Oct 15, 2021

December 9-10, 1971: Fox Theatre, St. Louis

When a group as young as the New Riders of the Purple Sage get hot on stage, they ARE playing for you, and you melt into their rhythms, start clapping your hands, and dancing in the aisles. Anyone who missed this concert at the Fox Theater on Thursday and Friday (Dec. 9-10), when the program was broadcast live on KADI, will have to suffer until they come round next year. The Sage outshone the Grateful Dead, their hallowed sponsor. 
"I don't play with the Purple Sagers anymore," says Jerry Garcia, the Dead's lead guitarist, backstage before the show. He helped the New Riders get started by playing with them and promoting them. Garcia plays pedal steel guitar on the first Sage album. 
"The group got together in Palo Alto the same as the Dead," says Joe, the Sage road manager. 
Balloons are flying and being popped by cigarettes as the Purple Sage warms up. "We dig the Fox Theater and we dig coming here, so take good care of it," announces Marmaduke, the blond-haired lead singer. He emphasizes that the management is holding the ticket money against damages, and the audience respects this request. 
Then there is a pause for technical difficulties. "The speakers are busted on the left side," the crowd yells in chorus, upset at the management. 
"Hey man, lousy speakers don't have anything to do with capitalism," quips Marmaduke. He snarls about, sounding uptight. "Oh fuck," he bewails & then tries to play up his 'obscenity' by adding, "That's gotta be the most unused word in the English language." 
The Fox usually has tremendous acoustics and good stage views (except on the mezzanine), plus a carved, sculpted, gilded interior. That's why these bands choose to play here. Garcia adds, "There isn't a ballroom here we know of (where people could dance freely)." 
There are hoots and applause. By the time the Riders finish "Six Days on the Road and I'm Gonna Make It Home Tonight!" Almost all of these "working men" songs separate male and female roles. 
This song comes as the stage turns luminous blue. The Riders begin a gentle song about new love, "Come Sit Beside Me." Tie-died amplifiers frame them on stage and look like inlaid mosaics under the spotlights. The theater gildings glow as Marmaduke sings, "Would you like to play with me?" The women are dancing out of sight, behind the musicians. 
"Who's playing pedal steel?" is yelled twice from the audience. Garcia used to fill that spot, and now the metal moaning strings of his protegee range thru us, very moving. This new man got constant attention from the house because of his boss plays on the steel strings, but they never introduced him. 
The drummer's hands never stop, and we think it's Spencer Dryden, who is on their first album. He even plays tambourine with the Dead after his set. His rhythm permeates the sound but never upstages it. He deserved a solo but didn't play one. 
There is little gimmickry or gaudy showmanship; perhaps that's why the audience at one point asks if the Airplane are surprise guests. "Next you'll ask for Mick Jagger," retorts John Dawson (Marmaduke), and the crowd cheers approval. 
The Sage receives a standing ovation for "When it all comes round again." This is a long, autobiographical song, including questions about remembering how you felt when Kennedy was assassinated, The chorus is, 
Can you remember my friend, 
What it felt like in the end? 
Don'tcha wish you had a friend 
When it all comes round again? 
The Sage has just introduced what is likely to be next year's favorite song, and the audience is listening and enthusiastic. 
Upfront, young people are passing a full hash pipe around. There is more dope around than at the Dead's concert last spring, and the majority of the audience is under nineteen. 
A theater spokesman estimated 4000 attendance on Thursday and a 4500 capacity crowd on Friday, but it seemed like more people both nights. There was no damage before, during, or after the concerts. Outside, officers straightened the crowd outside before the doors opened. Inside, heavy, alcohol breathing cops kept trying to seat people. They had little success down front, because there was no place to move. The second and third balconies were more hawkishly patrolled, however. 
The New Riders have drawn a ring of standing admirers to the stage area. Their songs are simple and real - about working class men and the women they love. There is dancing as they sing, "Hello Mary Lou, Goodbye Heart." 
The Sage ends with two of their sexiest songs, "Hand Job" and "Louisiana Lady." 
Now straight from Madison Square Garden in New York, it's the Grateful Dead. We crowd up to the stage, watching them set up. Pigpen comes out and the crowd applauds. 
Bob Weir, the main vocalist, is front and center for most of the set. As he sings, his clean angular looks and his long ponytail are somewhat incongruous. 
After the set begins, Pigpen sometimes rises from his organ and adds new rhythm to the band, singing old favorites like "Big Boss Man" and doing a harmonica solo. 
Jerry Garcia isn't playing pedal steel guitar tonight; he's playing one of the two electric guitars. He usually takes the lead on instrumentals; his knowledge of music is heavy and innovative. Jerry solos on "Shake it, Shake it," a heavy handed number, and the mystical "Black Peter." 
Then the Dead sing "Casey Jones." This year's audience rises like last year's did, turned on and clapping their hands over their heads. 
Since the Dead promoted this concert themselves, it seems likely that they'll leave town with half of the $4 a head take when the music's over. That's $17,000 for two nights. There is that old rumor that the Dead are going to announce buying the Fox, but on Friday they announce that they have no intention of buying it. 
Instead they play until 1 am and the show is broadcast live on KADI. 
The songs, or maybe the sound system, haven't turned on the balcony, as much as some of the others. "Where is the cosmic Dead?" they plead. 
The Dead conclude with an elastic version of: 
I'm gonna love you night and day; 
Love, love don't fade away. 
It includes riffs of other songs like: 
I'm goin' down the road feelin' bad. 
Perhaps the Dead are saying that something has got them down. Wish they'd get over their success inertia. 
The Friday encore (after about 5 minutes of applause from the audience) is "Just Another Saturday Night." It's 1 am. Another 2 full evenings of music over until next time. 
"Did you live through it?" shouts a girl. 
"No, I died," moans a wide-eyed boy near the exit. 
It's raining hard, brothers & sisters. 
(by Jan Garden, from the Outlaw, December 24, 1971) 

