Apr 30, 2015

March 21-28, 1972: Academy of Music, New York City



Perhaps when the day March 29 dawned on Necropolis, blessing with preemptive spring warmth and sunshine, there was no connection between that sudden burst of life and the fact that as thermometers rose in Central Park dark during the night, the final note of “Saturday Night” and seven days of Grateful Dead music was booming like a rainbow surfer’s dream through a synchronated mass of human energy contained by the pulsating walls of the Academy of Music. Matters of cause and effect are liable to take strange turns in the minds of the faithful when consciousness-expansion passes through town on that good old tried and true Grateful Dead tribal bandwagon.
At that precise moment in time, the point where Bob Weir struck his last blow into glowing pink air positively reeking with the barnyard scent of the universal tool, guitar falling like some thunderous flashing celestial hammer, stopping frozen at the bottom of its arc, then wheeling back up and away over his head, anything seemed possible; the rush was on the riding wild; the earth was turning and you could feel it, like you had just jumped off a bike at 100 mph and you were standing there, still traveling but suspended, body and brains reeling madly between perfect free-floating connection and scrambled sensory overload…the usual, in fact, the normal Dead-induced high point.
Jerry Garcia, lead guitarist, explains: “In relating to somebody who is seeking more space, the basic thing is being able to open a window, to let them see that there is more space before you can even think about it. I think we’re just a first step in that whole progression, and on a good night we can illustrate that there is more space.” (Rolling Stone, February 3, 1972) 
How do they do it? Art and science and magic all adding up to advanced expertise in cosmic trickery, fancy-fingered tripping along the road to the grail; random historical accidents bringing them together at the start of the psychedelic revolution, spearheaded by them and Kesey’s Pranksters, Owsley and his acid, Golden Gate Park, Summer of Love, the Acid Tests, the fabled brotherhood of Dead and Angels on the streets of San Francisco, Altamont, multi-colored, multi-media mind-blowing emporiums of crazy, terrifying, ecstatic new world visitations upon conscience-stricken America. Where are your children, parents? They’re out on an evening with the Grateful Dead, blitzed on acid and changing overnight while you worry about them being raped or something. Everyone who heard them in the halcyon days of hip has his or her tale about the start of something big, about the first night Jerry and his troupe of Cosmic cowboy philosophers hit town…
Now, after seven “official” albums and six years of music ranging from the incredible atmospheric excursions of “Anthem of the Sun” and “Live Dead” to the sweetly bubbling torrents of new-style country-rock that grace “American Beauty” (a delicate rose of an album, as its title implies), they are stars with money and fame; they sell whole stacks of albums; they’re beginning to make “solo” albums – Garcia’s is out already, and Bob Weir has one coming under the title of “Ace,” by all accounts a work liable to impact with the force of 10,000 atom bombs, strings and horns and choruses and all. As yet they have not made it to the cover of Time, or played the Garden or Shea Stadium, but that’s not their style. Who knows, though; one day somebody up there on Madison Avenue may just catch onto what’s been happening in this country for the past six years or so; maybe someone will realize that the Dead are the most beloved freak band on earth.
Their style is self-effacing to the point of invisibility; what really matters is the music and what they can do with that potent tool. Whereas the Stones have an acute understanding of the power of theatrics, and employ their knowledge to the full, the Dead treat that side of the rock ‘n’ roll life with circumspect caution, draping themselves in the denim of the masses while they blast out music which is both amazingly complex and delightfully, dancingly simple. It’s all in the coordination of instruments, the exquisite rightness of a harmonious blend of two guitars, bass, organ, piano, and drums (groundwork driving by Phil Lesh on bass and Bill Kreutzmann on drums, middle-ground shifting fill by Weir on guitar, Pigpen on organ, and Keith Godcheaux on piano, flights of fancy courtesy of Captain Trips (and now, occasional vocals by Keith’s wife Donna).

