CONTENT AT THE AVALON BALLROOM
The Avalon Ballroom is dark this weekend, the management is going through a series of reorganizations, but it will be open next week with a program that will be announced tomorrow probably.
Meanwhile, I would like to report on last week's show there because it is a perfect illustration of the importance of content, rather than style, place, labels or whatever.
The Grateful Dead, the Flying Burrito Brothers (a spin-off from the Byrds), and Aum were the bands. The hall was packed all weekend and on Saturday and Sunday (as I know from personal observation and from reports from trusted agents) the hall fairly leaped with dancers.
I got there Sunday night just as the Dead were playing the last two numbers in their first set. The place was packed with the regulars, people I haven't seen gathered together in such force since the great days of the Carousel. Musicians, fans, light show artists. All were there. And the set ended with Jerry Garcia singing "Baby Blue," which I haven't heard the Dead do in a long, long time. It should have been an indication of the delights to come, since Garcia was obviously in excellent voice and the band was in that mellow place they seem to live in most of the time these days.
The Burritos played a nice set. They are good hippie country & western and have good voices and good soloists, but they are not really exciting except occasionally. Then Aum came on and broke it up with a wild, swinging set that sounded a great deal better to me than they had sounded at Winterland two weeks before.
There is no getting away from it: this is an exciting group with the same kind of turn-on going for it that Santana had when they first appeared. They sing well, have a great swinging feeling and the guitar soloist is first rate. The more original material they get, the better they are going to be.
Then the Dead came on. It took them awhile to get it together for some reason but then Garcia sang "Death Has No Mercy" and one had to decide that Jerry Garcia is one of the most improved singers in the city. It was a great performance.
They followed it with "Little Light" [sic] and that was almost too much to bear. I don't know how long it went on. The audience was screaming and dancing and leaping around. Garcia played a long kind of duet with Phil Lesh which was simply amazing and Pig Pen sang his heart out. Then the band went through one of those series of tension-and-release structures leading up to searing climaxes and then relaxing to long, cooking kind of rhythmic sections which reminded me of the Dizzy Gillespie big band, when the whole group would get all kinds of indescribable goodies going on like a huge bubbling stew. Garcia lays those butter tones over the driving bass lines Lesh plays (which are not really bass lines at all in the ordinary sense, but a kind of bass counter line to Garcia's lead) while the two drummers and the rest whack out a rhythmically complicated but totally integrated pulse that just keeps driving like some great electrical machine.
When it was over, the audience didn't want to stop. They cheered and whistled and clapped and then began stomping their feet on the floor. It was memorable, to be frank -- One of the best things I have heard in some time. When the Dead play like that, the audience dances. And when the hall has groups like that, the people come. There's a lesson there for everyone. Easter Sunday really was special this year.
(by Ralph Gleason, from the San Francisco Chronicle, April 10 1969)