron "Pigpen" McKernan launched into his unique improvision on blues lyrics, with Jerry Garcia's soaring guitar lines whipping in and around the vocal, the Fillmore audience came enthusiastically alive. The 2nd Ave. rock palace is no dance hall, but when the impulse is strong enough, even the confines of an auditorium seat can be room enough. Soon most of the audience were on their feet, sliding, bending, waving their bodies in an almost symbiotic interchange with the musicians.
It was the kind of musical excitement that the Dead always generate in "live" concerts, and rarely on studio recordings. (The group's newest release, Live Dead, Warner Brothers 1830, recorded live on two disks, allows the band the leisure time it needs to build up musical energy. For the record listener it is a first class opportunity to respond to the enormously powerful rhythmic impulses of the San Francisco septet.)

[The review continues:]

The Dead weren't the only rock group in town stressing physicality. The week before, Delaney, Bonnie & Friends - with superstar guitarist Eric Clapton as the best-known "friend" - were at the Fillmore, and Sly & The Family Stone jammed Madison Square Garden on the weekend. 
If the Dead were the major advocates of dance music in the late sixties, the Delaney & Bonnie and Sly groups look very much like the best new dance bands of the seventies. Arriving in town on the crest of a wave of laudatory publicity, Delaney & Bonnie sounded as though they finally had made a whole cloth out of the many tangled threads of influence that make up their music. The presence of Clapton, one of the authentic cult heroes of English rock mythology, gave the group an aura of solid musical achievement that was reinforced by the stories of Beatle George Harrison's performances with D&B (as a sideman, no less) during their recent European tour. 
But clearly the Delaney & Bonnie eight piece ensemble would be a good one even without the presence of English pop mighties. Bonnie is one of the few - perhaps the only - white female singer who works convincingly with the blues. And like Delaney, she instills the black-based music which dominates their repertoire with a twanging country music swing. The result is probably the most convincing mixture of these two curiously similar musical genres since the heydays of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Buddy Holly. Delaney gives Bonnie a musical, and no doubt spiritual support that seems to stimulate her to a far wider stylistic range than, say, Janis Joplin or Tracy Nelson. But Delaney sometimes dominates the group and Bonnie too much, cracking jokes, boozing between selections, using Clapton as the butt of sophomoric humor, and worse of all, taking too much solo space for himself. Delaney is good, but a group that has Bonnie and Eric Clapton in it should make more room for their superb talents. Like the Dead, they play the kind of music that can get the sometimes immobile Fillmore audience to its feet. A new Delaney & Bonnie recording titled Delaney & Bonnie and Friends On Tour with Eric Clapton is due from Atlantic this week (SD 33-326, stereo). 
Physicality reached its peak with the arrival of Sly and the Family Stone on stage at Madison Square Garden. The arena police, hard put to keep the audience seated during the preliminary acts, gave up entirely when Sly and his rocking seven piece band appeared. Aisles were jammed, masses of youngsters came storming down from the upper reaches, and visibility, even in the front rows of the orchestra, was almost impossible without standing on one's chair. 
Sly's music was undeniably aimed at physical response. "I want to take you higher" he shouted, and the audience answered "higher, higher." The rhythm settled into a driving, heavily accented groove that demanded little from the audience except a recurring, march-like foot stamping so strong that the concrete floor of the Garden began to reveal frightening tremors (reminding me of old stories about the effect Lionel Hampton's version of "Flying Home" used to have upon the balcony audiences at the Apollo). 
As with the Dead and Delaney & Bonnie, Sly has assembled a band that plays together with brilliant technical efficiency; the most exuberantly improvisational sections somehow come together with the cohesive structural dynamism of a first class symphony orchestra. Sly has developed a leitmotiv arranging style that inserts familiar word and melody patterns - "take you higher," "dance to the music," "boom-sha-ka-la-ka-la-ka," etc. - into the fabric of many different songs. These recurring motives give the audience a happily familiar reference point, even in brand new material, and guarantee a persistently energetic listener response. 
So physicality is back in force for pop music. The loud cries of a return to the simple rhythms of nineteen fifties rock & roll confirm just how much it has been missed in the last few years. But so long as the Grateful Dead, Delaney & Bonnie, and Sly and his Family are with us, there will be no need for revivals. Better get out your dancing shoes.

(by Don Heckman, from the New York Times, 22 February 1970) 

* * *


This review is not for Grateful Dead Fans. They already have this record. It is for those who recognize that the Dead are more than a spiffy, hip allusion in "Hair" sung by the Cowsills, but who have never seen them alive. They only come off live. 
In concert on any given night, Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Pig Pen, Tom Constanten, Bob Weir, et al, just might jam their way into your heart. The album in question, "Live/Dead," is a collection of old favorites done by the group in top form. 
The problem involved in seeing and hearing the Dead on any given night is that their improvisational music might not come off. When they do get it on, fantastic! When they don't, the music is terrible. That is the beauty of the album; we have nights when they were really into it, preserved on acetate, four sides of it. 
The album opens with 23 minutes and 15 seconds of "Dark Star." The piece is really a fugue with theme and variations. The lyrics are superfluous, in fact, distracting, with their early Alan Watts overtones. For example: "A transitive nightfall of diamonds." But the piece as a whole is tremendous. After hearing this song, you keep getting replays as if the music were in the air. 
"St. Stephen" has just the right lilt for singing along if you can handle more than an eight-bar break between verses. "The Eleven" moves with the same drive and vigor that characterizes the best of the Grateful Dead. 
"Turn On Your Love Light" has never been done quite like this. The Dead don't mess around when they say "turn on your love light," and the crowd responds in kind. For 15 minutes they incite the audience to do all kinds of nasty things with great music and exhortations such as, "Take your hand out of your pocket and turn on your love light." 
"Death Don't Have No Mercy" is funky-down blues. This song is as soulful as any B.B. King rendition could be. Now we come to the bad part. Eight minutes of "Feedback" is more than any person can tolerate at a sitting. 
Jerry Garcia is tremendous on lead guitar. His riffs are fresh, inventive, and neat to listen to. Phil Lesh is great on bass, but it is pointless to cite individual performers because the total performance is greater than the sum of its parts. 
The Dead are a group for those who would rather hear brilliance once in a while than hear mediocrity all the time. "Live/Dead" could have been called "The Best of the Grateful Dead" because that's what it is. 

