GRATEFUL DEAD RIDES AGAIN
Even after spending an afternoon getting stoned, listening to the Dead sounds of yesteryear on records & tape & in general preparing oneself for the ritual of an evening with the Grateful Dead, many that attended the March 14th concert walked away bitterly disappointed. The New Riders of the Purple Sage played too long...too much country & western music...The Dead came on late & played dead. You get a different version of the same story no matter who you talk with, but a sense of disappointment pervades any description of the Madison performance of the Grateful Dead & the New Riders of the Purple Sage.
A week later the Dead & Co. played to an estimated 10,000 people at the Expo Center near Mitchell Field in Milwaukee and got a medium cool to overwhelming response. This time around The Dead really cooked but only intermittently - presenting their material in an individual song format instead of their characteristic style where one song tapers off & becomes integrated into the beginning of the next. Even at the height of all the excitement in Milwaukee you had the feeling that either something was missing or something had been added that didn't quite seem to fit. Perhaps the vitality & spontaneity of the Dead's extended improvisation & jams were missing or maybe it was the show biz touch of playing one song at a time that seemed out of place.
Given the disillusionment & disappointment of many folks in Madison & the ambivalent reaction of the crowd in Milwaukee, the door is open for much speculation & criticism as to what happened & why. To the Dead, Madison must have seemed like every other date in every other Midwest College town - in other words, "business as usual." Their lukewarm performance in Madison was evidence of this. Whether students or not, most of those attending the Dead concert in Madison were of college age & came from Madison. In Milwaukee the crowd was a colorful conglomeration of bikers, members of the East Side "youth community," but most visibly the hordes of bell-bottomed, sheep-skin-coated teenies from the affluent suburbs of Fox Point, Whitefish Bay & the like. The average age at the Milwaukee concert was 14 or 15. It is interesting to note that of the estimated 10,000 people attending the Dead concert in Milwaukee, not more than 6000 entered with tickets purchased from Primo Productions, the promoters. An estimated 1500 bogus tickets were either sold or given away & at least another 1500-2000 people successfully crashed the main entrance & stage doors.
After a weak set by Ox, a local 3 piece band, the New Riders of the Purple Sage strode on stage & played a very mellow, tasteful but nonetheless tiring 1-1/2 hour set of country-flavored material featuring the fine work of Jerry Garcia on pedal steel guitar. Although they are forging their own existence for themselves, the New Riders of the Purple Sage are as supportive of the Dead by functioning as a warm-up act as the Dead are of the New Riders by taking them along with them on their tours. Although the New Riders are a thoroughly satisfying act in & of themselves, their role as a warm-up act that helps to build the tension & eager anticipation for the Dead's appearance cannot be underestimated. They played their role perfectly in Milwaukee...
After some equipment juggling it was time to reach the Apocalypse. As the individual members of the Dead ambled onto the stage & began to tune up, cheers rose from the sardined masses of true believers & potential converts who had patiently waited four hours to see & hear them. The set opened with "Cold Rain & Snow," a Dead standard which got most people up on their feet. On to a raunchy r&b styled vocal by Pigpen which got most folks dancing. Then just as things really began to cook the Dead ended the song, waited for applause & rolled on through some old ("It Hurts Me Too," "Chinese Cat Sunflower," "That's It For The Other Side," "Not Fade Away"), some new material ("Me & Bobby McGee"), thru Bill Kreutzman's drum solo leading into "Not Fade Away" & much solid guitar work from both lead guitarist Jerry Garcia & rhythm guitarist Bob Weir throughout the 2 hour set which ended in thunderous applause & calls for an encore.
I don't know whether the Dead played an encore or not as I escaped after the last number in order to avoid the push & pull of the crowd only to have to squeeze between the three chauffeured Cadillac limousines parked by the stage door waiting to whisk the Dead away. I simultaneously experienced both a feeling of satisfaction/exhaustion & emptiness/loss as I walked back to the car. Satisfaction because I got to see the Dead perform again for the first time in two years & felt the same exhaustion I always had in the past from trying to absorb & understand the kind of energy the Dead project.
A sense of emptiness & loss because there seemed to be a greater distance between the Dead & the audience than ever before.
Even tho there were points throughout the Dead's set in Milwaukee that captured the intensity of their music in 'the good old days' (such as "Not Fade Away"), the overall performance of the group was only fair to good. I am sure many of us were disappointed with the Dead because our expectations of them were bloated & after all even the Grateful Dead have bad nights now & then, but I think the Madison & Milwaukee performances reflect much more than the crowds' bloated expectations or a bad night for the Dead. The performances reflect not only the obvious musical changes in the group but significant attitude changes as well.
