Jul 25, 2019

August 14-15, 1971: Berkeley Community Theatre



Compared to other concerts that they have provided the community with during the past, this rendition of the Grateful Dead was just about that. The performance was lack-luster throughout. There were times when brilliance began to show its face, but it never really got off the ground. The Dead were definitely not inspired, but then with a schedule like the one they have to put up with, inspiration comes infrequently. Still even with the absence of the hoped for brilliance, the performance was quite enjoyable, and I felt times when the crowd was really coming together with the musicians. But having to stay in the seats like good little girls and boys didn't help either.
But then whenever you think about a Bill Graham concert, you must separate the music from the vibes. Usually when really grooving on the sounds of the Dead, live or on record, the vibes and sounds are so far out that the mind hesitates, stumbles, and then allows itself to be blown completely away. If you're high it's even better.
Not so Sat night. Graham Cracker and his Fillmore Pigs were in fine form. Kicking people out of the aisles, not letting folks dance or even sit in the aisles. It was just a pig trying to make us conform to his trip, without any consideration for our own.
You must dance in your assigned place, confine your head to your seat. We must be nice middle class kids, sit in your seat and be good and if the music (temporary vibes from the band) gets to you and you have to move, do it in your seat only! ONLY!! I never saw so many people sitting at a Dead concert in my life.
The Dead concert? Good music, shitty vibes!!! 

(from the Berkeley Tribe, 20 August 1971)



The Grateful Dead, the local superstars who helped spawn the San Francisco Sound, gave a lukewarm performance at the Berkeley Community Theater Saturday night.
The legendary quintet, which plays blues and country-flavored rock, consists of Jerry Garcia (lead guitar), Bob Weir (rhythm guitar), Phil Lesh (bass), Bill Kreutzman (drums), and Ron "Pig Pen" McKernan (organ and harmonica).
Little creativity was evident in their rhythmic versions of songs like "Cumberland Blues," "Brokedown Palace," and "Casey Jones." They attempted some new numbers, the titles of which they neglected to announce. All of the music was surprisingly simple and monotonous, and Garcia's solos were highly repetitive.
Their singing was mostly weak and off-key. Weir blundered through "El Paso" as if he had never sung before. Garcia's blues singing never seemed to have enough strength or feeling. His deficiencies were particularly noticeable on the mournful "Brokedown Palace." "Pig Pen," whose voice was characterized by a deadly tunelessness, really struck out on Jimmy Reed's "Boss Man."
The New Riders of the Purple Sage, the bluegrass-country rock quintet that opened the show, is dominated by the pedal steel guitar of founder Jerry Garcia. They sounded distressingly similar to every other country-rock group. It seemed as if they were playing the same song over and over again and merely adding new lyrics to it. They wound up their set with a disastrously arranged version of "The Weight."
The audience was quite enthusiastic, though they appeared to be responding more to the performers than to the music. Despite the inferior music, affection and good cheer flowed throughout the packed auditorium.

(by Dennis Hunt, from the San Francisco Chronicle, 16 August 1971)



It was like old home week at the Berkeley Community Theater last Saturday night. Memories of the recently-closed Fillmore West were felt by the crowd who had come to see San Francisco's own Grateful Dead and the New Riders of the Purple Sage.
Even Bill Graham was there to emcee the show and a most interesting and comical light show, provided by Abercrombie, entertained one of the wildest crowds ever to attend the weekly concerts at the theater.
The musicians' sound equipment and paraphernalia, reminiscent of the old Fillmore, cluttered the stage. The crowd, one of the most enthusiastic this reporter has ever experienced (I have the lumps from being hit on the head to prove it) hooted, cheered, 'boogied' and danced to the music, which at times was very good.
It was also a special occasion for rock singer David Crosby - his birthday. He made a special appearance at the concert to receive a birthday cake Bill Graham and the groups had prepared for him.
The tireless and durable Grateful Dead, who have an outstanding talent in Jerry Garcia on lead guitar, obviously pleased the crowd with their often long, tedious and repetitious tunes.
The Dead's resounding and infectious sound seemed to have exploded on such numbers as "I'm on my Bended Knees," a rockin', rollin' tune that started it off with a pace that rarely ever slowed down.
Bob Weir, rhythm guitar, ventured back into the past for the group's revival of Marty Robbins' old hit "El Paso," which proved to be one of the group's best crowd pleasers even though it was below par. Ronald McKernan, better known as "Pigpen," belted his way through one of his many solo numbers, "Hard to Handle," but the background musical accompaniment, with a harmonica added for a little more authenticity, was an example of the Dead at their best.
The Dead's "Brokedown Palace" was a poetic, harmonious blend of moods and rhythms. "Big Boss Man" allowed the Dead to start one of their never ending jam sessions that was purely electrifying. Sounds ignited and rhythms exploded creating an almost total musical sound. The same thing happened on "Cumberland Blues," and "Casey Jones," one of their old hits that completely enthralled the frenzied audience.
After a short break, the Dead came back and renewed their rapid pace with "Truckin," a groovin', driving tune that was another favorite along with still another jam session that was deafening; Janis Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee;" "Sugar Magnolia;" "Not Fadeaway," and around midnight, Chuck Berry's oldie "Johnny B. Goode."
One major criticism may be leveled at the Dead - they get too involved with their improvisations and fail to please the average listener who is not a devout Grateful Dead fan. Granted that improvisation is essential to most concerts, there's such a thing as overdoing it.
The New Riders of the Purple Sage, also led by Jerry Garcia, opened the concert and presented a commendable set that was considerably shorter than the Dead's. They were in good form on such tunes as "Louisiana Lady" and "The Weight."
The light show was not only entertaining, it was camp. Besides the usual images projected on the screen, the   [line missing]   intermission. It premiered a short film on a dog fetching a Frisbee on land, sea, and sometimes in the air to the music that usually accompanied Lassies rescuing someone. Also on the light show bill was Chip and Dale Cartoon with Donald Duck.

