Jul 18, 2019

August 23, 1971: Auditorium Theater, Chicago


With the Dead, you can't say you didn't get your money's worth. Four hours worth to be exact last night at the Auditorium Theater, give or take a short break or two to catch collective breaths, with a light show of sorts and a lot of good music along the way.
Playing the first of two four-hour concerts (a repeat is scheduled for tonight at 7:30) completely by themselves, the one-time San Francisco pioneer group drew its material from a variety of sources: country and western flavored things such as "El Paso," old Chuck Berry rock 'n' rollers, country blues, and "American Beauty." Their sound - countryish, bluesish, thick with rhythm and usually infectious - isn't so new any more and after a couple hours of it, it all begins to sound pretty much alike, but... Take what you want, and let the rest go by. After all these years, there's still something fine about the Dead's music.
Maybe it's the simple fact that it's impossible to stay around a Grateful Dead concert for very long without getting the overwhelming impulse to dance, which is what some people backstage were doing long before the first intermission and what people out front were probably trying to do and getting frustrated when they couldn't.
"What do you want us to tell you, that you can get up and dance?" one of the Dead (his name escapes me, but it wasn't the neatened-up organist Pig Pen, who has slimmed down astoundingly, or guitarist Jerry Garcia, who seems to have picked up what Pig Pen has lost) asked at one point. Well, it would have been nice.
The whole thing moved along at a relaxed, almost spontaneous pace, with some songs sounding more like rehearsals and some numbers very much the finished production. One of the highlights came just before the end of the first half of the show, when a silver mirrored ball twirled down into view above the stage and broke the spotlight beams into myriads of rays that played around the hall in merry-go-round circles of flickering light.
Four hours is a long time, a long time to sit and a long time to play, and occasionally some of the music sounded a little tired or things just didn't work. But not too often, and then something came along that more than made up for it. Like I said, with the Dead you get your money's worth - or at least last night that's how it was.

(by Lynn van Matre, from the Chicago Tribune, 24 August 1971) 

Thanks to Dave Davis.

* * *


"Music is alive and well." That's what the big valentine leaning against Pig Pen's organ said. It may be alive, but it's limping.
The Grateful Dead, acid-testing pioneers of the colossal multi-hued San Francisco scene, played the first of two successive evening concerts Monday night to a sell-out gathering of the tribes at the Auditorium Theater.
At best, the Dead is an overwhelming experience. Rumor has it that one New Year's Eve at the original Fillmore the group provided enough highly concentrated energy for a successful levitation demonstration. During the first half of yesterday's show, sufficient foot-stomping power was generated to seemingly rattle the theater's foundations. The approving roar of the crowd alone was louder than the music volume of many lesser bands.
Unfortunately, just about the time everything got into high gear, the band took a 20-minute break. Afterwards, people who had been madly boogying at their seats settled back to wait for lightning's second strike. The band tried hard enough, but couldn't seem to rekindle anything. At the low point, thousands of fingers were seen plugging thousands of ears.
But that's how it's always been with the Dead. When they're hot, they're incendiary. When they're not, they're like cold spaghetti. That's the price we pay for the kind of openly emotional music they make. Unlike most bands, the Dead can't hide behind strictly structured material. Its songs are delicately thrown over huge open spaces which give the musicians vast freedom to intensify moods.
That's what makes the Dead such a great band to watch. Sounds simple, but it's not. Lots of rope also means an occasional hanging, yet when the Dead hit their musical jet stream, as they did on "Casey Jones," sitting still was absolutely impossible.
In short, the Dead come for to play. There's no glittery show biz: no winged shoes, no Alice Cooper weirdo theatrics, and no hyped, imitation excitement. They're real. They tune up on stage. They decide what to play between songs. And they're even sort of ugly.
A Dead audience is something special, too. Above all, it's there to make a good time., And when those in the audience manage to dance despite immovable chairs, it's fairly obvious the customers are glad they came. The Dead are heroes precisely because the band makes music to live in, which is entirely different from music one goes to listen to.
The band has been together a long time. Essentially, the same unit exists today that first played in 1965 as the Warlocks. There's Jerry, the endless riff, Garcia on lead guitar and vocals, Bob Weir on rhythm guitar and vocals, Bill Kreutzmann on drums, Phil Lesh on bass, and Pig Pen on blues vocals, organ, tambourine, and cigaret.
The Dead have eluded superstardom because they are primarily a live group. Excluding "Working Man's Dead," their albums have been disappointing. The group requires lots of time and a good audience to create its magic. Consequently, the Dead generally play extremely long concerts. Last evening was the exception. The group played 1-1/4 hours, took a break and returned for more. It's too bad things never picked up after intermission.
But then these days, I guess we should learn to be Grateful for even small favors.