A scene from long ago before the bullets and the onset of grisly reality. A Manhattan party is buzzing to the tune of acid punch; a monstrously fat female scumbag resident, still beautiful unto herself, coils her rolls around a bearskin rug, all but smothering the frail male she clasps to her heaving acid-ripped bosom. “Alligator” by the Grateful Dead is flowing from everywhere; Jerry has just finished a flight. The Blob reveals a Truth to her captive companion: “He’s Gandalf, man.” A long pause while the Pig grunts and groans and the alligator slithers in and out of his slime, then a contradiction: “No, no, no, no, man – he’s Bilbo!!!” “Ooooh, OOOOOOOOH, he’s both, man, he’s Captain fuckin’ Trips!!”
Backstage at the Academy of Music, Jerry Bildalf Trips, the homey dwarf with the lightning at his fingertips, picks organic orange out from between his teeth lost somewhere in a riotous sprouting of wiry locks, and mutters something cryptic about rock ‘n’ roll stars-cum-spiritual leaders; it’s a position he has to acknowledge, but finds difficult at times, especially when he gets to thinking about just who his audience is these days.
The truth of the matter is that when a six-day New York concert sells out in less than that number of hours, the audience is likely to contain an overwhelming majority of Seconal pubelets (this after the commercial success of the Dead’s last three albums and, of course, the explosion of Hip). The teentsy hedonists react to the Dead like so many Pavlov doggies, bouncing their plump butts from first note to last, openly imbibing the most noxious brews available at the cheap end of the druggie market, while the music mood shifts from easy-rolling rock-country-blues, then into the heaviest rock ‘n’ roll currently available to mankind, and then on and out into the space music stuff – an optional extra on almost any Dead number, usually reserved for the last hour or two when audience heads are open and the band themselves are fully in synch. Jerry is careful with his charges, knowing he can accomplish something beautiful, maybe ease some tensions, transcend some contradictions, cut a few knots and let the Flow take over.
Above all, the Dead are a road band; try as they may, they have not yet been able to reproduce their amazingly pure live sound on record. “Live Dead” was badly recorded, too muddy on all but the very best stereo equipment. “Anthem of the Sun” was similarly flawed but nonetheless brilliant, and “Grateful Dead,” their latest double live album, lacked something almost undefinable, some fullness that must have been there from the start. With the ultimate live-recorded work in mind, they are taking a 60-track ABC recording unit (containerized for air travel) with them on their first tour of Europe – that and a permanent sound system which truly boggles the mind. It’s an earthbound spaceship, nothing less, attended with loving devotion by a whole itinerant tribe of technician heads. And while that mighty recording mother gobbles up the notes for their next double live album, the European natives will feast their eyes on the Great Garcia t-shirt (still the garb of C.T. despite a visit to Nudie’s meant as a concession to English foppery). The lights will be slewing all over the walls, and those who gave birth to the Stones will come face to face with a phenomenon they still don’t really understand. They will.
Besides the sound equations, though, there is the color of the concert experience, the scarlet midnight hour when the theatre of the absurd mingles and warps with joyous inspiration, grisly reality, and a whole mess of the most freaky little flashes; Mickey Mouse by R. Crumb all dolled up in polished tinsel and an old workshirts, while onstage the band plays out fire and rain and sunshine into a hallful of feelers waving crazily in the dark. Octopus feeding time.