(by Doris Worsham, from the Oakland Tribune, 18 August 1971)




One of the longest living rock bands in the country along with one of the most popular rock groups in the Bay Area, made a tremendous showing Sunday night at Berkeley Community Theatre when the Grateful Dead turned on their long time fans once more.
After Purple Sage did the evening's first set that lasted about 45 minutes, Barry Imoff (who produces a lot of Bill Graham's gigs) introduced the super group like this: "The band that is going to replace Lawrence Welk - The Grateful Dead."
The gig was just like old times and between sets, cartoons were shown. Behind the Dead's performance was an old fashioned light show which featured the Dead's name in a sequence of color.
Sunday's show was the second of a two nighter they were into and, as usual, the Dead did a short three hour performance.
In their second set, the Dead got it on with "Truckin" which led fans to start applauding. They ended their show with "Johnny B. Goode" (a Chuck Berry tune) before they went into their good night theme.
Like all Dead gigs, Jerry Garcia was featured on lead guitar. He played that guitar like he was unreal. Jerry was featured even more than other Dead gigs if that is possible.
They are known for their harmonizing and all-around musical talents. But Garcia is definitely a superstar's superstar.
Like other Dead performances, something unusual comes about. There was a fire shooter behind one of the amps which added fireworks.

(by Kathy Staska & George Mangrum, from the Hayward Daily Review, 19 August 1971)


What we consider reliable sources, have told the TRIBE about the financial results of the recent Bill Graham produced Grateful Dead concert at the Community Theater. For the 2 nights, Graham got $3000, while the Dead went home with $21,000.
(from the "Short Shit" column, the Berkeley Tribe, 3 September 1971)

Some weeks ago the Grateful Dead played two nights in Berkeley and took home around $20,000. Ticket-holders’ money paid for the armed guards who got their macho rocks off pushing people down the front steps of the Community Theater.
“You mean you’d shoot me for walking up these steps?”
“Try me.”
We had been asking people in line, “How do you feel about paying these prices to see the Dead?”
“Well, to me the Dead are priceless, so it doesn’t really matter.” or
“I try not to feel”
were typical answers. When Bill Graham came out Saturday night to absorb and disperse the gate-crashing energy being raised by the moneyless crowd, it was with more than a trace of contempt in his grin that he said, “Why, they’re your heroes – tie-dyed.” 
The boy does have a way with words.
The syndrome this event represents is obvious if you think about it. After you get that down, the counter-revolutionary implications fall right into place.
The solution is simple: return people's culture to the people. Up until now there hasn't existed a place in the community where folks can gather and just get stoned on the artistic expression of what they themselves are getting together [...] in their own heads. So let's establish one! Away from elitist performer-audience relationship to one of sisters and brothers learning and growing and invoking their own artistry to share the truth.
[ . . . ]
(from the Berkeley Tribe, 17 September 1971)


Thanks to jgmf.blogspot.com


  1. An unusually well-covered pair of shows, with four reviewers from different papers, so we get a wide range of perspectives here.

    The radical Berkeley Tribe, of course, couldn't cover a Bill Graham production without complaining about how his thugs abused the crowd, the price was too high, the vibes were bad, etc., and pleading for a return to the mythical "people's culture."
    The mainstream papers don't pay any attention to the "pigs" or the crowd control - for them it's just a merry occasion with a rowdy crowd.

