Jan 26, 2022

September 9-11, 1974: Alexandra Palace, London, England

"Not so much a band, more a way of life," muttered someone predictably in the bar. Two years after their last European tour, the Grateful Dead - the original San Francisco psychedelic underground outfit (call that extraordinary upheaval in 1967 what you will, they were at the centre of it) are back in Britain for three nights at Alexandra Palace. Their defiantly scruffy bejeaned followers are getting older now, and many had children in tow, but they were enthusiastic as ever. The band themselves haven't changed much either. 
They have bought themselves some new hardware, massive amplification equipment, and a Rolling Stones-style lighting rig with reflecting mirrors, but on Monday night they had problems with it and the stage remained in almost perpetual darkness. The performance started over an hour late, but once they got going it was well over three hours before they stopped - and that's brief for them. They were rather like a lumbering machine that starts slowly and gradually begins to gain momentum. Most of what they played was an extended, danceable form of country rock, with the occasional chunk of boogie, blues, or ballad thrown in. Long stretches of it were competent but frankly dull, though as soon as one began to despair of them they would throw in a good country song like "Tennessee Jed" or a new ballad like "Ship of Fools" that showed off Bob Weir's singing or Jerry Garcia's guitar. 
By the end, when they broke into "One More Saturday Night," the cumulative effect of the hours of playing, and the gradually improving improvised solos, were certainly impressive. But they had taken a long time getting there.
(by Robin Denselow, from the Guardian, September 11, 1974)   

Thanks to Dave Davis.
* * * 
Steve Lake reviews live Dead 
Unfortunate that when the Nazi hordes were razing London landmarks to the ground with devastating accuracy during the blitz, they didn't manage to get a direct hit on Alexandra Palace. If there's any building in Britain that's got less claim to function as a concert auditorium, I'm glad to say I've never been in it. 
Think about it - if the Grateful Dead, with their 700 piece PA, probably the most sophisticated in the world, can't get a good sound in this godawful barn, what hope is there for the rest of the world? 
I'd hazard a guess that the Dead themselves were pretty brought down by the general lack of clarity, for their expected five-hour set was pruned down [to] something closer to three. There'd been earlier problems too - an exploding generator had meant that the Dead didn't get to play until almost nine, and with the doors opening around six, most of the audience had a full three hours to contemplate the Pally's spectacular lack of architectural interest. 
Still, that's part of the Dead's philosophy; as Bob Dylan once said, "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere." It's true enough with the 20th century so committed to immediacy: headlines, commercials, telexs, pop singles. It's a pleasure to find craftsmen like the Dead still taking the time to do things properly, and, more important still, at human pace. 

Opening with a vaguely confused "Bertha" and sliding into a mess of jovial country rockers, the first real high was hit with "Scarlet Begonias." The aching tones of Jerry Garcia's curiously feeble but attractive voice riding over the cheerful rhythm before Phil Lesh, now bearded and chubby, began to flap his fingers up and down the bass neck, churning into some stunning improvisation as Bob Weir and Garcia, supreme rock guitarist, wheeled like gold above him. Hearing Lesh play like this makes you wonder if there's any other bass guitarist in the world. 
But "Scarlet Begonias" was more than topped by "Playing In The Band," which just blossomed into the most amazing organic freeform I've heard from any band working under the rock banner - Weir and Garcia now floating over the surging backdrop of Kreutzman's drums. 
Keith Godcheaux's piano has become much more an integral part of the band than it was on the last tour and he remains in there at the heart of the fiercest improvisation, without any apparent discomfort. 
In a sense, it's almost foolish to point out individual high points, for there're always so many in a Dead set. And so many strong songs - "US Blues," "Wharf Rat," "Truckin'," and so forth, and yet the actual songs themselves are becoming less and less important, the crucial matter being where the group can take them. 
Arguable, there's no reason why the Dead shouldn't come on and play "In The Midnight Hour" just like in the old days, and sustain it all night long, for any song form is just a vehicle for the band's improvisational capabilities. 
Anyhow, for the record, the group finished not long after 12, got an ovation, came back, played "One More Saturday Night" and went away again. 
It was great. I've seen them play better, but it was great, Looking forward to the next two nights. 
Oh, and a final thought. Stage did look sorta empty without Pigpen's drunken presence looming large. 
(by Steve Lake, from Melody Maker, September 14, 1974) 

