Nov 8, 2017
THE JOURNEY OF THE MAGI
In the long stream of human flesh and flashy fashion that wound around corners, across alleys, past parking ramps and police vans, billboards, brick walls and banks, the consciousness of community was a remarkable event. Another remarkable event, reason enough for the religious procession, was the arrival - all on the single glorious eve of the most recent Good Friday - of the Fugs, the Velvet Underground, and the Grateful Dead. Under the streetlights, the evening, like the audience, was quiet and cool and a bit solemn.
While the audience contained a few uninitiated teeny-boppers and an occasional dollar delver (with yellowing wife), for the most part the congregation was composed of very "in" and very "with" believers. They knew Paul Krassner and his Realist, they had heard of Fuck You, A Magazine of the Arts, they were with the movement in Chicago, the march on the Pentagon, the "I have a dream" prayer, they were around, on top and inside when the Jefferson Airplane was barely taxiing and long before the Orient routes were opened to tourists. They were turned on and tuned in. Mayor Barr's establishment had sent a battalion of police to protect the sidewalks.
Paul Krassner, a hero of the Solar System Light and Power Company (producers of the tour through wonderland), was predictably more filled with words than wisdom. The audience was channeled for full frequency sound and prayed for an end to the benediction. In the memorable words of a sensible young lady, "Hey, you're fucking my head up - play some music." St. Paul went on and on about politics and rock and police and how everything was part of the existential power-puff-keg, he name-dropped Hugh Hefner's Acid-Dropping Playboy Mansion (all the bunnies you can eat) and told the TRUTH about Playboy itself (all the hair is left out). After admonitions against narcos, cops, tourists, and other atheists, the stutter of a strobe light zapped Krassner to silence and began the journey to infinity.
The Velvet Underground was more velvet than underground - smooth, soft, and sensuous. The juxtaposition of "What Goes on in Your Mind" to a "Merry Melodies" cartoon (starring Bugs, would you believe, Bunny) rearranged our brain waves in nostalgic patterns. The conservative-repetitive film-and-slide stained-glass backlighting popped the Sylvania blue-dot flashcubes of memory and we were off, conceived of Elvis Presley, suffering under Dwight Eisenhower, crucified with Buddy Holly, raised from the dead and propelled into the heaven of "I Want to Hold Your Hand."
The Velvet and the audience vibrated in perfect harmony, soothed by music loud enough to reach the inner core of being without shattering the transcendence of community. We remembered, after long neglect, the faith of our fathers - John Lennon, Tom Wolfe. Everything was gentle.
THE READING OF THE WORD
The Fugs, a conglomeration of music, the Living Theater, and Lenny Bruce, began the sacred profanity to the sound of country-and-western-hill-billy-gospel-soul-salvation rock. They warned the sinners of suburban middle age they would hear such things that would "make you puke your guts out." The guilty, cracked-voice titters of the cautious crocodiles lapsed into embarrassed silence at the sound of "Johnny Piss-Off," the tale of a right-thinking-mother-loving-Christian-pinko-hating-clean-cut-patriotic-red-blooded American Boy who beat up fags on Saturday night and fulfilled all the duties of his society. They sang, too, of Tricky Dick Nixon: ("Four Minutes to Midnight and There's a Madman at the Wheel"); they told it as it should be told.
But even as television has its signing-off time, and decadent religion its parable, the Fugs offered the rock-sock version of Sermonette, complete with hands-on-both-sides-of-the-Zenith healing, instant salvation (or double your money back), and a lifetime supply of canasta decks with the picture of Jesus Christ on each and every card (including jokers). They told, too, a parable of three men wishing to gain entrance to the heavenly city, each by a different route (alcohol, hashish, speed). Ask and it shall be given unto you.
They perused with us our high school yearbooks, with special notice for the oh-don't-you-remember poetry:
Roses are red,
They reminded us of our secret dreams of high school homecoming queens with the tender ballad "Sweet Dreams, Wet Dreams of You." They strummed our souls to oblivion. To the Fugs we salute with the lyrics of their closing number: in the bowling alley of our minds, they were the pinboys.
For the closing hymns of any service, particularly after a slingers-in-the-land-of-the-obscene-word sermon, anti-climax is the fear, summation the hope, neglect the inevitability. To the Grateful Dead, whose instrumental ecstasy surpassed the unsurpassable, we pay gratitude for our own final transportation beyond the bounds of sounds.
