Jun 30, 2017

February 6, 1966: Acid Test, Unitarian Church, Northridge CA


Sunday night, February 6th, the Acid Test began in L.A. at the Valley Unitarian Church. Inspired initially by novelist Ken Kesey, it amounts to a revolutionary concept of the function of the theatre and the relationship of individuals in a society.
Kesey was not here; he has ridden into the hills and will return again when his people call "All free!" As it is, although his group had only been here a day, police were hunting down its distinctive bus under orders to roust it wherever it was found. However, I do not get the impression that Kesey's group is dependent upon any one person to do its job nor that it's distracted by persecution.
When I asked Lee Quarnstron, one of the central group, if they began the performance with any set format, he answered, "'Freak freely' is our motto; as long as you hurt no one. We groove together. To repeat any procedure or method is to play an old game. We want to play new games."
Their first performance in L.A. was indicative of their methods. The floor of the room was littered with musical instruments, creatively dressed people, tape recorders, movie projectors, pieces of colored material... The walls and ceiling relentlessly changed color and images; my eyes were caressed and assaulted by random juxtapositions of shapes and colors. It appeared to be an integrated aesthetic fantasy controlled by some masterly yet casual hand.
Then two people, obviously not performers, rose and began playing with a large sheet of cellophane during a particularly beautiful musical session. By really digging what they were doing, they entertained all who watched. Events were moving in harmony despite their seemingly random development. The experience demanded each person to add honestly and creatively. By forsaking your anxieties and bullshit, you surrender yourself to the room and achieve a height of involvement equal to the sum total of all exposed potential in it.
Poet Neil Cassidy went out on an hour's worth of fascinating word salad over a mike while interferometric Del Close began casting magical and ineffable colors onto a wall, directed only by his spontaneous explorations of what he was doing. Hugh Romney began a monologue like an incantation while watching a film being shown on another section of wall. Dick Webster beat his gongs whenever some musician's sound enticed him; musicians tastefully tried musical possibilities until all were in the same place at once. A girl ran in a circle, stopping sporadically to dance enchantingly. Free Press editor Art Kunkin rambled over to a still projector and jiggled the image on the opposite wall for five minutes before I realized he wasn't part of the performing group.
Frightening, insane, chaotic? I suppose the answer depends on where you're at. To me, what went down was a recapture of an experience Man hasn't given himself the simple luxury of since he left his cave. It was a unification which insisted on confident naturalness. There were no distinctions between roles and functions and identities - only good people tripping out on their mutual creative expression and free exultation. I'm sure someone must get his head in a bad place during one of these performances, but it would be impossible to keep it there among such good vibrations.
Quarnstron later told me that all these experiences will ultimately be organized into a movie. The show I came to watch is a show in which I am a performer. To be passive in this experience - as in any other - is to deny myself my own capability.
The Acid Test will be here about two weeks and is currently seeking a place to live, work, perform. The central group works all day on their maze of tapes and films and plays all night to radiate epiphanies. The Free Press and your local grapevine will let you know where and when the next Acid Test will be.
Ralph Gleason, in San Francisco (where the group successfully performed for some three months) has described their efforts with Dylan's lines about Mr. Jones: "Something is happening here, but you don't know what it is." Quarnstron describes them in the paraphrase, "THIS is what's happening here." The difference in tone is crucial: the Acid Test warmly welcomes all who come to it cleanly, clearly, totally. Their Yes is open and unqualified; they say No only to negatives.
Is this a nihilistic Hedonism or a new attempt to achieve fulfillment in a world of increasingly maniacal rigidity? I suppose the answer depends on how up-tight you are, how certain you are of your own validity and stature.

(by Paul Jay Robbins, from the "Happenings" column, Los Angeles Free Press, 11 February 1966)

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Jun 29, 2017

December 6, 1968: The Spectrum, Philadelphia


One of the things you start wondering about, while you are sitting in your red-cushioned seat at the Spectrum listening to a guitar player who belongs to a group called the Iron Butterfly playing on his knees, is if this all means that rock music, the curse of the over-25 class, is finally going establishment.
The scene was Friday night, at the Quaker City Rock Festival No. 2, a concert designed to show off the talents - and the massive electronic sound - of five rock groups, including the Iron Butterfly, which also boasted a topless drummer who played what must be the most monotonous 10-minute solo in the history of man, and a fire, lit in a metal pan on the revolving carpeted stage by the guitar fellow who played on his knees.

