FANS SHARE SPIRIT OF GRATEFUL DEAD
At a time when rock and pop performers are going through the motions of entertaining and departing 20 minutes later, the Grateful Dead's concert at the Mississippi River Festival last night was extraordinary.
They worked - not for a few songs - but for an evening of entertainment that lasted three hours.
Despite technical problems, the concert was a model of what an outdoor rock concert should be. The performers and the audience controlled the evening, and made it grow from a six-man performance into a cast-of-thousands orgy.
The Grateful Dead was the star at the beginning of the evening, when the group quietly played the countrified rock it does so well.
Rock and roll as a genre, a sound, a life force finished the program. The Grateful Dead was on stage, but its delivery of the frenzy the crowd demanded changed the audience from spectators to participants.
The Dead's reputation for integrity was upheld at Edwardsville last night.
The myths that surround the group led a number of ticketless young persons to believe that the Dead supported their plan to storm the gates at the start of the concert, and then donate their dollars to the Legal Defense Fund rather than to the Mississippi River Festival. They were confusing politics with music, something the Dead never does.
"We're not political at all," guitarist Bob Weir said. "We don't give free concerts for any reason or for anybody. We give them because we feel like it. It's just music for music's sake."
The Dead opposes the excessive commercialism in its industry. The group wants the audience to hear its music, whenever and wherever it can. So when the audience filled the $4.50 reserved seats area, after they had paid only for lawn seating, and blocked the tent aisles, despite frequent invocations by the fire marshals, and crowded the apron of the stage, the Dead brought on the music.
Each of the Dead takes a turn singing lead except the drummers. Each lead does a different style best.
When Jerry Garcia sings the blues, as he did with the acoustic guitars, he works his voice into a mood that is not black or white soul, but is pure blue. "Black Peter" and "High Time," from the "Workingman's Dead" album, were two long bluesy numbers that Garcia's easy vocal and sensitive guitar carried over.
Bobby Weir, in a high, simple voice, leads the country numbers. Both Bobby and Jerry handle the folk rock, and it becomes precisely what it should be - traditional tunes given vitality from complex guitar work and guts from a rock beat.
"Silver Threads and Golden Needles" suffered from the early technical problems. But "Cumberland Blues" and "Casey Jones" - "Drivin' that train, high on cocaine, Casey Jones you better watch your speed" - with a blues and folk subject, given the drive of rock and the easy humor of country music, was perfect.
The Dead's three guitars kept numbers like the bluesy "Deep Elem" moving. The rhythm guitar kept the repetitiousness of that and "Candy Man" from dragging while Garcia's inventive lead guitar broadened the songs. "Candy Man" had just the right dopey singsong from the instruments and bitter humor from the singers that it needed.
Ron McKernan sang lead on the hard rock, rhythm and blues, and San Francisco-sounding numbers. His "Good Lovin'," first of the electric numbers that the group did, made it clear that more had changed than instruments. His harmonica made pure rhythm and blues out of the old Junior Parker song that Weir did the vocal on.
One reason why the Dead's concert was so long was that it didn't stop for applause or breaks or a breath of air once it got going.
Each number flowed into the next. Garcia improvised, constructing his solos like a good jazz musician.
Occasional musical cues would lead the group into a line or two of a song, but that was only a brief landing. Most of the time it would take a song and fly.
The power of the clever improvisation grabbed the crowd and the crowd could not be held down. Ron took over the lead and the Dead gave what the kids who were dancing all over the tent and the grass wanted.
The spontaneity of the fever pitch finale was fine. It gave the crowd the freedom that the good sounds and the outdoors demanded. The Dead knew it and that's why the group finished the Concert that way.
But many groups can sing "shake it up Baby." In the wilderness of the last half hour there was the feeling that the crowd was not loving the Dead for itself. It is good that the Dead can do big, bad, raw rock. But the subtleties of its other work is what makes it superior.
(by Mimi Teichman, from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 9 July 1970)
Thanks to Dave Davis.
Alas, no tape!