. . . 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)