The concert at the Fox Theater featuring the Grateful Dead and the New Riders also featured an example of the increasing incidence of police hassles met by some people who attend rock concerts in St. Louis. People inside were constantly being herded (Thursday nite) by ushers and police. The management confiscated at the door any cameras, newspapers, tape-recorders, and wine that they and the watchful guards could find. But outside, before the concert, a lesson in what happens when people don't stick together came home to at least one person who was beaten outside the theater. 
Ron arrived early (as did quite a few people) with his friend, Laurie. About 4 or 5 o'clock the police began to gather everyone waiting for the concert against the wall of the theater, and set up a rope to hold them in. As the crowd grew, Ron handed his camera to a friend further up the line for safety, and a short time later he decided to get out of the line and go wait somewhere else. The police let him out of line. A policeman told him it was all right to go get his camera. 
But, as he reached across the rope to retrieve the camera, a cop grabbed him from behind and pulled him away. Although Ron yelled that all he was doing was getting his camera, the cop dragged him away to the alley near the Fox. 
Once in the alley, although there were other people there, several cops took hold of him. They then clubbed him twice on the head, knocking him to the ground and opening a wound that required several stitches to close. 
The police threw him in a car and drove away. A few blocks later, noticing that Ron was still bleeding, the policeman in the backseat with him said, "Stop that bleeding all over my seat, you son of a bitch." The car stopped and they pushed him headfirst out of the car to the sidewalk, where he lay until a vehicle came and took him to the station where he was finally informed that he was under arrest for resisting arrest and two other counts. He was released to his parents (Ron is 17) on $500 bail for each charge. 
Ron and his family have filed complaints with the police inspector. They believe something will come of that. Ron says that he has always respected the police, and he can't understand what happened. 
Problems with the police at concerts are growing. What helps the police harass people is a general feeling of un-togetherness in a crowd or between people who are not taking into account the situation of their sisters and brothers. Inside the concert, many people remained calmly unaware of the harassment being experienced by other people. To our knowledge, no one came to help Ron; no one followed the police. Concerts and music have long been a means for people to get off together. Let's get it together.
(from the Outlaw, December 24, 1971)