The Dead played seven nights with one night off; Saturday was their benefit for the Hell’s Angels. Then they played as backup band for Bo Diddley, ranged in a grinning line behind Big Bo’s black silk bulk, the best band he’s ever likely to play with. It was party night, and their own set was loose, nothing too strenuous. The first night and the last were the musical high points, but Sandy Alexander, president of the New York chapter of the Hell’s Angels, was ecstatic, and why not, indeed? He’d come with his brothers from 3rd Street and all over the USA, riding shotgun to the Angels stagecoach on their gas buffalos. They pulled up to the curb on 14th Street in a ragged but impressive line (what else can you expect in Saturday night traffic – “The Wild One?”), and after they’d all been filmed by Geraldo’s Hipnews Concession, the Grateful Dead their old buddies went and threw a monster of a party for them. What a fuckin’ night!!!
As the boogie progressed, tasty party mayo splashed all over the green leafy stuff – hard cash for bail money, spark plugs, chrome polish, and all the other expenses of high style Angel living. The Breed never showed up (luckily for them), and the party was cool. No Rolling Stones to slide that little extra manic hysteria in there; no Altamont, no stabbings, just party time, everyone awash in a frothing sea of vile foamy liquids, psychedelic beercans, innocent but potent macrobiotic cookies, weed by the ton, coke by the ounce, speed by the pint, Boone’s Farm strawberry wine…
“Let’s get it on for the Hell’s Angels of the USA!” yelled Bob Weir into the mike, and while some more impressionable brothers almost swooned away from sheer excitement, the band launched into their first number – “How sweet it is, to be loved by you…”
WATCH OUT FOR THE FUNNY-LOOKING JUG, they had told me by way of warning, but the intrepid drugger in me took over, and in the twinkle of an eye, while the Dead launched into their best-ever “Dark Star” (this being Tuesday night, the last show), a jabbering circle of groupies, writers, chemists, and Angels dissolved into misty dayglo abstracts to the festive tinkle of discarded nitrous oxide cylinders plinking onto the floorboards like so many spent shell-cases. If only it had been like this at Verdun; it probably was like this at Da Nang. Is that really an unhorsed knight I see lumbering ducklike in fetid armor? A plastic toy cowboy horseman minus steed? A Viking lost in a time warp? A Roman slave-master? Why, no, nothing of the kind; it’s just an out-of-town Angel reeling away from his turn at the hose, playing walking custard pie.
Why is Jerry always off on the sidelines, grinning that hairy grin?
Tuesday night again; two Bronx groupies bump and grind their way past the demure ladies of the Dead tribe, like cheap hookers in a free-school communal dining room. One of the velvet cutie-pies washes Bob Weir in a flood of garlic from a yellow maw, and confides that she used to be a topless dancer (and worked her way up?). Weir says “far out.” Just another little vignette of the road, another mote in the old sunbeam. Why is that hairy man grinning?
Tuesday night the Dead played the best set I have ever heard, every note in place, every opportunity for improvisation taken. “Trucking” slid into one of Weir’s new high-power country rockers, loaded with melody and texture and sweet sliding riffs; that boy has finally learned to sing, with a vengeance. The Pig rendered sweeping blues, blowing everything from his tiny emaciated frame down into his wailing harp. Jerry took the lead on “You Win Again” from way back, and then it was time for some sensuous pyrotechnics with “Mister Charlie.” “Brokendown Palace” followed, back in the sweet groove, then “Cumberland Mine” with a rip-roaring extension, another new Weir number, “Big Railroad Blues” slamming down the track almost like Casey’s train, “El Paso” like Marty Robbins 10 years on and out, a magnificent collage of pieces from “Anthem of the Sun,” “I Know You Rider,” and then, to top it all off with a true blast of sheer power, “Casey Jones,” roaring the first set to a close. Thunder and lightning could do no more.
By the time they were done with “Wharf Rat,” “Dark Star,” “Sugaree,” “Playing in the Band,” “Not Fade Away,” “Going Down the Road,” and “Saturday Night,” several thousand delirious people had entered orbit – and we’re back where we started. As usual, the second set was much, much heavier than the first, and Tuesday night the boys in the band were on the ball as never before in my five years of Dead experience.
Sitting hunched over on an empty speaker case while the Academy crew sweated to comply to the strenuous demands of the Dead crew seeking perfection (that’s the name of the game, all the way from self-management to guitar-strings), Jerry Garcia pulled on an only-the-tops-special, relaxing before the serious stuff started that first night. “It’s really far out, just too fuckin’ neat, man,” he said with that same huge grin. “I mean, we’ve only just started getting’ into what we can do. There’s no limit…and we’re all feelin’ good.” Now, ain’t that good news?

