Apr 13, 2022

April 7, 1972: Wembley Empire Pool

Six years after they helped lead the underground/drug/rock phase on the West Coast (call it what you will, they were part of it) the Grateful Dead have finally come to London. As arch-exponents of drugs they have somewhat ironically been intellectualised, and taken so seriously that their musical roots seem to have been almost overlooked. They started as a jug band, then an electric blues band, and their music is still largely based on these original influences. It may be more sophisticated now, but much of it is still good-time music at heart. 
At the Empire Pool, last night, they slid casually into a set that was to last over three hours. They played an all-American fusion: blues, country, rock, and ballads, sometimes separately, sometimes merged together with improvised, meandering guitar solos from Jerry Garcia. Their approach to it all was so unspectacular and some of their first material so unoriginal ("Big boss man" yet again) that it took the first hour before the quality of their playing could be appreciated. It is often argued that they are the best live band in America, and last night it was easy to understand why. 
They respect their roots and dip in and out of them. A long drawn out, delicate Garcia solo crashed suddenly into the sentimental cowboy ballad "El Paso" and then back into a long blues. The Dead have to be heard live, their immediacy, skill, and variety have never been fully captured on record.
(by Robin Denselow, from the Guardian, April 8, 1972) 
[Following reviews of Jethro Tull & Captain Beefheart...
The Grateful Dead, as seen in their hugely successful concerts at the Empire Pool last week, are the American dream as opposed to the nightmare. Contrary to their cult publicity, they are modest to the point of self-effacement, with only their guitarist, Jerry Garcia, occasionally tapping [a] foot or swinging his shoulders. All the movement is in the music, like a fleet of golden Cadillacs cruising down a motorway. Apart from a few spaced-out interludes, they play mainstream American rock with such assurance that they never have to exaggerate an idea to drive it home. They could extend a song indefinitely without it ever showing the strain: textural rather than thematic music, a superb demonstration of extemporised counterpoint in the idiom of rock which Palestrina might have envied had he known about electricity. They are playing a mammoth session at Bickershaw, near Wigan, the first of the summer festivals, May 5-7, which includes several other famous American bands in its programme, like Dr. John, J. Geils Band, and Country Joe....
(by Duncan Fallowell, from the Spectator, April 22, 1972)
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1 comment:

  1. Two short reviews of the first show on the Europe '72 tour. The Dead found many English listeners, some already fans, some curious to see this mythical West-Coast American group - and both of these reviews emphasize the American nature of the Dead.
    The Guardian reviewer might not have been too familiar with the Dead before - the only two songs he mentions are covers (Big Boss Man & El Paso, the same songs Mick Farren mentioned in the International Times review!) while Wharf Rat is just called "a long blues." Like most of the other English reviews from the tour I've seen, the long jams aren't mentioned so you'd never know the Dead were jamming out the Other One for half an hour. He focuses more on their roots, their merging of American genres. But he says the Dead must be seen live; records don't capture them. And despite admitting that much of the first set was "unspectacular" and "unoriginal," eventually he was hooked, and we hear (yet again!) that they may be "the best live band in America."

    The Spectator review is more of a passing mention, but it notes that the Empire Pool concerts were "hugely successful." Curious English readers would get little idea of what the Dead sounded like from this piece, except that they're "mainstream American rock." (Comparing their music to a fleet of Cadillacs is a cute inside joke, though.) This writer pays some attention to the jams, "spaced-out interludes" with "superb extemporised counterpoint" that Palestrina might envy. This reference would have made Phil Lesh proud, since Lesh has said he was influenced by "Palestrina, 16th-century modal counterpoint."