Jul 5, 2020

May 17-18, 1968: Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles


The Moby Grape, the real Moby Grape, as the ads said, since the San Francisco quintet had recently been impersonated at another club, attracted a sizable audience for a weekend appearance at the Kaleidoscope.
Although their albums and single record releases have met with relatively little commercial success, the group has a devout following because of the quality of the material and their live performances.
They are fun to watch, fun to listen to, and danceable. Some of their songs - "Sitting By the Window," "8:05," and "Omaha" - are among the best products of San Francisco combos.
The Moby Grape projects a vigorous sound through four synchronized guitars and a vocal flexibility matched by few groups.
Despite their abilities with blues, ballads, and straight rock, however, the quintet has just enough humdrum material to prevent them from being great.

Meanwhile, over at the Shrine Exposition Hall, the Grateful Dead pummelled several thousand persons with their long improvisational rock music in a show sponsored by the Pinnacle.
The sound of the San Francisco sextet is heavily dependent on lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, whose brilliant playing makes it hard to realize that he is surrounded by routine musicians.
They have two average drummers instead of one good one. Pigpen's organ is generally barely audible and his voice, the best in the group, is mediocre.
Garcia, however, led the group through some exciting blues-based music which roused the Shrine crowd into fervid demonstrations of appreciation.

(by Pete Johnson, from the Los Angeles Times, 20 May 1968)

Alas, no tape!

Pete Johnson also reviewed these Dead shows:


  1. I've quoted this review elsewhere, but I wanted to post it by itself so it would be easier to find. It also provides a useful place to link Pete Johnson's reviews. He was the pop music critic at the LA Times up to 1969, writing most of the Times' rock show reviews in the late '60s.

    Not all readers were happy with him. One letter to the editor on 9/15/68 complained, "Pete Johnson's unsophisticated approach to rock music criticism is beginning to get to me. He apparently has no more knowledge of music than the average AM listener, a factor which probably contributes to his erratic judgment... In his review of Jefferson Airplane's latest LP (Sept. 1) he complains that it is not as exciting as their third album, "After Bathing at Baxter's." I agree, but then I thought "Baxter's" was brilliant, while Johnson did not even bother to review it. Now, I don't mean to put poor Pete down, but while he was completely ignoring or dismissing the Doors, Airplane, Grateful Dead and others, he was giving favorable reviews to the Monkees. All things weighed, his reviews are more of a nuisance than a help."

    True, Johnson did not review any of the Dead's early albums (and he did have some kind words for the Monkees, but not enough for Monkees fans who wrote in to complain about his lack of appreciation).
    He regularly protested that the San Francisco bands' albums did not match their live shows. On 6/18/67, he wrote that the Dead "have had a less than successful debut album and their first singles have gone nowhere." Reviewing Moby Grape's first album, he called it "disappointing" and griped about the poor sound. And the Airplane's records "do not match the raves it collects during appearances... The lifeless quality of records will plague all the live San Francisco groups."
    This was a common theme in his coverage of SF groups. For instance, a piece on "San Francisco Problems" on 6/10/68:
    "The first rush of groups from San Francisco's teeming rock scene were generally a disappointment. The Jefferson Airplane came up with a beautiful album on their second try, but a number of capable performing groups were unable to adapt their sound to the studio, most notably the Grateful Dead and the Moby Grape, both of whose initial albums are too volume-heavy to reproduce well. Most of the northern combos demanded a live sound for their LPs and a live sound meant playing at peak volume, which usually resulted in muddy sound in a studio.
    "One exception was Country Joe and the Fish, whose first two albums are the clearest productions yet from any northern group. The Airplane achieved their cleanest sound on "Surrealistic Pillow" but descended into muddiness on its successor, "After Bathing at Baxter's." The Moby Grape album was the most disappointing because of the caliber of their material, vocals and instrumental work, all of which were blurred by poor production.
    "For a while it seemed as if this was to be the extent of the San Francisco sound... But more is coming and it looks as if the tide of publicity and promises may finally be justified."
    He gives some praise to the first Quicksilver and Steve Miller Band albums "with crisp driving sounds [and] strong vocalists, one main fault of the Grateful Dead," and says the second Moby Grape album Wow "has a much better sound than its predecessor," despite being "marred by several songs unworthy of inclusion."
    He liked Big Brother: "Their first album, on Mainstream, was pieced together from poor quality tapes and gives only a two-dimensional view of one of the best groups in the nation... Hopefully [Cheap Thrills] will capture the excitement Janis Joplin and cohorts generate in person."
    Cheap Thrills lived up to his hopes: https://www.newspapers.com/clip/24835047/the-los-angeles-times/

  2. He'd interviewed the Airplane in the 2/25/68 issue (a full-page piece), and they weren't too happy about their records either: the first was done too quickly and "came out raw," Pillow was made by a "commercial" producer who "didn't allow any leeway for real creativity. The stuff was there. It just came off a little slick or varnished." But in Baxter, "we found more of our real sound," although "it does not connect with the mass public" and wasn't as successful.
    When he reviewed Crown of Creation (9/1/68), he found it "very nice" but their "least exciting LP so far" - rather than the freshness and creativity of before, the new songs were "routine, but well-done, permutations of things done before."

    As for Moby Grape, this was their first Los Angeles show in a while - while they had been contending with arrests and other problems, their former manager put out a 'fake' Moby Grape to tour in their place. (The 4/1/68 Times warned, "If you saw the Moby Grape at the Cheetah this weekend, you did not see the Moby Grape... Their ex-manager offered the club a group he called the Moby Grape, and his offer was accepted. Meanwhile the real Moby Grape got back together. Three members of the real Grape stopped in Friday to hiss the artificial Grape.")
    Johnson also covered Moby Grape's return to the Kaleidoscope on 8/26/68, noting Skip Spence's departure: "His absence does not seem to have thinned the group's musical ability, but their Saturday night performance was rather dull except for Jerry Miller's work on lead guitar."
    On 3/16/69 he reviewed their "Moby Grape '69" album: "The Moby Grape never became the super-group they were expected to become, a failure attributable to a badly mixed first album accompanied by a huge promotional campaign which thrust them into prominence before they were ready for fame. Since their first album, their appearances and records have been of unpredictable quality, sometimes excellent and sometimes disappointing, often a mixture..." But he declared the new album excellent, their best so far, giving them "the same potential as the Buffalo Springfield." An ominous comparison!