Aug 21, 2019

March 7, 1970: Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica CA

Evening of Good and Bad

 The Grateful Dead dates from the first wave of groups from the bay area. Lumped together in the "San Francisco Sound" pigeonhole they had very little in common - The Airplane, the Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Flaming Groovies.
They were as divergent as imaginable. They sprang up only because it was the right place and the right time and there were places for them to play and people to dig them.
Family Dog and Fillmore were hothouses for groups and they developed their own exotic leaves at their own pace. They are mostly gone now, these hothouses, their windows broken by absurd booking prices and sundry harassments. (The Experience and Creation most recently are fading.)
The Dead got started in San Francisco and their roots are there and their sprawling off-center concert at the Santa Monica Civic was a bit like old times: dancers and families and children and fawning adolescents filling the edges of the stage and stoned usherettes telling people to sit anywhere. It was so pleasant and relaxed it's too bad they didn't play a better set.
Centroid Jerry Garcia seemed a bit bored most of the time while Tom Constantin went through over-long manic vocals and Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzman couldn't agree on a bobbsey-twin Bo Diddley drumming bit.
Garcia sang a couple of overlong songs with endless Dylanesque stanzas to floundering backups that almost fell apart through bad intonation, and even his magical guitar fleurs-de-lis were subdued.
There were occasional flashes of their three-guitar counterpoint and from time to time they were superb, especially in some close harmony and their a cappella closing number, but all in all it was an off night.
Their last regular thing, a half-hour pastiche of several different numbers, was alternately good and terrible, ranging from an excellent duologue (a medium tempo thing both subtle and exciting) between the drummers to some particularly flatulent vocal milking moving only the die-hard rock addict.

Cold Blood, the other half of the concert, could be great. Unfortunately their chick singer is in a mucky Janis Joplin rut.
She sang a Billy Taylor song that was ravishing, but everything else she sang was a pitiful copy of Miss Joplin (who, according to a Rolling Stone, has gone into the jungles of the Amazon with a muscley beatnik she found in Rio...honest).
Her voice is beautiful with a wide range and great facility but the waste is criminal. Dressed in hand-me-down clothes she looks like Howdy Doody with his strings tangled as she jerks and twitches, waving her hair like the lead singer in Grand Funk - only his hair looks better.
The group is tight and their winds (two trumpets, alto and bari) are well integrated. Their Fabulous Furry Freak baritone player is exceptional and his extended solo was well worth the time, although I found the ecstatic reaction to a long held note rather amusing.
(It's real simple, just breathe through the corners of your mouth while pumping the air through the mouthpiece with your cheeks at the same time and you can keep it up until you fall over from lock-knee or strangle on your neck strap, all the while resembling and sounding like a mouldy bagpipe.)
It speaks no better for a rock audience to drop their cookies over that stunt in the middle of a very heavy solo, than for opera buffs to wade through zillions of maimed notes until Del Monaco screeches a high C and wrinkle their nehrus in frenzy as their binocular lenses crack.

(by Mike Moore, from the Van Nuys Valley News, 17 March 1970)

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  1. A dyspeptic review from Santa Monica! It's unusual to find a reviewer in 1970 so down on the Dead; there are hints that he'd seen them before (and liked them better then), but it's only implied.
    He admits that the scene in the auditorium was "pleasant and relaxed," with "dancers and families and children...and stoned usherettes telling people to sit anywhere." But he felt the Dead were having an off night, sometimes good, sometimes terrible, with only "occasional flashes" of superb moments.
    He liked the "close harmony" singing (maybe in Rider), and seems to approve the drum interlude before Good Lovin'. (He suggests the drummers messed up the intro to Not Fade Away, though.)
    He doesn't like Garcia's overlong songs with "floundering backups that almost fell apart" (probably Black Peter & High Time, long ballads with sparse arrangements although they're not "Dylanesque"), and he thought Garcia was "a bit bored" and subdued.
    The long closing medley didn't move him much (he calls it a pastiche of the original songs), and he was especially irritated by the "over-long manic vocals" and "particularly flatulent vocal milking" of Lovelight. (Not sure if it's Weir or Pigpen he mistakenly calls "Tom Constantin.")
    He mentions the "a cappella closing number," so it seems the Dead ended with We Bid You Goodnight.

    Half the review discusses the opening band Cold Blood; he's also negative about them. While he likes the band and horn players, he's irritated by Lydia Pense, calling her Joplinesque singing style "a waste" and making fun of her stage presentation.
    He says little about the "fawning adolescents" in the audience except to chide them for their "ecstatic reaction" to cheap stunts onstage. The audience tape, at any rate, is full of ecstasy that he didn't share.

  2. It's always fraught to try to infer the band's mindset from what we know was going on around them, not least because they could have great nights in bad times and find danger at the performing door when things seemed to be going well. But this had to be just after they found out about Lenny. It had to be a blow. From Garcia's perspective, the Zabriskie check that Lenny took and that brought his perfidy to light was something MG wanted to use toward a house.

    Again, it's almost certainly irrelevant. Hell, the show might have been awesome (I don't recall it, though I have heard it). But I always wonder.

    1. It seems to me that negative reviews are usually based more on the reviewer's mood than the band's performance (assuming the reviewer even likes the band's music in the first place). With the Dead, a reviewer's boredom tends to have little to do with what's coming off the stage. I haven't done any comparative study, but there seems to be little or no correlation between bad Dead performances and bad reviews.
      In this case, I can't be sure what was bugging Moore; but assuming he had seen them some time previously, maybe he came expecting lots of long "acid rock" jams and was disappointed to find instead long country ballads and rock-oldie covers.

  3. Right. I know from my listening notes exercises that my thinking about a show is highly idiosyncratic to whatever moment I am in. I can't trace it to feeling grumpy --> negative perception per se, I just know it's so noisy that I'd have to run a large number of trials to discover some central tendency in my sense of a show (which would be contaminated by familiarity/boredom, of course).