Nov 21, 2013

November 11, 1971: Municipal Auditorium, Atlanta


I guess it isn't easy to be a living legend. I mean, what do you do for an encore? Since the early days of the movement then - and it was a movement then - the Grateful Dead has been known as a people's band. The free concert given by the Dead here in Piedmont Park in 1969 is something that nearly everyone who was there remembers fondly. I just finished listening to the first three Grateful Dead albums in an attempt to gain inspiration for this article. "Anthem of the Sun" - the second album - is probably the high water mark of psychedelic music. It is also the finest example of improvisation by a rock band available on record. Unfortunately, Jerry Garcia, the lead guitarist and spiritual symbol of The Grateful Dead, would probably dismiss all that I have said as a lot of pseudo-nostalgic clap trap. In answer to the numerous requests for old Grateful Dead numbers, Jerry was heard to say, "That was two years ago, man. If you can't pick up on what we're doing now, I guess we'll have to leave you behind." Allow me to add that soon after saying this, the band played "Johnny B. Goode," a Chuck Berry song that is fully ten years old. Just who is living in the past, Jerry?
But I digress. Let me give you a blow by blow description of the concert.
The Grateful Dead was preceded by the New Riders of the Purple Sage, who are a country rock derivative of the Dead. If you've never gotten into the Byrds, the New Riders are a real knock-out with a clear almost piercing guitar sound and a fine, down home, country beat. Somehow, they lack the dynamics and simple beauty that makes the Byrds one of the all time great bands in popular music.
On the positive side, Spencer Dryden, formerly of the Jefferson Airplane, performed brilliantly on drums with the New Riders and gave the best individual performance of any of the fine musicians on the stage that night. It was only then that I realized what a great loss his departure was to the Airplane. In all, though, most of the New Rider’s material had an all-too-similar sound, and they had to rely on oldies like “Willie and the Hand Jive,” “Down in the Boondocks,” and the Everly Brothers’ “Mary Lou” to really excite the audience. This was a trend to be followed, much to my disappointment, by the Grateful Dead.
Pigpen, the mysterious organ player of the group and the first person in the world to play that weird, was not with the group on this tour. This was also the Dead's first appearance in Atlanta with only one drummer. Mickey Hart has left the group. Keith Goshow substituted for Pigpen and played some excellent piano though it was barely audible to most of the audience. Even for a band noted for their extremely informal stage presence, the Grateful Dead seemed to be very indifferent to this job. I found this to be truly the case when I met the band on their way out of the auditorium. Even their refusal to play with police present on the stage in the aftermath of the usual Municipal Auditorium crowd control hassle seemed to be a superficial matter of routine. The action looked as if it had been rehearsed.
Relying mostly on material from their new live album, "Workingman's Dead," and "American Beauty," the group moved listlessly through a repertoire of songs of pretty much the same tempo, structure, and of the same instrumental arrangement. Improvisation was at a premium, and the diehard Grateful Dead fans kept hoping for the band to take off on one of those legendary hour long numbers that used to leave them numb for hours after the show was over, but that kind of Grateful Dead music never came.
The only member of the band who played with anything resembling the brilliance and intensity of past performances was Phil Lesh, who is unquestionably one of the finest bass players in rock music. His intricate, flowing bass patterns are pure, sonic poetry.
If someone was going to write a book on how to be a hot shot band, he would have to recommend closing out the set with a Chuck Berry song because it is a sure fire crowd pleaser. By now, though, it's also an A-1 cop out. The Grateful Dead finished the show with "Johnny B. Goode." Draw your own conclusions.
It was good to see the Dead just for old time's sake, but I think I'll just be content to listen to their old albums from now on. On the way to his limousine, Jerry Garcia muttered, "Total Bummer." It wasn't that bad. But it wasn't any too good.