Thanks to jgmf.blogspot.com 

* * * 

Dead? No, just snoozing

According to my flatmate, the Iowa refugee, Alexandra Palace resembles an empty gymnasium, but the Grateful Dead are closer to heaven than the Post Office Tower. The pleasant male species crushed next to me had but one regret in his twenty odd year life span: that is that he missed the Dead's last U.K. date, two years ago. For these two Grateful Dead fanatics, Wednesday night with the Dead was the let down of the year.
Actually, the three days of concerts ran more like an Olympic marathon. A marathon to see how many of the enthusiasts would pay for three nights of the Dead. A marathon as to how long the Dead would play, and unofficially a race to see how many people would fall asleep.
Grateful Dead freaks, like roadies, are a human species on their own. Packed in the thousands along the floor with the atmosphere of a festival. On one hand they listened to the group while a good many simultaneously carried on other activities as if it were a support band up there.
During the first set, the Dead went very slowly though songs like 'Row Jimmy Row', 'Mexicali Blues', 'Ramblin' Rose', 'Me and Bobby McGee', 'Tennessee Jed', and 'Playing in the Band', plus a few unidentified, presumably new songs. Despite the presence of numerous parachutes hung from the cathedral ceiling to try to help the sound system, it kept blowing the music back into the band's face. This, along with the fact that a ritual group of ten insisted on standing up in the front of the hall lethargically swaying and blocking most everyone's view, didn't make things any better.
By the second set all the smart journalists had adjourned to the Oasis (the press bar) and made hourly checks into the main hall to count bodies. But the Iowa kid and I stuck it out. The second set started out sounding like a bad sound check. Or a poor Stockhausen imitation. The electronic music had the overall sound of one of those "Monster arising from the Swamp" movies. After an hour of watching the Dead's sound equipment (as the stage was blacked out so that one could not see the group) and listening to the hundredth variation on the Goola monster theme, we headed for the door along with dozens of other migraine-struck humans.
At the Oasis we heard something a lot more musical: Atlantic press officer Rod Lynton and his Rama-Lama-Ding-Dong-Ram-Jam Jazz Band. They were warming up for the press festivities ahead. As my disillusioned flatmate threatened to weep over his sacred copy of Workingman's Dead, he murmured something to the extent that what was good was not done; and what was done wasn't good. His brevity at such a moment was more than well appreciated, and very much to the point.

(by Robin Katz, from Sounds magazine, September 21, 1974)

1 comment:

  1. A range of opinions of the September '74 shows in London, from positive to ambivalent to horrified.
    Lake, the most enthusiastic, thinks they'd played better back in '72 and admits that the crummy venue and the late start on the 9th brought the Dead down and hampered the performance. Still, he finds the improvisational highlights amazing and is anxious to see them again.
    Denselow's not too happy with the "lumbering machine," the slow start, and the long warmup before they got to the good stuff. He finds most of it "competent but dull," and seems to prefer the shorter catchy songs to the improvs, which he barely mentions.
    Katz, to his dismay, found himself at the much longer, spacier show on the 11th. After a slow, boring, poor-sounding first set that nearly put him to sleep, he finally fled during the long Seastones ("along with dozens of others"), unable to bear any more. "What was good was not done; and what was done wasn't good."
    Two of the reviewers point out that the band couldn't be seen in the darkness, and together with the lousy venue sound that may have made these shows something of an endurance test for the less faithful. And yet they also mention that the audience was "enthusiastic as ever" and the place had "the atmosphere of a festival."
    Katz mentions other journalists there, so it's likely there are other reviews of this run as well.