"I follow astrology, but it's more earth-consciousness, calendar-consciousness, solar consciousness. I respect the physical limits of the universe," smiled the thickly bearded and mustached Jerry Garcia, his long black hair waving and shining. 
Garcia, the Grateful Dead's spokesman, vocalist, and lead guitarist was earthly and enlightening when I interviewed him before the Friday concert at the Fox Theater. 
The Dead's three electric guitarists - Jerry, Bob Weir, and Phil Lesh on bass, plus Pigpen, who sings and plays organ and harmonica, met in Palo Alto around '65. 
"From there we moved to L.A. and started living together," reported Jerry. "We lived in San Francisco, from '66 to '68." 
Having lived nearby them, I remember the Dead house on Ashbury. "It was a house, not a commune." Their recent nix on politics was not true then. The Dead gave street concerts shortly after the Haight St. riots of 1967 and '68. They parked a truck at Haight and Shrader and played until it was too crowded to move in the streets. They also played in the series of free concerts in the lush meadows of Golden Gate Park. These became so jammed that they were discontinued. 
The Dead also played outside San Quentin in the spring of '68, adding sparks to that prison's first protest. At this time, the inmates had their own underground paper circulating inside the walls. Three days after that sun-filled concert whose motto was, "Prisoners of San Francisco unite with Prisoners of San Quentin," the inmates went on strike for better conditions. 
"Have you played at any other prisons?" 
"We did play inside Terminal Island, the Federal Prison in L.A.," said Jerry. 
"Are you still giving free concerts?" 
"We've been doing live radio everywhere," Garcia replied. "It's the only way you can do free concerts anymore - because of Altamont and overkill." 
"How long have you been married?" 
M.G. (Garcia's wife): "We've been married 5 years and have 2 children." 
"Were you planning to stay in England this summer at Stonehenge, for the summer solstice?" 
Garcia: We always plan that. 
Q: Did you make any arrangements? 
Garcia: We always make some arrangements. 
Q: Did you play anyplace for the winter solstice? 
Weir: Washington. 
Q: DC? 
Weir: Where else? 
Garcia: Those other voices are all illusions. Don't listen to them. I don't remember where we played. 
Weir: Aren't you going to ask us where our name comes from? 
Garden: I know. It comes from the Egyptian Book of the Dead: 
Out of the land of darkness, 
the ship of the sun is drawn 
by the Grateful Dead.

(by Jan Garden, from the Outlaw, December 24, 1971)
For pictures from the Outlaw, see: 

1 comment:

  1. The Outlaw was an underground newspaper in St. Louis, mostly politically oriented, but giving a page of coverage to the Dead's December '71 visit. (And a sidebar on police brutality at the show.)

    Many interesting details on the atmosphere at the Fox - balloons flying, lots of dope, women dancing in back of the stage, heavy-handed cops. The "old rumor" of the Dead buying the Fox is dismissed. The theater is packed both nights, but despite most of the crowd being "under 19," the theater escapes without damage. (The bands must have been relieved, since both the New Riders & the Dead asked the audience to take care of it.) There's some dancing in the packed area in front of the stage, but the Fox wasn't built for dancing, and Garcia comments, "There isn't a ballroom here we know of where people could dance freely."

    The reviewer seems to have gone both nights, since he names songs from both the 9th & 10th. This is one of the few reviews where the New Riders get the limelight - they "outshine" the Dead and their set is described in loving detail. Jan Garden seems disappointed by the Dead after that. He'd seen them at the Fox before ("this year's audience rises like last year's did") and isn't very excited by their set, but he politely keeps quiet about it since the rest of the audience is thrilled. Well, most of them - some old-timers in the balcony ask, "Where is the cosmic Dead?"

    The interview with Garcia is....really poor. Jan Garden must have been making a pest of himself backstage; Garcia gives only the briefest answers and Weir has contempt for him. Mountain Girl appears - she was in St. Louis with the band during this trip (they stayed there about 5 days). I don't know how often she accompanied Garcia on tour, but by '71 it probably wasn't that often.

    It's interesting that Garden lived in San Francisco in early '68 and remembers the Haight St. and San Quentin shows. I wish he'd written something on the change in the Dead between then & now, but in his concert review he doesn't seem impressed by the new model of the Dead and mentions their "success inertia." There's an unspoken contrast between their "political" free shows of that era vs. the wads of money they're making now.