The funny thing about it is that you would expect the young people who attend rock festivals to really let themselves go, surrounded by 10,000 of their peers and the sound they love being blasted from about a dozen speakers darn near as big as your refrigerator.
But they sit there, talking to each other, clapping politely at the end of each song (Rock compositions are always called songs, just as the people who play them are always called groups, and never combos.), and, occasionally, a few of them would extend aloft an arm topped by the Churchillian "V for victory" sign, although, I have learned, to them it means peace, or Black Power, or groovey, or something like that.
It was, admittedly, not as good as Quaker City Rock Festival No. 1, which had the Chambers Brothers and the Vanilla Fudge and Janis Joplin with her former supporting group, Big Brother and the Holding Company.

No. 2 started off with the Creedence Clearwater Revival, a group that plays something they call folk rock and has one song, a two-parter, really, called "Suzie Q" which most people can stand and is probably the best thing that they will ever do.
Next team on the revolving stage was the Grateful Dead, and they, too, are not in the class with the Beatles or the Doors or the Jefferson Airplane. Only once, in the midst of a song that lasted perhaps 20 minutes, did the Grateful Dead appear really alive, and that was when a guitarist, with the help of enough transistors and other radio insides to build two television sets, wrenched from his instrument a series of high, feedback-augmented chords that could be compared, favorably, with some of the better compositions of Stravinsky.

By now it is 9 p.m., about a third of the way through the night, and the audience, high-schoolers and college types clad in the usual nonconformist's uniform of long hair and slightly exotic clothes, was acting politely bored, much like a solid, upper-middle-class burgher who has been dragged to a symphonic concert by his wife and is trying to appear gracefully interested and still stay awake.
Part of the problem is the time involved changing the stage between acts. Each group plays for about 45 minutes, and it takes almost that long for the speakers, amps, organs, and funny lights to be put into place and wired together, a hiatus punctuated frequently by an announcer with a 19-word, pseudo-hip vocabulary who urges the audience to be patient.
The other problem is acoustics. The Spectrum, better known for ice hockey and basketball, is not really a concert hall, for one thing, and during the first three sets, the auditorium's amplifier was occasionally feuding with the musicians' amps, creating a sound like that of a very cheap transistor playing at full volume under water.

But the Iron Butterfly scored points with a new number, still not available on records, called "Soul Experience," and with their magnum opus, a 27-minute work entitled, I believe, "In-a-Gadda-da-Zida," which sounds better than it reads, except for the solo by the topless drummer.
It was at about this time, while waiting for Sly and the Family Stone, that the announcer said that the Rolling Stones are coming to the Spectrum in March, their first American concert in four years, and the crowd nearly went wild.

The high point of the night, excitement-wise, was the Family Stone, which attempted to turn on the audience and nearly succeeded. Sly Stone was running up and down the aisles, waving the "V" sign and letting the audience help by yelling something that sounded like "hi ya" every so often, and you could see the tension build, but the bubble broke before more than a third of the people were out of their seats, and suddenly it was a little sad, because the audience could not or would not turn on, and Sly Stone and the rest of his group were in a frenzy that had been beautiful but now slightly embarrassing.
And that is when the half-formed thought about the Establishment gobbling up rock music becomes even more intriguing, because any concert that costs $5.50 to attend cannot be considered in the same class as its origins, those cheap dance halls where musicians like the Beatles starved on 5 pounds a week and devised a music form that could appeal to the young, interest the old, and eventually cause some of the world's stuffiest critics to rank them with Beethoven.

The last group was Steppenwolf (the name is stolen from a book by Herman Hesse), and Steppenwolf was almost good enough to wash away those heretical thoughts. But then you remember that "Born to be Wild" is probably the best song that Steppenwolf has done, and notice that the audience is anything but wild, and then you realize that there was probably a time when even Guy Lombardo was considered new and different, a brief shining moment before he, too, became Establishment.

(by W.G. Tudor, from the Morning News (Wilmington DE), 9 December 1968)


Thanks to Dave Davis

Jun 28, 2017

August 23, 1968: Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles


At their best, the Grateful Dead are a wondrous group and they were at their best for a weekend dance concert sponsored by Pinnacle at the Shrine Exposition Hall.
The San Francisco sextet has a number of failings - their vocals are weak, they seem to require at least 20 minutes to warm into excitement, and their original songs are not notable either for lyrics or for melodies - but their weaknesses become insignificant when lead guitarist Jerry Garcia gets going.
Garcia is brilliant, an instrumentalist with flawless timing, great melodic invention, and a magic ability to raise the Dead into continually higher peaks of excitement.
He and they excel at improvising at a giddy pace and nearly every song accelerates into roller coasterish speed at some point to display their staccato abilities. His guitar flights are sometimes beautiful and sometimes frenzied but they are always perfect for the group and the crowd.
Bob Weir, rhythm guitar; Ron McKernon (Pigpen), organ; Phil Lesh, bass; and Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, drums, generate a massive amount of music through which Garcia's guitar romps.
The Dead also are notable for a non-musical quality: of all the San Francisco groups, they probably have played more free concerts than any other. Pinnacle has been having financial problems and the Grateful Dead, who appeared in the first Pinnacle concert, appeared to help them out.
Also on the bill was Taj Mahal, the husky voiced blues singer and harmonica player whose band includes another fine guitarist, Eddie Davis.