(by Patrick Carr, from the Village Voice, 6 April 1972)

I posted a comment on a shorter edit of this article here

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The Grateful Dead gave a benefit performance for the Hell’s Angels at the Academy of Music on 14th Street on Saturday night. A venerable tradition: benefits by performing artists to aid the victims of injustice. How did the bikers enter this category?
Last weekend the police burst into a six-story tenement on East 3rd Street that the motorcycle gang has almost entirely taken over. They found revolvers, 1000 rounds of ammunition, knives, a machete, and a bomb. They arrested two Hell’s Angels, Vincent Giralomo and Anthony Morabito, who have long arrest records, and held them on $75,000 bail each.
The police raid had its origins in an incident of the preceding week. According to residents of the block, a slender young Puerto Rican boy was walking from the bodega at the corner of 3rd Street and First Avenue, carrying a bag of groceries, when one of the Angels pounced on him and took a can of beer, a pork chop, and some other food. The Angel, who has been identified by police as Giralomo, is a fat and powerful-looking six-footer who wears a ring in his nose and tattoos over most of his body, including “Fuck You” spelled out on his knuckles. According to the boy, the Angel punched him and sent him crashing against an iron tenement staircase. When the police arrived they found the boy sobbing, his face bloodied and swollen.
The boy was visiting New York from Puerto Rico and was badly shocked by the attack, but residents of the block were not so surprised. They spoke of frequent harassment and occasional beatings of passing blacks in the three years since the Angels settled on the block. They complained about the Angels’ practice of randomly insulting women who pass their headquarters and the 2 and 4 a.m. revving of motorcycle engines.
One woman who recently moved away after living on the block for 10 years said she left because of the “hideous – even painful – noise of the motorcycles, the garbage piled on the sidewalk in front of the Angels’ building, and their conversion of half the block into an outdoor garage for their bike. The Angels have imposed law and order on the block,” she said, “their law and their order.”
The admission fees of thousands of suburban teenagers at the Dead’s concert will enable the arrested Angels to meet their bail and continue to roam East 3rd Street until the trial.

(by Ann Aboto, from the Village Voice, 30 March 1972)

Apr 5, 2015

July 11, 1969: New York State Pavilion, Flushing Meadow Park


. . . Going to the New York State Pavilion of the World's Fail is not an appealing idea any time, and it was the last place I wanted to be Friday night - even if the Grateful Dead were there... I was down. Only because I had heedlessly committed myself, I went to a midtown office building and climbed onto a school bus hired by the press agent, alone and unable to bring myself to talk even to people I knew. Flushing Meadow Park, I hear, is a nice place for bike riding and sundry Sunday occupations, but to me it's an unmarked maze designed to trap people into death by overexposure to Queens. Directions for drivers just aren't there. Even the bus driver got lost. But when he finally got us to the Pavilion, it was revelation city...
The ad had called the Pavilion a ballroom, but that sounds like Roseland. It is open space, open all around to the sky and roofed finally three or four storeys high, if there were storeys which there aren't, vast and open all around you for skipping and dancing, which was actually happening. You can walk up to the bandstand close enough to touch a leg of whoever it is you want to touch on the leg on stage. No goddam revolving stage, no goddam lightshow, and no seats anywhere. When you get wiped out from skipping and dancing you can give in to the charcoal hamburger smell, luscious, which nags at you all evening because they've been shrewd enough to put the grills upwind, up on the balcony in the prevailing southwest wind. You walk away from the stage without the desperate feeling that the music is going to - whoopsh - stop and disappear without your constant attention. It'll be there when you get back, in fact it follows you to the balcony and to a picnic table where you can sit down with your food or without it overlooking the flow. When you go back down you can plant your ass on the mosaic New York State on the floor, if you must, but it's just about impossible when the Grateful Dead are playing.
The Dead, as usual, took half of a marathon set to warm up, but once they did they were unapproachable, irreproachable, as usual better than ever before. Pigpen, happily, was out front toward the end, swinging and singing up a "Love Light" that galvanized band and audience alike. Pigpen is music, head to toe, and it's a gas to see him in the group again. He transforms them when he swings in. Jerry Garcia's pedal steel guitar is a joy. The sound he gets on it is unlike any other steel guitar, just as his electric is unlike any other. His acoustic encore was as loving as the old days of San Francisco were said to be. The Dead are still like that.
It was a night of flow, relaxed and together, music and people both. Booking for the rest of the summer is somewhat less inspired, but there are highlights to look forward to - this coming weekend, Chuck Berry himself and James Cotton; later on, Charlie Musselwhite, Buddy Miles, among others; and as a grand grand finale, Paul Butterfield and Muddy Waters on the same bill. The Pavilion is a bargain at $3. I'm told the subway is easier traveling than driving - express a few stops on the IRT Flushing line to Willet's Point (Shea Stadium), and a 15-minute walk or possibly a taxi ride. If I have any taxi adventures I'll tell you.