(by Jack Hafferkamp, from the Chicago Daily News, 24 August 1971)

* * *


The [---] leaning against Pigpen's [organ] had a big heart on it, and in the middle of the heart was printed: "Music is Alive and Well." But the optimistic slogan didn't apply to Grateful Dead's Monday night's concert in the Auditorium.
Not that the Dead were at fault. Finally given a half-decent concert hall, they sounded better than at any of their previous Chicago concerts. But [during] their cheerful, tuneful set, the bad vibrations from the audience cast a shadow over the proceedings.
Maybe it was just that all the rotten eggs fall in the first basket; if so, the Dead's second concert Tuesday night will make up for everything. The [loonies] weren't even in the majority Monday, but there were enough of them to do the job.
The Dead did nothing but try to please. They played a good four hours, not including the intermission, and were still playing when I left. When they started their set with some mellow countryish numbers, the reaction of the idiots was to yell "Louder" and "Faster." Despite this, those who wanted to do so could hear some fine, easy-going harmonies and crisp, tight playing.
Best of the pre-intermission part was a new song aptly titled "The Loser," which also benefited - as did the whole concert - from some stunning lighting by Candace Brightman, who brought her many-mirrored revolving globe in from New York for the concerts.
Strangely enough, when the Dead got into the [fantasy] free-wheeling rock during the second half, the boisterous element was subdued for a while. When the Dead are even halfway on, this stuff can throw anyone for a loop.
It soars into long lyrical guitar passages picked out by Jerry Garcia while Bob Weir plays around him and supplies solid rhythm guitar. And Phil Lesh's bass and Bill Kreutzman's drums flew steadily with Garcia's build-ups and [ebbs].
But the Dead finally [---] the audience at the very end with some straight hard rock - the Stones' "Not Fade Away" and Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode." They [---] those fine, too, although [---] music isn't the Dead.
But then many in the audience apparently weren't there to hear anyone but themselves. Music was alive Monday night in the Auditorium but definitely not well.

(by Al Rudis, from the Chicago Sun-Times, 24 August 1971)

Thanks to runonguinness. 

8/23 partly released on Road Trips 1:3.
8/24 partly released on Dick's Picks 35. 


  1. The brief Tribune review doesn't offer too much insight into the show... Van Matre liked the Dead all right, but felt that four hours was just "a long time," and "after a couple hours...it all begins to sound pretty much alike." She felt the band may have shared her fatigue: "some of the music sounded a little tired" and "some songs sounded more like rehearsals," and though she stresses that was only occasional, she doesn't dwell on any highlights. With such a long relaxed show, she concludes, at least "you get your money's worth."
    Perhaps the most interesting observation was that Garcia was picking up the weight Pigpen had lost...
    It seems dancing was not allowed in the Auditorium. Though a blurb for the show had stated that "both the Dead and their various spin-off groups will be featured," the New Riders didn't play the Chicago shows.

  2. One advantage of the Dead playing a large city is sometimes multiple newspaper reviews of the same show. In this case, reviewers from three different papers attended Monday's show (but it seems none went on Tuesday).
    My scan of the Daily News & Sun-Times articles was barely readable, so various words are missing or I couldn't make out. If anyone can fill in the blanks from a better copy, it'll be appreciated.