Jerry Garcia quipped in a recent CREEM interview: "...I mean we aren't restricted - we don't give a fuck about [the] audience, man, have you ever seen us seriously go on a trip about what the audience suggests?" Garcia's statement reads loud & clear - after 4 years of dealing with busts, police harassment, avaricious promoters, equipment breakdowns & the other realities of being on the road, the Grateful Dead have moved from a naive optimism to cautious cynicism. According to the annals of hip folklore, the Grateful Dead have
always maintained an affinity with the nebulous entities we all know
& love as the "people" & the "community." As the Dead's
attitudes change so does their relationship to & for the "people"
& the "community"...
From 1965 on the Grateful Dead (then known as the Warlocks) formed the backbone of the first generation of San Francisco bands, including the Charlatans, Big Brother & the Holding Co., The Great Society, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Country Joe & the Fish, & the Sons of Champlin, that gave birth to a whole new era in American pop music most often referred to & hyped as the "San Francisco Sound." The Dead were there at the legendary Trips Festival in 1966, the Gathering of the Tribes & at many of Ken Kesey & the Merry Prankster's Acid Tests.
From the very beginning the Dead have occupied a unique position among other American bands, both artistically & politically. Artistically the Dead have established themselves as one of the best performing bands ever - combining consistently high-quality musicianship with a willingness to innovate & to experiment with a variety of material from 12 bar blues to early r&b Chuck Berry/Bo Diddley sounds to electronic & tape music to country & western ballads and back again. They have produced 6 albums on the Warner Bros. label to date & retained complete artist control thanks to some foresight at contract-signing time. Altho none of the albums thus far have captured the excitement of the Dead in person, they have served as representative samples of where the Dead & their music are at various points in time.
Politically the Dead have always been regarded as a "people's band."
The Dead was & is a cooperative band with the office staff, equipment men, sound men & band all sharing money equally on a weekly salary basis. Bob Weir notes, "...we make, quite frankly, a working class salary...nothing spectacular...ninety bucks a week." In addition to themselves the Dead support a family of at least 50 people. "We support the hippie scene around us too. Not just our family but the hippie craftsmen & artists & stuff like that. And we have electronics crews who are exploring new horizons in sound...& video for that matter too. And they need support, & we're just about the only people who can give it them, us & the Airplane. And that's expensive. We have to more or less subsidize them by giving them our projects..." At one time the Dead all lived communally in their famous Haight-Ashbury house, since forsaken, & again in a summer camp ranch, but now they live separately. Decision-making in the past was always done collectively & hopefully this process has continued altho it is dubious given the business pressures & personalities that now influence the Dead.
Rock Scully & Larry Rifkin originally served as personal managers for the Dead & have since departed along with Lenny Hart, father of Mickey Hart, one of the (former?) Dead drummers, who unsuccessfully tried to erase some of the Dead's debt by more careful business management. It was Scully & the Dead that coordinated the Great Northwest Tour, a cooperative booking, light sound & music package that included them, the Quicksilver, the Airplane & the Ace of Cups & toured the Pacific Northwest playing most of the then-existent clubs, ballrooms & other psychedelic dungeons. It was also the Grateful Dead & the Jefferson Airplane who made a noble but unsuccessful attempt to provide a viable alternative to rock entrepreneur Bill Graham's monopoly on San Francisco rock audiences by leasing the Carousel Ballroom (which was subsequently taken over by Graham & is now the Fillmore West) & running it themselves. Besides money the Dead & the Airplane lacked the business sense & expertise that has made Bill Graham the prototype of the successful promoter & a millionaire. Now after a [series] of abortive attempts at trying to book & manage themselves largely by themselves & after a former manager left with all their money adding to their already heavy debts, the Dead have signed with the International Famous Agency (IFA) to do their booking & hired notorious Sam Cutler, former road manager for the Rolling Stones on their Fall 1969 American tour, to act as their road manager.
The Grateful Dead used to book themselves, then they worked through the Millard Agency, another branch of Bill Graham's growing financial empire that includes the Fillmore East & West & a record label & now the move to IFA which is owned by Kinney National Service, Inc., a vast conglomerate holding company. According to the 1970 annual report Kinney is a 1/2 billion dollar yearly enterprise. Kinney got its start with parking lots, but real estate, janitorial services, pest control, construction, industrial painting, the Garden State Bank & a chain of funeral parlors are other interests, but its holdings in the "Leisure Time Group" are considered the most lucrative. Kinney's holdings in the "LTG" include motion pictures, television, records, music publishing, product licensing, magazine publishing & distribution. Kinney owns the film, WOODSTOCK, as well as Atlantic, Elektra & Warner Bros/Reprise Records & the International Famous Agency.
Point of interest: the 3 Kinney record companies have been working hard to establish their own national record distribution network that would go over the heads of regional & local distributorships. "So that distributors can no longer say 'No' to our requests," commented Mo Ostim of Warner Bros. Kinney's assets in rock include Led Zeppelin, CSN & Y, Eric Clapton, the Doors, Iron Butterfly & now the Grateful Dead. The move to IFA is consistent with their desire to work themselves out of debt by getting more money for less work but inconsistent with the "people's band" visage since a large booking agency like IFA is hardly an alternative agency with top priority for people rather than profit.