(by Rolf Hage, from the Oregon Daily Emerald, 15 May 1970)

* * *   

The new Grateful Dead album, "Live Dead," should be purchased by Dead maniacs only. You really have to be a Dead fan to put up with the shoddy production and the obnoxious "Feedback" cuts that Reprise gives you. I like the Dead and this album contains a lot of pleasant and worthwhile music. I think they rely too much on long rhythm-pseudo-solos with two or more drummers, but they obviously enjoy what they are doing and are playing for themselves.
(from "The Critic," by Mike Baron, the Madison Kaleidoscope (WI), 4 March 1970)

This 2 record set is the closest thing to the Dead in person, on a typically good night. And it's as good as you have heard it is. "Dark Star" runs 23:15, "Turn on Your Love Light" is 15:30, "Saint Stephen" and "The Eleven" combined are 16 minutes of side 2, surrealistic jams that could come only from Jerry Garcia and Company. Two tabs, two heads, and "Live Dead" make for a perfect evening.
(from "Records," by Rob Klein, Northwest Passage (Seattle), 20 April 1970)

Thanks to Dave Davis.

More reviews:  


  1. A few more Live/Dead reviews - all complimentary, except for one grump who complains about the "shoddy production," "obnoxious 'Feedback,'" and too many long solos, saying it's for "Dead maniacs only." He's in the minority though, as other reviewers don't object to the production or song lengths - they're thrilled to finally get an actual well-recorded live Dead show on album.

    Elwood's positive review makes a couple mistakes: he mixes up sides 2 & 4, and thinks Pigpen plays organ throughout and sings Death Don't. He seems aware that the Dead are currently swinging "to a more country sound" and notes that this isn't on the album (unaware that it was recorded many months earlier). He also doesn't think Feedback is worth mentioning.
    Black Shadow, on the other hand, sees Feedback as part of the album's progression - the Dead are "ever heedful of your state of consciousness" and take you through various stages of a trip. He has a very physical response to the album, and treats it as basically just like a live show, an "acid vision" missing only the in-person vibrations. This must be one of the earliest examples I've seen of a reviewer hearing the Dead's live setlist as a guided journey through states of consciousness. (One reviewer does complain about the blues finale - "up until that point the Dead were just too vibrant and moving to switch to such a slow song.")

  2. I added a couple more Live/Dead reviews from February 1970 at the end here, instead of starting yet another L/D review page - from the Chicago Daily News & the New York Times.
    Both reviews directly compare the album with a live show the reviewer had seen - at the Kinetic Playground in Chicago, and the Fillmore in NYC - and both emphasize the Dead's ability to get the audience dancing: "bringing the crowd to its feet," "soon most of the audience were on their feet." The New York review mentions the Dead's "enormously powerful rhythmic impulses" and the audience's "symbiotic interchange" with the band.

    In the New York review, the Dead are just one of the bands mentioned (a rather random assortment of groups that had recently played New York). It's kind of an over-intellectualized take on rock's return to its dance roots (but recall that the Dead themselves had complained when audiences stopped dancing in the late sixties and just passively sat down & listened).
    The declaration, "a band that can't make people dance had better not plan on staying around very long," might be generally true, but little did the reviewer know that Pink Floyd would become one of the top-selling bands of the next decade with their toe-tapping dance hits, while two of the bands covered here would dissolve within a few years (D&B in '72, the Family Stone in '75).
    The Dead are recommended for their rhythmic live show; they had opened for Janis Joplin when this reviewer saw them, but Janis is completely dismissed here.

    The Chicago reviewer is remarkably struck by the Dead, predicting that they're playing "far ahead into the electronic age" and that "the Dead today are playing what rock probably will be all about in a few more years." This echoes Lenny Kaye's pronouncement that the Dead are "where rock is likely to be in about five years." (Not quite the case.)
    The echo isn't accidental - this reviewer clearly had the Rolling Stone review in front of him and was copying from it; for instance the Dark Star paragraph repeats Kaye's description (but is more clumsily written).
    There are some odd emphases of interpretation - St. Stephen as a "tribute to Stephen Foster," and lots of lyrics quoted - but this reviewer has his own take on this "magnificent" album. He'd seen the Dead playing "on and on" at the Playground, ending a show with We Bid You Goodnight, and marvels: "The Dead has the ability to hit you with volumes of revelations, to make its music speak without words, and to do it so clearly you think you can touch their intangible sound."

  3. I wonder if the workingman's dead review in the Madison Kaleidoscope was written by David Fine. He was one of those involved in the Army Math bombing. Just an interesting point.

  4. I added a late review (May '70) from the Daily Emerald, the U of Oregon student paper. Very appreciative, by a fan - he likes everything except Feedback.