    The reviewers mostly seemed to like the first set more - "mellow countryish numbers" and irresistibly danceable rock tunes like Loser & Casey Jones that even the most mainstream reporters would like. (Reviewers wouldn't praise the Dead for their "crisp, tight playing" in later years!) As a seated auditorium, it was difficult for the audience to dance much, but there was lots of "foot-stomping" and "madly boogying at their seats."
    All the reviewers also seem to have seen the Dead before, although none specifically mention previous shows or any changes in the Dead's repertoire. (The Sun-Times reviewer notes that they sound better than at previous shows, thanks to the good hall, but the Tribune reporter grumbles that "their sound...isn't so new anymore.")
    The Tribune reporter was thrown off by the noisy crowd yelling for louder rock & roll; I'm not sure if he was just sitting among a particularly unruly bunch or was used to quiet classical concerts, but the other reporters didn't notice this. The Sun-Times reporter praised the high energy level and the "approving roar of the crowd."

    Nonetheless, these reporters, despite liking most of the Dead's music, seem to concentrate more on the "bad vibes" and the "limp" second set. (The Daily News reporter even complained that the sets were too short and the intermission too long, though a four-hour concert was quite long enough for the other reviewers.)
    The Daily News felt that the second set was just "cold spaghetti" that couldn't rekindle the fire of the first set, though the band tried hard. I suppose he particularly objected to the Other One - he claims that the whole crowd was plugging their ears at one point! (Great Other One, by the way, and not even that noisy; but it may have been 'difficult' for someone waiting for more rock & roll.)
    The Sun-Times appreciated this "free-wheeling" part of the show more, with its "long lyrical guitar passages" building and ebbing. "When the Dead are even halfway on, this stuff can throw anyone for a loop" - and even the audience is more subdued. What the Daily News hears as limp, waning energy, the Sun-Times sees as quiet attention from the crowd, and he seems disappointed that the Dead returned to "straight hard rock" to end the show.
    Nonetheless, the Daily News reporter was experienced enough to take a broader perspective of the Dead's music, noting that their kind of open, unstructured improv isn't like other bands' pre-prepared showbiz routines, that with their freedom and spontaneity, sometimes they fall flat, but "when they're hot, they're incendiary": they need time to stretch out and "a good audience to create the magic."
    He also notices that "a Dead audience is something special," creating their own good time even when the band strikes out. It wasn't yet common for reporters to view the Dead's audience as being different from other bands'; the Sun-Times only griped about "the boisterous element"...

    This is the first reference I've seen to Candace Brightman doing the "stunning" light show; her mirrorball draws particular praise. She'd worked with the Dead at the Port Chester Capitol shows; I hadn't known she was on the road with them this early, but the reporter notes that she brought her lighting "from New York," perhaps just for these shows.

  3. Yes it's very interesting to see Candace get a mention. I think her presence was more due to Howard Stein than the Dead. The fact that Candace is from Winnetka, 16 miles north of Chicago may also be a factor in why she took the job.

    Stein put on the 71-10-21/22 Auditorium Theatre shows so I assume he was the promoter in August too and Candace worked for him. Candace has said "At the end of '71 I was pretty well established and I was going around the country doing lights for all these bands, mainly in the big cities. I'd do a band in Detroit one day, another group in Miami the next. I was traveling a lot" ("Golden Road" No 9 p 13) and "We did the Gaelic Park shows... and a series of shows at Madison Square Garden and shows in Miami, Atlanta, Chicago and Detroit" ("Dupree's Diamond News" No 23 p 22, she is not talking specifically about Dead shows here but Stein promotions).

    However, the only stop other than Chicago on this little trip was Gaelic Park on the 26th, another Howard Stein show. So Candace was quite possibly there too although again not hired directly by the Dead.

    1. Thanks for the Candace info! The Golden Road interview has a lot of details on her background before working for the Dead.
      I hadn't been aware of Howard Stein promoting these Chicago shows but it makes sense, and explains her presence.