September 17's Grateful Dead concert at the Baltimore Civic Center brought me to a painful conclusion that's been slowly coming for a long time: that rock concerts not only aren't the fun they used to be, but they're practically not worth going to anymore.
As is sometimes the case, it had nothing to do with what was going on onstage. Rather it was what was going on around me in the audience. The Dead are special to me, and I came there to listen to their music, and hopefully to watch them as they played. There were many others there who did not share the same intentions.
An Unsophisticated Audience
My first shocker came as I rode by the front of the Civic Center before the concert. I had been thinking all along that the Dead would attract an older, more sophisticated and more musically oriented audience than would turn up for, say, Alice Cooper or Ten Years After. Wrong. The older, sophisticated, etc., crowd was there, but for every one of them there were three teenyboppers, hanging around after having consumed their fair share of ups, downs, beer, cheap wine, and probably a couple of tubes of airplane glue and a few dirty shoelaces.
Inside it was more of the same. "Hey man, I'm so fucked up I can hardly walk." Congratulations. This handicap somehow didn't prevent a good number of these slezoids from disregarding their own seats and moving en masse to the stage area, blocking aisles and with it the view of the people in the front section. If you weren't obstructed by the aisle inhabitants it was by the people in the front and middle rows who for some reason found it necessary to stand up sometimes on their chairs. Okay, the Dead don't do a big stage number where you've got to see everything, and I could hear their music well enough, so I just sat back and took it all in, as all of my neighbors stood up, even though they still couldn't see the stage. It would be nice to see them, yes, but it wasn't imperative, so I resigned myself to doing without it.
All that was heard were screams
But there was still a problem. Even though the quality of the sound was surprisingly good for the acoustically nightmarish Civic Center, it often became difficult to concentrate on the music. It seems that people wanted to shout, scream, whistle, and fraternize among themselves as the band was playing. Personally, I don't see how someone can be listening to the music and screaming at the same time. If you don't want to listen to the music, fine, but why spoil the enjoyment of others? During one number a couple of teenies behind me were screaming at the top of their decaying lungs what must have been rhinoceros mating calls, and it finally became too much for me. I turned around and suggested that we hear the band instead of them, to which one articulately answered me, "You hear what you want to hear, man, dig it!" Now, while I was certainly grateful to receive these words of wisdom which I had heretofore thought were only available from the lips of a Tibetan wiseman, the explanation somehow wasn't good enough for me.
This crowd also managed to turn audience involvement into a headache. The Dead didn't have to coax them into clapping along as do most bands, but I'm surprised that they didn't ask them to stop clapping along. Their distortion of time was truly a wonder. Not only would they clap along at the most inappropriate parts of songs, but the sound of their far from rhythmic clapping wounded like a series of giant size, toppling dominoes. For some reason, they also insisted on applauding before the ends of songs, such as right as the Dead would finish a song with some beautiful harmony. The crowd would applaud obliviously. Whenever a song appeared like it was about to end, they would applaud.
The final insult came at the end. The Dead played well into three hours, short probably for one of their typical sets, and yet the audience was so ingrained into the whole concert aura that they demanded an encore, which they received.
So what does all this prove, if anything? For one, it shows why most adults avoid rock concerts nowadays. At every concert I attended this summer, I felt like I was the oldest person there, at the ripe old age of 20.
The only concert in recent memory where the audience enjoyed the music, could perfectly see and hear, and was well behaved and civil, was the Joni Mitchell-Jackson Browne concert at Constitution Hall last winter. It was more of an adult crowd, and they could enjoy themselves, communicate to the people on stage that they were enjoying themselves, and still behave themselves.
(by Bruce Rosenstein, from the Eagle, 29 September 1972)
http://deadsources.blogspot.com/2012/09/september-17-1972-baltimore-civic-center.html : another review
Thanks to jgmf.blogspot.com