Oct 5, 2017

February 4, 1969: Music Box, Omaha


In tones sometimes strident and often satiric, and nearly always driven with fantastic force, The Grateful Dead entertained an estimated eight hundred persons Tuesday night at the Music Box.
The "acid rock" performance was sponsored by KOWH-FM which hopes to bring in other groups, said Tom Rambler, program and music director.
The Tuesday night performance by the seven-member Grateful Dead from San Francisco was "theater" rather than "concert" - with the audience giving as much as it took, adding to the evening's drama.
Some youths sat on the ballroom floor.
Others ringed the balcony, their feet - sometimes bare but more often wrapped in boots - dangling over the edge.
Men in the audience wore everything from Edwardian jackets to Army surplus field jackets. Many had hats - mostly black and frequently western. The women came in everything from capes to lounging pajamas to the simplest of skirts and blouses with thigh-high boots.
A haze of smoke from cigarettes and sticks of incense hung over the performers and audience.
About the only lighting came from a few dim bulbs around the floor's edge and brightly lighted, multi-colored panels behind the stage.
The Grateful Dead was preceded on stage by a group from St. Louis called the Unknown. 
The Unknown completed its session with a long farewell number begun by having the audience chant "peace, love and freedom."
Then came the highly amplified Grateful Dead: Jerry Garcia, lead guitar; Phil Lesh, bass guitar; Bob Weir, rhythm guitar; "Pigpen" McKernan, vocals; Micky Hart and Bill Kreutzman, drums; and Tom  Constanten, organ.
After one or two numbers broken by brief pauses and appeals for water or soft drinks to quench their thirst, The Grateful Dead lunged forward into an "unending" series of complex renditions that went from the blues to even a brief flirtation with Latin rhythms and lasted at least 30 minutes without pause.

(by Gerald Wade, from the Omaha World-Herald, 5 February 1969)  


* * *


After a year of being out of the picture, the rock group that started it all, the Grateful Dead, is back on concert tour. Three weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing them in Omaha in an evening concert which was unlike anything ever witnessed in Lincoln.
The concert was held at the Music Box, the one time posh dance hall of Omaha's elite. The audience spaced out on the floor in an atmosphere of subdued lights and the fragrance of incense...and they waited, and waited.
Five musicians from St. Louis, the Unknown, started the music at 8:15 and layed a variety of old and new hard rock. They brought the house down with a song called "Don't trust your woman with your grass," a highly country and western-flavored number.
After a brief intermission, the nine musicians came on stage and began sorting out the mass of equipment, each choosing his favorite instrument, and began to tune. To the beat of two complete sets of drums as well as an organ, three guitars and assorted percussion effects, they began their first epic piece of music.
Approximately three songs and some 30 minutes later they broke into a rendition of "Turn on your love light," and invited everyone in the group to "get up on your feet." It didn't take long for a large circle of dancers to form and start expanding through the crowd, absorbing new members as it grew. This wild group then began to snake through itself in a backbreaking routine that kept everyone jumping, all to the strains of music.
Nothing more welcome than an intermission which allowed everyone to relax before the band played on well into the night.
Since that night the air has been filled with rumors about the next concert, when and where. The where is easy, it will be at the Music Box again. When? Next month...and who? The official word now has it that it will be the Vanilla Fudge, or most likely, The Rotary Connection.
The Rotary Connection broke it up at Christmas with an album of Christmas carols which told it like it was, rock and all. Their second album, Aladdin, has been billed as the first space operetta ever recorded. Their record sales are jumping and, accordingly, they are in great demand.
Watch this column for the exact time and place, and how much bread you should set aside in preparation and anticipation of a big night of rock in Omaha.

(by J.L. Schmidt, from the Daily Nebraskan, Lincoln, 27 February 1969)


* * * 

The World-Herald also ran a short review of Live-Dead at the end of the year:


Many performers seem to freeze when they get near a recording microphone and aren't able to create the quality music for which they are known.
The records of the Grateful Dead, one of the best known of San Francisco's rock groups, are a case in point. Seldom do the group's albums convey force and purpose.
Most of the combo's best recorded moments have come in live performances, so the Dead's new, two-record album "Live-Dead" (Warner Bros. - Seven Arts 1830) is among its best. However, the music still lacks the immediacy one comes to expect.

Thanks to Dave Davis.


  1. This was reviewed by an older mainstream reporter, as evidenced by his close attention to the clothes of the audience and the shady atmosphere. Clearly "acid rock" wasn't his main beat; he's mainly struck by how loud, strident and forceful the Dead are, and says it was more theater than concert. (He doesn't quite describe how the audience "joined the act" and "added to the evening's drama," unless it was just by their appearance.)
    He does note that after the first couple numbers (Schoolgirl & Dew), the Dead "lunged forward into an unending series of complex renditions," the Dark Star suite, from which he could make out some blues (Death Don't) and some Latin rhythms (probably the Eleven). When the "unending" music "lasted at least 30 minutes without pause," I'd guess that it wore him out and he left early to write his review (unless it was cut short for the paper), since he doesn't mention that they played yet another half-hour suite after that!
    He's a careful reviewer, though - though it's evident he didn't much like them, he actually doesn't say anything negative - he's reporting, rather than judging.

    Deadlists says the opening group was the Liberation Blues Band (a Nebraska band), but this review says otherwise. The Unknown are, well, unknown to me; but my guess is the LBB actually opened for the Dead on their return to the Music Box on 4/15/69.

    The Live/Dead review isn't really notable (or enthusiastic), just saying that the Dead are better live than on their records, so the live album is an improvement but still "lacks immediacy."

  2. I found another review to add! From the Daily Nebraskan, the University of Nebraska student paper.
    It's a massive difference - this time from a young reviewer who enjoyed the atmosphere at the Music Box, appreciated the "spaced out" audience, subdued lights & incense, and couldn't wait for the next show there.
    He calls the Dead "the rock group that started it all" - I'm a little puzzled by his saying there were nine musicians (newspaper error?), or that they were "back on tour" after being "out of the picture" for a year, but those are small points.

    What's really exciting is that he shows there's a massive cut in the tape - he says after three numbers (about 30 minutes), they played a Lovelight that got the crowd dancing, then took an intermission before a long second set.
    Our tape cuts off with Death Don't Have No Mercy, picking up with the Other one suite. Lovelight must have followed Death, and the Other One presumably started the second set.
    He misjudges the time - Lovelight would have come over an hour into the set, after a lot more than three numbers - but there's no way he could mistake the song, or its effect on the audience. This is a nice description of how the Dead got the crowd on their feet - and it explains why Lovelight kept getting longer through the year. (Circle dances can't be appreciated on tape.)

    The same writer also did a review of the Dead's 4/15/69 return to the Music Box, which I'll post next.