(by Annie Fisher, from the "Riffs" column in the Village Voice, 17 July 1969)



Two more 7/11/69 reviews:

See also Lucian Truscott's review of the 6/22/69 Central Park show, from the 6/26/69 Village Voice:
And Annie Fisher's review of the Dead's May '68 NYC shows, from the 5/16/68 Village Voice:
And Robert Christgau's account of their June/July '69 NYC shows, from the 7/27/69 New York Times:

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The same Village Voice issue also contains a positive review of the Rolling Stones' 7/5/69 concert in Hyde Park ("the biggest, most vital, most moving rock concert ever"), a negative review of Blind Faith's 7/12/69 show at Madison Square Garden ("there just wasn't any feeling...lots of noise from the stage, and not much music"), and a review of the Velvet Underground's 7/11/69 show at the Boston Tea Party, which I can't pass up:

The Boston Tea Party, that town's answer to the old Balloon Farm, closed its doors last weekend. (It will reopen soon in a new and, alas, spiffier location; what the world really needs is fewer plastic pop palaces and more drafty old halls where kids, of all ages, can go cheap, sit on the floor and groove, or dance in wild abandon.) Anyway, to enhance the nostalgia, and add a touch of class to the proceedings, the Velvet Underground were asked to attend. The Velvet's cult is particularly strong in Boston. In fact, their cult is strong in almost every burg except their home town (New York), where they still seem to be regarded as local freaks.
I hadn't seen the Velvets in live performance since they held forth in the Gymnasium, which must be two years ago. (However, I can [ -- ] among that singular crew which has the pleasure of enjoying the Velvet's company on social occasions from time to time, and that, along with their albums, seemed to suffice.) But I am glad I decided, on the spur of the moment, to barrel up to Boston to catch them Friday night.
I hate to sound like Andrew Loog Oldham gushing liner notes on an early Stones album, but I realized after the sounds and images of the Tea Party concert that I had been right all along about the Velvets. They are one of the most brilliant groups around today, playing rock and roll, playing just music, knocking out strong stuff that one can dance to or freak out over. I had become accustomed to defending the Velvets against their detractors, but more on the basis of friendship than deep conviction. However, after listening to them go from "I'm Waiting for My Man" to "Jesus" (a remarkably original gospel-hymn) and then on to "Sister Ray," I am convinced, once again, of their merits. So was the audience, who gave them a standing ovation.
It was a joy to hear Lou Reed bursting out with "I'm Set Free." The song is a testimonial to the fact that the Velvets are indeed free of the Warhol stigma that stayed with them long after they left Andy. I was also relieved to discover that, although it sounds a bit different, "I'm Waiting for My Man" loses none of its power now that John Cale is no longer with the group. (He is doing very well on his own, incidentally.)
Cale's replacement, Doug Yule, plays bass (very well) and organ. Yule, it seems to me, fits right in with what the Velvets are into since Lou Reed (in his own words) "saw the light." He is an affable young man who fortunately did not lose his identity upon joining Lou Reed's band.
And that is something else I realized: the Velvets are Lou Reed's band. But that does not mean that Lou can do without Sterling Morrison's stoic presence or Maureen Tucker's distinct and incredible style of drumming. I think all the Velvets understand that. I think it is important for Lou to know that Sterling is there, looking for all the world like Gary Cooper. And Maureen, bless her little heart, has held them all together through many a long set with her relentless beat.
Someone (I think it was me) once said the Velvets were the Judy Garlands of Rock. And they are. But, unlike Judy, they have managed to evolve slowly, giving themselves time to mature and to appreciate themselves and their music, without being eaten alive by a voracious cult which just happened to have the intelligence and the sensitivity of appetite to dig them in the first place.
Yes, I am happy to announce that the Velvet Underground are alive, and well, and making live music. And the next time they are in Boston, or Philly, you really should catch them.

(by Richard Nusser, from the Village Voice, 17 July 1969)

https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=vOwjAAAAIBAJ&sjid=K4wDAAAAIBAJ&pg=1595,473568&hl=en (pg.36)