In time to come, we may all look back on this rebirth of wonder. Now we are returned, like the Magi, to our places in the old, unchanged Kingdom where we are less at ease with the old dispensation, with an alien people clutching their gods. For a moment, however brief, we felt damned fine and infinitely near to living.
(by F.D. Williams, from the Pittsburgh Point, 13 February 1969)
* * *
FLASH IN THE GREAT ROCK WASTELAND
I am usually not one to marvel at the Solar System's suborbital light shows, but the Friday evening, Stanley Theater scene was the best musical flash I've had since falling into Pittsburgh. For once someone in our great Rock wasteland has had enough reverence for both the musicians and the audience to put together a concert with an almost perfect sound system and a collection of first-rate acts. To lay out a really good Rock concert is an almost Sisyphean task. There are so many variables to be considered in structuring that perfect musical environment. But the Friday show came close to satisfying even the most fastidious of Rock enthusiasts.
Of course the making of the concert was the tight performance of three great Rock groups - the Velvet Underground, the Fugs, and the Grateful Dead. Such a collection of freaks could hardly lead anywhere but up. The Velvet Underground (preceded by Paul Krassner, who got a lot of snickers but really wasn't necessary) opened up the festivities with "Heroin," one of their religious songs. The power of the Velvet Underground has its source in the train-like rhythms of Maureen Tucker, their curly red-haired drummer. Hunched over her drums, flailing the skins like some madwoman, she was quite an impressive sight. Tucker is not a very good drummer by any means, but her primitive, nerve-throb style and her seemingly endless fount of energy make her ideal for the Underground.
I was so fascinated by Tucker's movements as she tortured her drums that I only got around to noticing Lou Reed towards the middle of the lengthy "Sister Ray." The whole time Maureen Tucker was smashing away at the skins, Reed just floated aloof through everything. He only seemed to come around to what was happening when he got into "Sister Ray" with all its sexual narcotic imagery ("She's just suckin' on my ding dong / I'm searchin' for my mainline"). If it's necessary to pick the best group of the evening, then my choice is the Velvet Underground.
The Fugs followed the Underground with their by now notorious sexual theatrics. The nefarious Ken Weaver, dressed as some demented Canadian trapper, had his solo performance as a horny rabbi. Ed Sanders in his collegiate drag told us of his high school memories and his amorous adventures with the vicious Lesbian dwarfs. And of course the body-beautiful Tuli Kupferberg showed his collection of "numies" in various insane disguises. The whole Fugs act is more visual than musical; they are showmen before they are musicians. I was afraid that in coming to Pittsburgh, the Fugs would think it necessary to tone down a bit, but once caught up in their own crotch Rock fantasies their act reached its usual depth of perversion. The highlight of their performance was "Johnny Pissoff Meets the Red Angel," a song about a young rightist radical who gets his rocks off by beating up peace queers and pulling legs off frogs. Such is the height of the Fugs humor and with all their visual shock treatments they put on a creepy show.
Appearing last on the agenda were the Grateful Dead who were supposed to be the stars of the evening. The Dead are into a really strange musical style to which it is difficult to relate and which for the most part is prone to audience fatigue. Their act is built up on one theme which they expand by slipping in and out of various songs throughout the piece. To do something like this and not lose the audience demands perfect timing and a wide variety of style, both of which the Dead seemed to lack that night. There were many parts of their act where I found myself wishing they would go on to something else. To prevent my becoming a victim of musical exhaustion, I began to pick out individual artists and dissect everything they were doing. One thing for certain - the Grateful Dead are incredible musicians. I must have spent 20 minutes alone just following guitarist Phil Lesh as he cradled and stroked his instrument. But someday the Dead should be made to listen to themselves as an audience has to, for in the end I found their act too taxing and much too loud.
The Solar System's light show was adequate, but too often it had nothing to do with the music. A light show must accent the music to be really effective. This usually means that at some rehearsal both the technicians and the musicians have to get together and decide what fits and what doesn't. On Friday it seemed that the equipment operators were not familiar with the acts. The visual effects selected for the Velvet Underground were just not in tune with the music. When that happens you have two shows going on at once, and which one is the audience supposed to follow? Briefly toward the end of the concert, the technicians got hip and backed up the Dead with some oil shots which fit nicely with what the act was doing. But the groups more than made up for any defects in the light show and so the Solar System should be thanked for providing a good time for all.
(by Joe Anderson, from the Pittsburgh Point, 13 February 1969)
Nov 5, 2017
Rock music, as distinct from its ancestor rock and roll, is now old enough to have its agreed-upon founding fathers. The Grateful Dead, who appeared in an eagerly-awaited concert at the Guthrie Sunday, is definitely one of those groups.
Along with bands like Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and others, the Dead built the San Francisco Sound of the mid-1960's. They have travelled far since then, and their styles have changed, but they have usually managed to keep some of the free spirit of that time in their music. They had it to give here, too, but in a fairly mellow and relaxed version. Unfortunately, the audience seemed to want something more.
The Dead spent plenty of time setting up, but they kept talking to the folks in the house, so things were cool.
Their first number, "Casey Jones," promised a good concert, and for the most part, we got one.
Their distinctive use of two drummers (Bill Kreutzman and Mickey Hart), combined with the strong but eloquent electric bass of Phil Lesh gives them power in reserve and allows guitarists Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir the freedom to improvise, a privilege which they rarely carry to excess. In spite of being just a little too loud for the theater, the concert was soothing in its warm self-assurance.
They did a balanced show of original Dead songs, old folk songs like "Me and My Uncle" and "Walk Me Out in the Mornin' Dew," country tunes like "Mama Tried" and "Cumberland Blues," and even some older hard-rock hits like "Good Love." All of them were performed with the usual strength and aplomb of the Dead, but for some reason I did not quite apprehend, their keyboard man, Pigpen, was playing an organ (it appeared, though the program identified it as a piano) which could not be heard. This seemed to be a more serious sound problem than the other minor hassles such as occasional feedback; his playing was really missed. His vocal mike was also dead at one point, but he seemed to take the whole thing with good grace, even tipping his hat to the sound-mixer when the mike went on again.
The audience was not quite so well-mannered, for after a full two hours of music, they nearly refused to leave the auditorium to the second-show audience without an encore. They did not get it, and they sludged out with many childish and rude words flung at the stage.
I suppose they thought that giving a standing ovation to "Good Love," the last piece, brought the Dead under obligation to play again. It should not have, as they were probably wise to quit at that point; it was the only time they really got it on with everything cookin', and it tired them out. They looked a little tired when they first came on stage, and they probably were played out for the moment.
Perhaps they should not accept (and Walker should not offer) bookings for shows so long and yet close together that the performers must conserve energy to make it through. But that seems to be the only way we can all get a chance to see them - both shows were sold out well in advance. If our gluttony for entertainment necessitates water in the stew, we shouldn't complain when the cook says "No more left."
(by Scott Bartell, from the Minneapolis Tribune, 19 October 1970)
* * *
GRATEFUL DEAD LIVE UP TO THEIR REPUTATION
The Grateful Dead, the original psychedelic madmen, played at the Guthrie Theater Sunday night and practically tore the place apart with their patented mixture of rhythm and blues, screaming hard rock and modern country and western.
The Dead was one of the original groups in what was commonly known as the "San Francisco Sound" back in 1966-67. They have matured tremendously since then and the interplay between the six musicians is a joy to see and hear.
The group consists of two guitarists, two drummers, a bassist, and occasional vocalist-organist, Pigpen. They opened the concert with "Casey Jones," a song from their latest and best album. Lead guitarist Jerry Garcia sang the lead in his high sweet voice and received fine vocal support from second guitarist Bob Weir.
Garcia is the person who always comes to mind when the Dead is mentioned, but that is somewhat of a misconception. Both Weir and bassist Phil Lesh seem to shape the direction of the music as much as Garcia does, and when Pigpen takes over the singing for one of his R&B specials like "Good Lovin'" he makes them sound like an entirely different band.
Weir seems to handle the more country-oriented material and his clear, full-bodied baritone more than did justice to Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried," and John Phillip's "Me and My Uncle." He is also an excellent rhythm guitarist, but playing in the shadow of Garcia he tends to be overlooked.
The Dead are famous for their ability to play extended improvisations and they lived up to their fame last night with beautiful jams on "Morning Dew" and "Good Lovin'."
Lesh is one of the finest bassists in rock. He is so fast that at times he seems to be playing lead guitar and yet he never lets his virtuosity obscure the music of the others.
Garcia, of course, is one of the best lead players in the world. He can do almost anything with guitar, from blazing blues runs to slick country picking.
The group's two drummers, Bill Kreutzman and Mickey Hart, are first-rate musicians. I am usually bored stiff by drum solos, but they played an entertaining and inventive duet that was by far the best I've ever heard.
Most of the material they played was familiar from past albums, but they did do one new song and it was an absolute knockout country number, with some beautifully tight three-part harmony singing by Garcia, Weir and Lesh.
The only disappointment of the evening was the fact that they didn't do any acoustic numbers with Garcia playing his pedal steel guitar.
But why quibble? It was still one of the finest nights of music Minneapolis has heard in quite awhile. Good ol' Grateful Dead: they never let you down.
(by Jim Gillespie, from the Minneapolis Star, 19 October 1970)
Thanks to Dave Davis.
Alas, no tape!
Nov 3, 2017
In a sort of premature fourth anniversary celebration, the Grateful Dead recreated some of the atmosphere of the San Francisco Trips Festival of January 21-23, 1966 at the Boston Tea Party last week.
The Trips Festival was the begetter of all the "mixed media" dance halls which dot the country today. Without the Trips Festival, there might never have been a Boston Tea Party.
What happened at the historic Trips Festival? Well, such previously "underground" phenomena as lights shows, acid heads and the Grateful Dead came above board for the whole world to see.
The best-attended and most important event of the Trips Festival was the climactic "Acid Test" - an entertainment which, it was advertised, would simulate the LSD experience without LSD. Hundreds of youth cult members showed up for the Acid Test. The Grateful Dead and Big Brother and the Holding Company supplied the rock. The inside of San Francisco's Longshoreman's Hall erupted with sweeping, dazzling lights. The model for the Tea Party was born.
(Everything to be seen at the Tea Party on New Year's Eve was a direct descendant of the Acid Test. The wall behind the band was bursting with gaseous, exploding galaxies, vibrant suns, flickering dots and spastic paramecia; every facet of the curving walls was covered with projections of comic strips, nudes, old etchings, portraits of the marijuana weed and photos of Boston; two movie projectors showed sporadic clips of Looney Toons, Spencer Tracy's "Boy's Town," and Olivier's "Othello." And, of course, the Dead were there.)
But the Acid Test differed from the Tea Party show in a couple of important ways. First of all, most of the Acid Test customers showed up stoned out of their minds on acid. Secondly, the Acid Test was one of the first great surges of youthful togetherness; it was the opening of a frontier and it seemed to have infinite possibilities.
Jerry Garcia, the Dead's beatifically cheerful leader, once described the Acid Test experience: "Thousands of people, man, all helplessly stoned, all finding themselves in a roomful of other thousands of people, none of whom any of them were afraid of. It was magic, far out, beautiful magic."
But the Acid Tests, which fostered the group consciousness of the Haight-Ashbury, soon became an institution and began to lose their ecstatic energy.
Garcia once summed up the whole process of atrophy: "The Acid Tests have come down to playing in a hall and having a light show. You sit down and watch and of course the lights are behind the band so you can see the band AND the lights. It's watching television, loud, large television. That form, so rigid, started as a misapprehension anyway. Like Bill Graham, he was at the Trips Festival, and all he saw was a light show and a band. Take the two and you got a formula. It is stuck, man, hasn't blown a mind in years. It was a sensitive trip and it's been lost."
Within two weeks after the Trips Festival, rock impresario Bill Graham had turned the Acid Test formula into Fillmore West. The Haight-Ashbury flourished for a while as an open neighborhood of love and cooperation. But then the tourist hippies, who wore the clothes and took the drugs but didn't appreciate the spirit of the community, began to crowd out the true believers like the Grateful Dead.
Naturally the Dead share a deep nostalgia for those halcyon days back at the Haight.
In fact, the seven Dead, the oldest of whom is 29, sometimes reminisce like octogenarians.
"It was really a good life," said Bill Kreutzmann, one of the group's two drummers, as he spread out on a bench after the Dead's first set on New Year's Eve. "Hangin' out with boss people, going around seeing different light shows, different arts that people were creating, different musicians, all kinds of stuff. We worked and rehearsed as frequently as possible - at the Straight Theatre in the Haight and at the Fillmore. Those were great days for me, although they seem as though they were a long way away."
On the other side of the room, Phil Lesh (bassist) and Bob Weir (rhythm guitarist) were recalling their New Year's Eve four years ago. The Dead had been driving up to Oregon in Ken Kesey's magic bus. (Half golden boy, half guru, Kesey had formed a group called the Merry Pranksters who made a famous consciousness expanding tour of the U.S. in a garishly painted bus.) The bus had broken down halfway up to Oregon and the whole group had been forced to pile into a U-haul. Neal Cassady, the legendary beat raconteur, had talked a blue streak.
"Was he great?" asked an awed Easterner.
"Are you kidding?" answered Lesh. "He was the greatest."
Despite the look of Paradise Lost that the group carries about with them, their music provides a link to past social glories. And their music is, if anything, better than ever. Their songs average twenty minutes and sometimes go on for up to forty. Despite the wall of feedback and volume which their music throws up, it can be hypnotic; it draws the audience in with constantly repeated phrases. Garcia, bobbing from the waist like a joke-store duck perpetually dipping its beak in a glass of water, spins out lovely melodic fragments over and over. The rest of the band take the path he points to.
The Dead's sound is a kaleidoscope of its members' styles. At one end of the spectrum is Tom Constanten, former student of Stockhausen and Boulez, who used to specialize in Debussy and now plays organ for the Dead. He maintains that in some ways rock is more taxing than classical. "There's no room for fooling around in rock," he said. "I've heard Sviatoslav Richter run all over the place in the course of a concerto. In a rock band you can't take those freedoms. The rhythms have to be incredibly close."
On the other end of the spectrum is Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, veteran of Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions. In the midst of the Dead's complexity, he still plays jugband-like tambourine and congas.
It was the Dead's music that gave much panache to the New Year's Eve celebration at the Tea Party, and gave us Easterners a little taste of what the Trips Festival must have been like.
And the Grateful Dead, with a bit of swagger, seem to see themselves as guardians of the good old days. In 1968, they tried to bring back some of the original excitement of the Acid Tests by leasing the Carousel Ballroom in San Francisco and running it according to their own psychedelic lights. The Airplane were in on the operation too. It proved a disaster.
With the exception of Constanten, the Dead have now abandoned the city and live scattered about Marin Country. They often get together in each other's country homes and jam with other groups. Which other groups? "Man, we jam with EVERYBODY," said Garcia, declining to get specific.
A Hollywood director wants to make a commedia dell'arte Western with them. On New Year's Eve, the group stood in a circle and formally debated the offer. Finally, Garcia the leader said "Forget that. I wanna go home and make a record next month."
You can expect a new Grateful Dead album soon.
(by Timothy Crouse, from the Boston Herald Traveler, 11 January 1970)
Thanks to Dave Davis.
'GRATEFUL DEAD' RESURRECT DANCING AT TEA PARTY
A week ago last Thursday, the Grateful Dead, who last night opened a three-night stand at the Tea Party, sat down to a normal day's work at their digs in San Francisco.
They had just received a screenplay that demanded immediate theme music. Bob Hunter, the group's lyricist, flipped through the script and jotted down some lyrics. Jerry Garcia, the Dead's leader, glanced down at the lines and began to improvise a few chords on his guitar. The five other Dead joined in.
By the time they stopped playing, the group had composed a powerful number, based on a beefy chord progression, called "The Mason Song." The movie company decided the song didn't suit them, but last night The Dead used it to bring their first set to a crashing finish.
Which goes to show that things move fast and loose in the rock world, a world in which the Grateful Dead have been prime movers. Riding the crest of the San Francisco love wave in 1966, they inaugurated the custom of giving free concerts and provided the music for Ken Keysey's first Acid Test. They became legendary for their flair at combining rock professionalism with exemplary communal living.
They play unfrilly, straightforward body music. If their vocals are feeble and fuzzy, their arrangements are hefty and inventive - particularly when the three guitars work together. Bob Weir plays one of the most prominent and satisfying rhythm guitars in rock.
Last night they opened with an old Everly Brothers song, "Mama Tried," and proceeded through a number of Garcia's new songs, including a full-chested blues and a wonderful, bouncy instrumental. For the first time in weeks, people danced at the Tea Party.
One blessing about this bill at the Tea Party: no warm up acts. No wear and tear straining to pick a few nice riffs out of somebody's half-baked repertoire.
On New Year's Eve, the Dead will join forces with Cambridge's Proposition to bring in the New Year. They promise to kick off the decade in a properly jubilant style.
(by Timothy Crouse, from the Boston Herald Traveler, 30 December 1969)