Nov 12, 2013

August 26, 1971: Gaelic Park, NYC


Last week's Grateful Dead concert up at Gaelic Park was a usual Dead session, meaning that the band-to-fan-to-band electro-chemical process for which rock music is famed was on like high mass at Easter. Although I think I know most of the time what they are doing musically (Christgau will like this notion); I don't quite understand them electro-chemically. Like the New York Knicks of two seasons ago, they can do excellent things together though they are not a group of deathless superstars. Garcia gets his songs across, but he can't sing, and Bob Weir's voice rises to about average...maybe better when he gets to screaming and the music sweeps him along. I still find it difficult to recognize the Dead songs that aren't "Truckin'" or "St. Stephen" one from the other. I am not one of their fans, but seem to be one of their admirers. Their music speaks in a special language to their live listeners, and that language has the vocabulary of everybody else, but a convoluted syntax all its own. The note sequences are not completely dependent upon musical factors but are also dictated by how involved the band feels and also upon what kind of heat the audience is giving off. I'm trying to get to some essences of this thing.
The drama of a Dead concert revolves around the fact that wherever the band plays they know that a certain number (several tons) of their partisans will be there and that their crowd knows the Dead potential to excite them, but they also know that the Dead may not get into gear until the crowd begins to apply some heat, and so forth. Both parties also know that the concert will be long enough and informal enough for anything to happen on either side of the footlights, and so audiences improvise (smoke, go to the hot dog stand, kiss and snuggle, cheer, dance, listen like star-struck fools) just like their musician friends on stage (who play light and funny for awhile, retire backstage awhile, stand around, or get lost in a piece and turn on the heavy jets). Like good lovers, the Grateful Dead know the secrets of good foreplay, taking your time, surprising the partner for awhile, and then just reacting for a spell.
Last Thursday it happened in the drab little Riverdale soccer field Howard Stein has managed to turn into a summer rock mini-festival. It reminded me of a high school stadium I used to know - low stands, unfulfilled infield grass, mud holes here and there, beer sold at one end in some quantity. The formal shape of the concert was a general crescendo, light at the beginning and heavy-groovy at the end - not a shooting-star, call-the-law finale, just a heightened physical-emotional climate...the goods delivered as promised...sort of like good preaching in a church known to be a happy place. I did not enjoy their country-westernish opening tunes; maybe they didn't either, because the pieces were awfully short. But by the three-quarter mark they had involved themselves, the crowd, and me too.
First they got the rhythm engaged and finally, courtesy of Jerry Garcia's lead and interplays with Lesh and Weir, they went into the soloing and jamming which are the real magic music territory of this band. Much is made of the Dead soloists, but it became clear to me by last Thursday that bassist Phil Lesh plus those two drummers create the atmosphere that makes the Dead thing possible. The drummers were exceptionally understated, but Lesh kept bopping and thrumming away, heavily at all times, until his patterns were consistently getting the other players off. In the middle of "St. Stephen" there was a special coming together: Lesh had found a nice ambiguous but compelling set of licks; Garcia eased into a solo; Weir strummed a cross-time lick over all of it; it built; it quieted; Garcia started to play strange classical kind of lines; the drums dropped out; the audience got quiet; nothing at all could be predicted for a minute or so; then Lesh began to grope his way out with two chords and rhythms which began to regularize; audience began to jump and then to clap; guitars began to straighten out; the band came home to the cheers of the fans.
Good music-making. The listener goes home without a little tune to whistle, but he hears music. As if they were finishing off some personal solos based over the last riffs heard, the fans went out of Gaelic Park without a thousand encores and without a lot of fuss on the streets outside.
It's all very interesting, surprising, and I guess mystifying as before. All I know is that the Dead, or their fans, or the combination of both lure you into planning to return when they're all assembled and back in town again.

(by Carman Moore, from the "New Time" column, Village Voice, September 2 1971)


  1. This review shows an interesting process - though Moore was not a fan and not familiar with the Dead's songs, and didn't like their new C&W-type material, by the end of the show they had seduced him, and he left eager to see them again.
    As an outsider, he gives a good account of the band/audience dynamic, and the expectations of the audience. Perhaps coincidentally, he's one of a couple Pigpen-era reviewers who compare a Dead show to being in church.
    He saw two drummers, but Kreutzmann was the only one at this show. My guess is Pigpen spent a lot of time on the congas, so Moore may have taken him to be the percussionist.
    He also notes Phil's prominent place in shaping the music - perhaps it's just due to the bass-heavy nature of our tapes, but August 1971 is indeed a month where Phil exuberantly stands out in the shows.
    The jam he describes as taking place in St. Stephen seems more to me like it might be the end-of-GDTRFB jam. Hard to know whether Moore didn't even recognize Not Fade Away, or just had incomplete notes, but maybe he got lost in the music...

  2. I wonder if this is this Carman Moore:

    He seems like an ideal reviewer: he presents his response in such a way that each reader will be able to tell whether they will like it, independent of whether the reviewer liked it or not.

    1. Yes, I'm sure it's the same guy, he also did music reviews for the New York Times (a 1970 jazz review is currently on his site). In my "Garcia & Tarot" post there's a review by him of the "Tarot" play, from the Village Voice.

  3. I have noticed in a number of these older reviews the author stating a preference for the more adventurous part of the repertoire and a dislike for the c+w style offerings.They also don't spend much time on the blues and rock portion of the show.It also seems that Pigpen doesn't receive that much attention even though he was purportedly the big draw in the band.Jerry's abilities generate much praise and Phil gets acknowledged regularly.The critics back then might not have been as familiar with the bands music,but they seem to understand it's essence and impact far better than most that came later.

    1. Yes, I also noticed some 1971 reviewers not liking the Dead's new C&W-style stuff. Today we accept country as part of the Dead's normal repertoire, but then it was seen as a big abrupt change, and not everyone would have welcomed it. (And sitting through an opening NRPS set was deadly for those people!)
      I don't know how much Dead he'd heard before, but Carman Moore seems startled that they would start a show playing a bunch of "awfully short" songs. But he was aware that they would take their time and get more into jams & grooves later in the show as they settled in. He rightly identifies jamming as "the real magic music territory of this band," where they're at their best and most unique - but the corollary to that is, when they were just singing short songs, they could be pretty disappointing.

      No, Pigpen has not been getting much attention in the last few 1971 reviews; but his role in the show had also been reduced. No more Schoolgirls or Cautions; no Lovelights in these recent shows - his big number in 1971 is Good Lovin', and he doesn't close the show much anymore. For instance on 8/26/71, he only had one song in the second set, and spent most the time on organ or congas, so he wouldn't particularly stand out.

    2. LIA, is the all caps bit (here, GOOD LOVIN', GOOD PREACHIN') the title of the article? You know how I love bibliographic details. But I'd also note that, if so, Pigpen gets a tip o' the cap in the article's very title.

    3. The all-caps titles at the start of each post are always the original article titles. (They aren't repeated in the bibliographic details at the end, but they are also in the index of articles.)

      Good Lovin' was probably one of the few songs Moore recognized - maybe he didn't particularly notice Pigpen (just another one of the singers), but he's one of a few reviewers at the time who compared a Dead show to a church service. Pigpen didn't do a whole lot of preachin' at this show, so here it's more like a metaphor for the music in general.

  4. Umm, I was there. This reviewer either was not or was more stoned than I was way back when. Article says there were two drummers but we all know Mickey was not there. This was the last show with the original 5 members of the band. Hmmm, makes you wonder...