    It's said that "the gig was just like old times" and it does sound like one of the last '60s-style Dead shows, with an "old-fashioned" light show and cartoons, fireworks onstage, and a Fillmore-like atmosphere.
    It's noticeable that none of the reviewers are totally enthusiastic about the Dead's show except for the Hayward article.
    The Tribe reviewer feels the crowd was very repressed by the seating, the guards, the lack of dancing: "I never saw so many people sitting at a Dead concert in my life." But the other reviewers called it a wild and frenzied crowd: "the audience was quite enthusiastic," "one of the most enthusiastic this reporter has ever experienced," dancing and cheering and carrying on.
    I suspect the Tribe reporter was younger and grumpier than the others, coloring his review in dark shades. But they mostly agree that the music wasn't that great - the Chronicle observes that the audience of long-time Dead fans "appeared to be responding more to the performers than to the music. Despite the inferior music, affection and good cheer flowed..." (This makes it sound more like a show from a later decade!)

  2. So what was wrong with the music? On tape, the 14th in particular is one of the best shows of the summer. But some of these reviewers are not too thrilled with the 1971-style Dead. None of them draw any direct comparison with Dead shows of the past, but there's a sense of letdown here - the Tribe misses the "brilliance" of past shows.
    The Tribe feels that the performance was lackluster, "it never really got off the ground," and the Dead were uninspired. He blames it on the setting, the seated audience, and the Dead's tiring schedule. (Actually they'd played only a handful of shows in the previous two months.) But even with all that, he concludes that the music was still good and "the performance was quite enjoyable."
    For the Chronicle, the performance was lukewarm and uncreative; the Tribune calls the music very good "at times" and likes the rock numbers. The Tribune's somewhat bored by their "long, tedious and repetitious tunes," and the Chronicle also complains that all the music is "simple and monotonous, and Garcia's solos were highly repetitive." Both reviewers single out El Paso as a badly-done tune (although it was "one of the group's best crowd pleasers"). The Chronicle particularly criticizes the Dead's singing, complaining about each singer in turn. (He even gripes that they didn't announce the names of their new songs... In short, he doesn't like anything.)
    But the reviewers admit that the Dead "pleased the crowd," so I suspect the average fan left the show a lot happier than these reviewers. Truckin' is named as an audience favorite in two reviews. The Tribune is more open to the Dead's musical talents than the crabby Chronicle, pointing out some "electrifying" moments like Hard to Handle, but with reservations - the Dead improvise too much, turning off "the casual listener." This is a surprising thing to say about a 1971 show, but for this reviewer, a little jamming went a long way - she points out Big Boss Man and Cumberland Blues as "never-ending jam sessions," so she seems not to have liked solos going on very long. (The Other One is said to be "deafening.")
    As for the New Riders, the Chronicle thought they were unbearable ("it seemed as if they were playing the same song over and over again"), but the Tribune found them "commendable...in good form."

    The Hayward review may be more positive since it was from the next night, but I think they were just bigger fans of the Dead. (I'm not sure if "a short three-hour performance" is meant to be ironic, or if they felt the show was shorter than it used to be.) Two reviews mention Garcia's "outstanding talent," but the Hayward review is especially gushing, calling him a "superstar," "unreal," and saying he stood out more than in earlier shows.
    Unfortunately the announcement "the band that is going to replace Lawrence Welk" isn't on tape... And none of the reviewers noticed Ned Lagin sitting in (he says he played the second sets of both shows).

  3. I'll also observe that by 1971, the Dead are considered to be old-timers - in these reviews they're called "legendary," "tireless and durable," "one of the longest living rock bands in the country." The shows are written about like reunions, "old home week," with the crowd carrying "memories" of the Fillmore and being turned on "once more." One reviewer finds the band "reminiscent of the old Fillmore," another says the show was "just like old times."
    There's a certain unspoken nostalgia here for the bygone days. I haven't made any comparison, but it seems like out-of-town reviewers would more often bring up the Dead's '60s history and their place as "founders of the San Francisco Sound." That's casually mentioned here, but these local reviews see the Dead as more of a hometown group, our band, "San Francisco's own" who can be seen year-round and don't need their history explained. There's a sense of Dead shows being a repeatable experience - come to a Dead show and relive 1969 - which hasn't yet turned into the dismissal of the Dead as nostalgic relics of the past. They may be "old" compared to other rock groups in 1971, but they're still current.

  4. Casey Jones on the first night is news tho' hardly surprising, two contemporary sources look reliable but it's not on any of the three sources we have. My guess is it came after Promised Land at the end of the first set, it doesn't sound like Promised Land is the set ender.