(by Joe Roman, from the Great Speckled Bird (Atlanta), November 22 1971)
See also: 


  1. The reviewer's opinion of this lackluster show was accurate. As one Archive witness wrote, "I was at the show itself, and it was one of the most unpleasant and disappointing ever. The band was annoyed at the Atlanta cops' overzealous behavior and did the bare minimum to get through the show."
    The Atlanta cops were hassling the audience as usual; after Bertha you can hear Phil shout, "Hey that's not really necessary, man! There ain't gonna be no music as long as there's cops on this stage!" The audience chants, "Pigs off the stage!" Cutler comes on and tries to calm things down: "Hey man, you might be into a radical trip, we're into playing music, that's all we want to do." He explains that the fire marshal won't turn the power back on til the audience clears the front of the stage...
    Garcia's response to a song request doesn't seem to be on the tape: "That was two years ago, man. If you can't pick up on what we're doing now, I guess we'll have to leave you behind." (The tape has many cuts between songs, though.) It doesn't sound quite like Garcia - but then again he must've been in a bad mood, muttering "total bummer" as he fled the show.

    Another witness pointed out, "The sound was not that great at the show. The old Auditorium was a big concrete box with an echo impossible to compensate." (Note the reviewer's mention that the piano was barely audible.)
    "Indifferent" and "listless," the band was professional enough that the show isn't atrocious (many reviewers point out that it's still pretty snappy), but they hurried through the show with hardly any jams - our tape is less than 2 hours! (Songs may be missing, though.)
    You can imagine the poor audience members, not only being harassed by the cops, but remembering what the legendary 7/7/69 and 5/10/70 had been like - "the diehard Grateful Dead fans kept hoping for the band to take off on one of those legendary hour long numbers that used to leave them numb for hours after the show was over, but that kind of Grateful Dead music never came."

    At least the New Riders get a few kind words!

  2. There are some nice moments in this concert, but overall it is a very passable show and after reading this review it makes sense. Rather happy they moved up to the Fox Theatre in 1977-85. That venue has amazing acoustics and is possibly the nicest venue I have ever entered.

  3. As kind of a random find, here is part of a Great Speckled review of another show at the Auditorium, illustrating the kind of police presence the Dead had at this show:

    "Right after the Chicago Transit Authority began to play, people went down to the area between the first row of seats and the stage. Immediately the cops moved in as they had all night, and cleared everyone out. But this time they grabbed one guy who didn't have a shirt on and took him out of the auditorium, and probably to jail. For what reason I know not, but this guy was not bothering anyone which can't be said of the cops. First, there were twice as many this time as the last (Donovan), and they insisted on standing in front of the stage, rootin' and snortin' and blocking people's view and making people very uptight. Who asks these cops to be there anyway? The promoters? The City? Why are they there? To protect the bands? I doubt it. Did you see any cops protecting The Grateful Dead, et al, in Piedmont Park? Did they need it? It's quite obvious harassment - I doubt if leather jacketed cops in motorcycle helmets stand in front of the stage at the Metropolitan Opera or the Atlanta Symphony. In fact they wouldn't even be there. And if they were, the culture vultures would surely raise hell. Anyway, it sure would be nice to go to a concert without cops present for a change."
    (Charlie Cushing, "The Man," GSB 11/10/69, p.13 - the review also mentions the "atrocious acoustics" in the Auditorium)

  4. Garcia recalled the Atlanta show in an interview later in the tour:
    "Texas was great. Yes, amazingly enough it was. Atlanta was a bummer. I mean that was kind of like the old days. It was a police scene. It was a civic center, public-owned building. They always have a lot of police there to protect the property, that sort of thing. At one point a cop jumped up on stage and started goin' after Phil. In their mind there's a riot going on because everybody's standing up. And with us, we know that isn't happening, and we're capable of handling it in a way where nobody gets hurt and nobody gets uptight, either. But the police always have to try and do it their way... We never wanted to be bait for a trap where you go to have a good night with the Grateful Dead and end up getting gassed."
    (I don't think I've come across this interview yet but the quote is from )