Aug 19, 2015

November 27, 1970: The Syndrome, Chicago, IL


It seems like only yesterday that a San Francisco rock group with the then-unusual name of the Grateful Dead began making music that was so hypnotic and innovative that it eventually recharged the batteries of the lifeless and tinsel-coated world of rock and roll music.
Only yesterday - remember? The Avalon Ballroom, the original Fillmore Auditorium, Janis Joplin, Gracie Slick, Jimi Hendrix, Country Joe, and the earliest acid rock pioneers, Jerry Garcia and the Dead.
If you went to the Syndrome Friday night and expected the same kind of excitement the Grateful Dead used to produce in a live concert four or five years ago, you were disappointed. What was creative and tradition-breaking then is commonplace now, and the Dead really haven't changed their style much in that four or five years' time.
Let's face it: four or five years in the rock music world is a whole generation grown from high school kids to college graduates with jobs and even families.
Still, the Dead managed to pull in enough fans to fill up the rickety old Coliseum at 15th Street and Wabash Avenue, and everybody seemed to be having a great time. The Dead's clear, heavy beat is great for a live audience because it always inspires people to shake, vibrate, stamp their feet, or jump up and down, particularly during Garcia's electrifying flights of fancy during lead guitar sequences. He has few equals when it comes to flashy, polished guitar playing.
But his vocals and those of Bob Weir never did amount to much (it would be nice if you could comprehend at least an occasional word of the lyrics), and the bass, organ and drum accompaniment all sounds the same after a few sets.
Of course, they're caught with a built-in critical disadvantage. They were the pioneers of much of today's rock, and everybody that has followed has improved on it a little bit, each taking away a little bit of the Dead's original excitement. It was a good show, but it didn't chart any new musical territories, not like the Avalon Ballroom in 1966. Maybe that's why it seems so long ago.
The warmup act was a group called the New Riders of the Purple Sage; as the name implies, they rode the range between rock music and country and western. The closer they got to pure country music, the better it was, to the point of sounding a little like Buck Owens and the Buckaroos.
The best set, surprisingly, was an impromptu instrumental ballad struck up while the lead singer restrung his guitar. It gave the Hawaiian guitar player a chance to show off his really excellent country style. They could use that style to their advantage - it would also help if they would please turn the volume down a bit.

(by Roy Petty, from the Chicago Tribune, 30 November 1970)

Thanks to

For more positive reviews, see:  


  1. Another 1970 review that refers to 1966 as "so long ago"....since then everyone has grown up and music has transformed... A lot of these articles point out how fast time seemed to fly in the '60s.

    This reviewer wasn't as thrilled with the Dead's show as the other reviewers I posted. According to him, they're OK - have "a clear, heavy beat" that gets the crowd dancing - Garcia's a fine guitar player - but the singing isn't much - and the band's backing "all sounds the same" after a while. (But he grudgingly concurs with the other reviewers that the audience was going nuts.)
    He seems to be more taken by the New Riders - pointing out the Buckaroos influence, and especially struck by an instrumental ballad that Garcia (the "Hawaiian guitar player") led on the steel. I wonder what tune that was?

    I think he may have been an older reviewer, since he complains about the volume being too loud and not being able to understand the words. (He also oddly calls songs "sets.")
    He's also clueless, and this article is full of nonsense. I'm not sure he knew much about the Dead except that they were "acid rock pioneers." He wistfully recalls the days when they were really exciting & creative, "the Avalon Ballroom in 1966" - but since then they "really haven't changed their style much." Supposedly back in '66, their music was "so hypnotic and innovative" they "pioneered much of today's rock," but the acid-rock bands since then have improved on them. Now they're just disappointing, coasting on their old style.

    Well, that's all hogwash. It's interesting that the Avalon Ballroom was already by 1970 a mystical name to conjure up when evoking 'the dawn of rock' - but the reviewer doesn't show any sign that he ever went there, or that he'd actually heard a Dead album. The Dead didn't even play Chicago until 1968, just two years earlier. By this show, their style had changed enough that only two or three of the same songs were still in their set. And it's funny that the reviewer enjoys the New Riders' "excellent country style" but didn't notice any country influence in the Dead's show. (Nor, apparently, did he notice Garcia was in the New Riders, though admiring his playing in both bands.)

  2. Jerry "Captain Kahuna" Garcia... haha

  3. I thought it was kind of funny that the reviewer acknowledged Jerry's guitar playing with the Dead but didn't recognize that he was also the "Hawaiian Guitar Player" with NRPS.