Meanwhile, the Kaleidoscope, which again is being run by the people who started it, presented the Moby Grape, Genesis, and the McCoys Friday and Saturday nights.
The Moby Grape, another San Francisco group, has become a quartet with the departure of Skip Spence, who sang, played rhythm guitar, and mugged and danced frenetically during their appearances. Spence left because of ill health.
His absence does not seem to have thinned the group's musical ability, but their Saturday night performance was rather dull except for Jerry Miller's work on lead guitar.
A member of Genesis was in jail Saturday night, so I did not get to see them, and the well-publicized new McCoys don't merit much excitement, but the light show (apparently incorporating the Thomas Edison Castle people from the defunct Cheetah, to judge from familiar slides and movies) was very good.

(by Pete Johnson, from the Los Angeles Times, 26 August 1968) 



[A brief review of the Dead's first appearance at the Shrine, May 17-18, 1968.]

... Meanwhile, over at the Shrine Exposition Hall, the Grateful Dead pummelled several thousand persons with their long improvisational rock music in a show sponsored by the Pinnacle.
The sound of the San Francisco sextet is heavily dependent on lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, whose brilliant playing makes it hard to realize that he is surrounded by routine musicians.
They have two average drummers instead of one good one. Pigpen's organ is generally barely audible and his voice, the best in the group, is mediocre.
Garcia, however, led the group through some exciting blues-based music which roused the Shrine crowd into fervid demonstrations of appreciation.

(by Pete Johnson?, from the Los Angeles Times, 20 May 1968)

Thanks to Dave Davis.

Los Angeles Times staff writer Pete Johnson had also reviewed the Dead at the Hollywood Bowl 9/15/67 and the Shrine Exposition Hall 11/10/67:

Jun 27, 2017

May 5, 1968: Central Park, New York City


It was a beautiful day in Central Park yesterday for lollipops, dogs, pretty girls, wisteria, and hard rock.
The rock was provided for free by three of the currently best-known groups on the rock 'n' roll scene - the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the Jefferson Airplane, and the Grateful Dead.
The area's normal Sunday denizens - pretty girls in their slimmest pants suits walking dogs in hopes of meeting the lawyers and advertising men in their weekend Nehru jackets and turtlenecks - were all but swamped in the horde of young people who flocked to the concert.
About six thousand, the police estimated, jammed into the plaza in front of the bandstand near the Mall while thousands more sprawled out on the grass and under the trees. A few of the park benches were held by elderly people who listened and watched solemnly.

Free concerts have become a tradition among the oddly named groups in San Francisco who are bringing the music back to its rhythm and blues roots and adding an almost overpowering electronic sound.
"We almost always do free concerts - sometimes after the paying gig (job) we go outside and do another show for the kids who can't get [in]," explained Rock Scully, the Grateful Dead's road manager, as musicians and technicians set up their equipment in the concrete bandstand.
The most popular apparel among the youths was cast-off military jackets, often decorated with peace buttons. Many of them carried photographic equipment, and they showed their affection for the bands by cheering wildly, holding up two fingers in the "V" sign, and throwing lollipops on the stage.
As the wailing notes of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band drifted across the football players on the Sheep Meadow and bounced off the apartment houses on Central Park West, a barefoot blond girl in the back did an intricate dance by herself.

Grace Slick, the lead singer of the Jefferson Airplane, brought the crowd to their feet as she half-growled her lyrics into a hand microphone, and the excitement was maintained by the Grateful Dead, a band consisting of an electric organ, two electric guitars, an electric bass, a Chinese gong, and two complete sets of drums.
The Dead are extremely driving, amplified and hirsute, even by San Francisco standards, and in their finale, one of the drummers appears to run amok and savagely attacks his cymbals, while another member of the band sets off a small explosion.
As the group was playing, Michael F. Goldstein, a public relations man who assisted William Graham of the Fillmore East and Howard Solomon of the Cafe au Go Go in setting up the show, approached a glum-looking police captain near the bandstand.
"It's a great day and there aren't any hassles, captain, why aren't you happy?" Mr. Goldstein asked.
"I'd rather be listening to some Bach or Mozart," the captain replied, "or even Beethoven, heavy as he is."

(by John Kifner, from the New York Times, 6 May 1968)

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