Oct 7, 2017

February 22, 1970: Coliseum, Houston


Let me preface this article by saying that reviews of concerts, which this is, are a drag. Reviews always come afterward; after the energy has been spent, the last notes have vanished, the magic already performed. John Sebastian said it a long time ago, "It's like trying to tell a stranger about rock and roll." Still, we try.
Sunday, Houston's Coliseum/Barn. It's A Beautiful Day, John Mayall, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Grateful Dead. A house full of people waiting to get it on. It's not often that San Francisco's finest come to town to cast their spell.
Beautiful Day breezed onto stage like a gust of fresh air. Led by electric violinist Dave LaFlame, and creating music which he calls "light shows for the blind," their sound is open and flowing. In their own way, they are pushing rock to higher levels of expression. Beautiful Day just played some good music and spread the happy feelings.
Unfortunately, John Mayall didn't come across as well. Maybe feeling out of place because of being the only English group on the show or maybe just tired of trying to play his new, subtle music for large audiences, he seemed content to let his sidemen carry the weight. His sax, Johnny Almond, showed soulful brilliance in taking Mayall's recent change in musical direction closer yet to jazz. Joined by Duster Bennett for the closing numbers, John Mayall was all thanks in leaving the audience. Sorry John, but I felt like the old days with Clapton, Green and Taylor had more guts. Maybe you are just ahead of your time.
Quicksilver Messenger Service, a long time staple of San Francisco rock, know about feelings, and their music shows it. After sitting through Mayall's ramblings, the audience wanted to have a good time, and Quicksilver whipped into a stone rocker that had everyone moving. The show was all theirs from then on. A mass rush towards the stage sent the good vibes up to the band, and they immediately shot them back. One musical level after another was surpassed. Their extended "Who Do You Love" was too much. This is what rock is all about. It is why the music of the youth is one of the moving forces of the revolution, and this is why the police cannot stand to see kids get together and have their high times. Looking at shows like this, the line between the law enforcers and the youth is clearly evident. On one side is a person with a gun and a uniform who says no, you can't dance and sing and be happy - it breaks all the rules. On the other hand are those outrageous kids, saying yes, we can and will have a good time. For this particular time, the crowd was going too fast to stop, and even with all the police hurrying around attempting to enforce unenforceable rules, the kids won out. Score one victory.
All good things must end, and when Quicksilver finished and the lights were up, the police imposed their order on the thousands of people who sensed the lameness of that order. With a little pushing and shoving, everyone was put back "in their proper place". When it looked like all was calm and quiet, out came the Dead, those pioneers who just won't quit pushing for something new, something bigger than life. And to try and deliver their fantasy in a barn with twenty policemen in every aisle and any semblance of freedom completely lacking is impossible. Like all good outlaws, they tried to get it on but just couldn't find the spark. Compared to earlier days when they did unleash their awesome thunder, the Dead just went through the motions Sunday. Still, when you are the most powerful band in the world those motions can be exciting. At times a phrase or rhythm would jump out and grab you, but those were only very few moments Sunday. The Dead came and went in their little caravan, moving on to the next gig where maybe their magic would shine. They are merely mortals and as such cannot come across like gods every time.
Seen as a whole, the day's music was good, the ride back to Georgetown fun, and the spirit sustaining. And if that is not enough, I could tell you about Country Joe and the Fish the next night in Austin, but that is another time and place. Anyway, reviews are a drag. Go hear the real thing. Maybe you can dig it.

(by Bill Bentley & Andy Dean, from the Megaphone, 27 February 1970)

Thanks to Dave Davis.

Alas, no tape!


  1. The Megaphone was the student newspaper of Southwestern University in Georgetown (about a three-hour drive from Houston).
    The writer(s) had seen the Dead before, it seems, reminiscing about the days when "they did unleash their awesome thunder." (The Dead had played the Coliseum just a few months earlier in October '69, and at the Houston Catacombs in December '68; their only other sixties appearance in Texas was a post-Christmas '69 show in Dallas.)
    This show was lacking in comparison - the Dead "couldn't find the spark," with only a few standout moments. (No setlist is known.) Nonetheless, they're highly regarded - "the most powerful band in the world," pioneers, outlaws, bigger than life, like gods, shining their magic on the people.
    Pretty high praise, considering that Quicksilver apparently outshone them at this show!

    Another attendee of this show said that it "fizzled because of bad equipment."
    One person on setlists.net said, "I was there but...no one could get close to the stage in those days with the Houston cops!" Someone on dead.net recalls them playing just Lovelight, and another person wrote, "The Sunday afternoon show ran kinda long and the people running the hall needed to clear everyone out to make room for wrestling that night. The police made their presence known and the Dead's set was shortened. I remember Bob Weir talking about the situation with a riot-helmeted Houston PD officer." (The show started at 1 pm.)
    The police had also been a heavy presence at the previous show in Houston, 10/5/69, when they pulled the plug on the Airplane and ended the show early. One witness wrote, "Every police officer in Houston not working a funeral procession had evidently been called out for the show, and they were in no way reticent about making their beefy presence felt, preening in front of the stage and hanging from the rafters... Not to be outdone, the Houston Fire Department was onstage in force, manning the breaker boxes and...fully prepared, if not eager, to shut the show down at the slightest provocation... According to the antiquated Coliseum’s equally antiquated Fire Code, the assigned-seating, maximum-capacity crowd of excitable fans was not permitted to dance, stand in the aisles, or even toss off a half-baked upper-body shimmy in front of their seats — all fiercely unwelcome restrictions." (Naturally, the Airplane insisted everyone dance, thus bringing the show to an abrupt finish, and the police hurried the bands to the airport.)

    The cops weren't happy to see San Francisco rock return to town a few months later! This review makes a point of protesting the issue, calling rock music "one of the moving forces of the revolution." "This is why the police cannot stand to see kids get together and have their high times... No, you can't dance and sing and be happy - it breaks all the rules." It was difficult for the Dead to play in southern cities where police circled the stage and shoved everyone back in their seats (Garcia was very upset about it in interviews).
    Perhaps the heavy police presence in Houston accounted for the city being added to the itinerary in Truckin' - "Houston, too close to New Orleans."

    The reviewer(s) apparently went to the next night's show in Austin as well (less than an hour away), or heard about it, but unfortunately save their story about Country Joe for another time. It would have been nice to have back-to-back Dead shows compared by the same reviewer, but at least I have another report of the Austin show, which I'll post next.

  2. McNally tells another Texas story, which may have taken place at one of the two previous shows, Fort Worth & San Antonio:
    "Texas wasn't ready for the San Francisco sound, and there was often trouble. One night Quicksilver opened, playing very well. This challenged the Dead, who responded with a fine set that was abbreviated when the police pulled the plug, a not-uncommon event in those days. Furious, Ron Polte shouted at the promoter, 'Those guys earned that fucking encore,' and found himself being tackled by a police officer. The ever-volatile Mickey Hart grabbed a mallet...[but] Garcia managed to interpose himself between [Mickey and] the officer..." (McNally p.284)

    There's a photo and eyewitness story of the Feb 21 San Antonio show (same lineup as in Houston) here:
    A setlists.net San Antonio attendee writes that the Dead closed: "The hall lights came on during Turn On Your Lovelight, presumably to encourage them to finish."
    Nothing at all is known of the Feb 20 Fort Worth show, with just Quicksilver opening.