Garcia, speaking again from the Dead's office in San Rafael, California... "We need an office with people to take care of 'business.' We tried to do it ourselves & we couldn't. We got into debt & we've been trying to get out of it for two years. Without all this (he gestures, indicating both office & people) there wouldn't be any Grateful Dead... We just can't do it ourselves."
As road manager for the Rolling Stones' Fall '69 American tour, Cutler became famous as one of the prime organizers & movers of the ill-fated Altamont festival where one black youth was killed & several injured by pool-cue-wielding Hell's Angels that had been hired as a "security force." In their characteristic zeal to provide an afternoon of "free" music for everyone involved - performers, as well as the audience - Rock Scully & the Dead worked hectically alongside Cutler to find a suitable site for the Rolling Stones "free" concert/farewell performance that would also include themselves, the Airplane, Santana, etc. With such inadequate planning & preparation & drunken Hell's Angels on the loose as a "security force," it is a wonder that more of the 300,000 people that came to Altamont didn't get offed or at least seriously injured. Cutler, acting on behalf of the Stones, hired the Angels to act as "security" at Altamont for $500 (one truckload) of beer.
Altamont represented the culmination of some of the worst trends in rock & also marked the nightmarish end of the mass festival era. For the Grateful Dead, who never got to play after helping organize the event, Altamont meant the end of "free" concerts, which had become synonymous with their name & a function in which the Dead took considerable pride, especially when considering the undisclosed sum of money the Rolling Stones received as advance royalty payments on the film (now showing as GIMME SHELTER) shot by Warner Bros.
I don't know when Cutler was hired by the Dead, but he was keeping things running smoothly from behind the scenes in both Madison & Milwaukee. Two members of Parthenogenesis, Madison's Musicians Coop, spent an hour talking with Garcia & Cutler at the Holiday Inn on the East Side trying to get permission to make an announcement to the audience about the coop before the Dead's set... Permission denied.
Cutler is in a precarious position. Now separated from the Stones' organization, he will still have the Altamont monkey on his back for some time to come, no matter what he does in the music industry. Granted Cutler made some monumental errors & blunders in organizing Altamont, but he has also been conveniently objectified & used as a scapegoat by the same media who played down or overlooked the roles & responsibilities of the Rolling Stones in the whole affair.
The Dead have performed innumerable free concerts & benefits throughout their lifetime, but according to a recent interview with Jerry Garcia, free gigs have become impossible -
"Free means it has to be free for US too. If we're EXPECTED to do them (the free concerts) - which is what was beginning to happen - then they can't be free. It was getting to the point where we were expected to do nothing else. See, the road is a bummer & we look at the road as work. The object is to get off the road as soon as possible. We may play one town one night, & another town, not too far away, the next. That leaves an opening in between, an afternoon, when we could conceivably do a free concert. But then that means the equipment crew has to move all the stuff from the first place to the free gig & then to the place we have to play at night. It's an equipment hassle...& a question of logistics. We'll do it when we can...but it's a lot of hard work when you're on the road & out here (Calif.) the free gigs aren't legal. In the old days, we used to play in the park. It was really a nice scene. Then the meth freaks & the smack freaks took over & the park people got up tight & put a stop to it."
The Dead are very conscious of their complete vulnerability as a "people's band" & have endured much criticism from some politicos who want the Dead to do more free concerts & benefits & [a] comment from Bob Weir typifies the Dead's attitude towards this criticism & pressure: "I've always felt that those people are low-consciousness people not to realize that we are doing our part by doing music & nothing else."
A concept of themselves as super-stars or a super-group is repulsive to the members of the Dead, but they are definitely concerned about their responsibility to their faithful fans, such as those who slept out on the sidewalk in New York City last fall in order to be first in line at the ticket window. Phil Lesh, bass player for the Dead, asks, "How much responsibility do we as a band have to reach the people we want to reach?"
Bob Weir replies, "It may well be that we have to take a hundred percent responsibility because nobody else is willing to accept it."
"Well, the people themselves aren't willing to accept it. That's the trouble. That's where it ultimately lies, I think," suggests Lesh.
Garcia offers the final word on the Dead's responsibilities: "Well, I think the musician's first responsibility is to play music as well as he can, & that's the most important thing. And any responsibility to anyone else is just journalistic fiction...or political fiction.
"Because that bull shit about the people's music, man, where's that at, what's that supposed to mean? It wasn't any people that sat with me while I learned how to play the guitar. I mean who paid the dues? I mean if the people think that way they can fucking make their own music. And besides when somebody says people, to me it means all the people. It means the cops, the guy who drives the limousines, the fucker who runs the elevator, everybody..."
Yeah, but whose responsibility is it?!?
(by Harry Duncan, from the Madison Kaleidoscope, 31 March 1971)
Thanks to jgmf.blogspot.com
See also other reviews of the 3/21/71 Milwaukee show: