JEFFERSON AIRPLANE/GRATEFUL DEAD
The Carousel, San Francisco
The cream of San Francisco rock - the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead - got together here for the first time in many months. Following a three-month Pacific Northwest tour, the Dead and the Airplane had returned as partners to open their own ballroom, the Carousel, in competition with Bill Graham's Fillmore Auditorium and Chet Helms' Avalon Ballroom.
The Dead had not played for either Graham or Helms in nearly a year, because they opposed the way most dance-concerts are conducted.
Both bands did two sets, each lasting more than an hour. Though the Airplane has by far the biggest national reputation, the Dead proved to be the stronger musicians.
Balin, in the group's early days, nearly carried the Airplane on the strength of his powerful vocals. And though the repertoire now is structured around the exceptionally versatile voice of Miss Slick, there are signs that this approach is wearing a bit thin.
Solos are longer than ever before, limiting the role of the lyrics, but the quality of playing has improved markedly. Casady is one of the finest bass players in rock - perhaps the finest - and his solos will surely wake up other groups to the fact that the bass can be more than just decoration for the lead guitar.
On one song, Casady played acoustic guitar and Balin played bass, an indication that the group is going in for more versatility.
But it was the Dead's second set that made the evening particularly important. It was one of the best sets the group has ever done in this city, and the light show, by underground filmmaker Ben Van Meter, caught the rhythm perfectly, turning the event into a total sensory experience.
In the first set, the Dead had indicated it was into something quite different from what it was doing even six months ago. At that time it was, like the Airplane, still dependent on lyrics as the basic ingredients of its songs.
Now it is the music that is important. It's more jazz than rock and aims at a peak experience instead of just a good time. On one song, McKernan, who also does fine vocals on Junior Wells' Good Mornin', Little Schoolgirl, launched into a kind of formless Joycean chant. As another forceful sound, it complemented the instruments.
The Dead has added a second drummer, Micky Hart, son of drummer Roy Hart, and new worlds of dynamics have opened up. Hart joined several months ago in New York. Sommers still seems to carry the weight in the drum solos, but Hart has excellent control.
Garcia is one of the unacknowledged greats of the rock guitar. He can make it sound like a horn and always plays as if entranced, his shaggy head wagging, his fingers fretting and picking as if they had a life of their own.
The set ended with fireworks and smoke-bombs that, in the hands of most groups, usually come off as a cheap gimmick. Not this time. Solos had built crescendo upon crescendo like layers in a foundation; each note had been wrung of the last drop of emotion. Something had to explode, and it did - literally. There followed a brief and incongruous bidding of goodnight, sung by the whole group in choir-boy fashion.
The Dead again proved that it is probably the tightest band in rock, despite the fact that there is now more improvising in its playing than ever before.
(by Geoffrey Link, from Down Beat, 27 June 1968)
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A GREAT WEEKEND AT THE CAROUSEL
Promoters traditionally have labored to avoid putting on a last-minute, hurry-up event wherein they had only a few days in which to inform the public. History says you have to have a really hot attraction to get away with this.
Another cardinal rule is not to confuse your audience with contradictory or ambiguous statements.
Both these rules were violated last month by the new series of dances at the Carousel Ballroom. The announcement of the first weekend dance was not made until Wednesday, and there was considerable confusion about prices and attractions for the Sunday night show.
Nevertheless, the hall was packed on Friday and Saturday (last night's advance was good, too) and it is a tribute to the strength of the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead that this is so.
The new series also had another asset. The Carousel is by far the best hall in San Francisco for rock groups in almost every imaginable way.
The appearance of the Airplane and the Dead ran directly into the U.S. debut of the new British group, Traffic, which flew from London to open this weekend at the Fillmore-Winterland fresh from the publicity of its first album and the underground reputation generated by the British LP. In addition the Avalon had a unique bill with veteran blues singer Son House, jazzman John Handy, and the new Blood, Sweat & Tears group.
So the Airplane and the Dead's success at the Carousel is doubly impressive. Next weekend Chuck Berry appears there along with the Grateful Dead.
Traffic, which is led by and features Stevie Winwood, formerly with Spencer Davis, is one of those British three-man groups and it has had an extraordinary advance press campaign. In some ways this is too bad because the group really is not that overwhelming in its impact. Winwood is a fine singer and a good musician (best at the organ for my taste) and Chris Wood, who doubles on flute and tenor and bass, is also a gifted instrumentalist and a flute player of sensitivity and great lyric strength. The drummer, Jim Capaldi, swings, plays interesting things, and is steady as a rock. So this is a good group and after it claws its way through the myths and symbols of the rock world, it ought to be a highly successful one.
It's just that the band is not overwhelming in the context of San Francisco and a weekend with the Airplane, the Dead, and Blood, Sweat & Tears. The Cream was. I found them one of the very best of all rock bands and a combination of extraordinary musicianship, good voices, and outstanding songs.
The Carousel now has the bandstand facing the cafeteria section. There is good sound everywhere, ample space to sit and listen, and room to dance. Ben Van Meter's North American Ibis Alchemical Co. light show was interesting and effective, and the two bands played magnificently. There is no question but what these two groups inspire one another and to hear their lead guitarists - Jerry Garcia and Jorma Kaukonen - play on the same evening is pure pleasure.
[ . . . ]
(by Ralph Gleason, from the "On the Town" column, San Francisco Chronicle, 18 March 1968)
Thanks to jgmf.blogspot.com