Aug 4, 2018

November 10-11, 1967: Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles


Something groovy happened in L.A. last weekend, and most people were not ready for it. Remember the Freak-outs the Mothers staged in the Shrine early last year? They're back - almost.
A group of promoters called Pinnacle rented the Shrine Friday and Saturday, signed the Buffalo Springfield, the Grateful Dead, and a new S.F. rock trio, Blue Cheer.
Everything was just right: no age minimum, dancing legal, the best sound system I've heard in L.A., plenty of room, and top rock groups.
However, the spirit of the people was missing,. They weren't turned on. At the Freak-outs, there were beautiful people in groovy costumes (at least half), almost everyone danced, or rather Freaked Freely. Here, though, inhibition abounded. Very few danced, almost no one really got into it. People played concert and sat down and listened. So many came in straight clothes, it looked like a vast sea of narks. $3.50 a head and how many really enjoyed it?
The music was truly exceptional - Blue Cheer blew my mind and almost blew my ears. Three guys, a bass, lead, and drums use eight amp-speaker systems producing more volume than any other group, anytime, anywhere. However, I fear they overdid it and were too loud for the auditorium. But next time they play I hope they reduce volume at least to the pain level. As I write this the next day my ears still ring. This group has an album in the works and it should be groovy.
The Grateful Dead were next to play, and here was the mistake Pinnacle made in programming: The Dead are a heavy blues-rock group, not a freak-out group, and they were out of their element. Despite this, they put on a commendable performance.
Next was the Buffalo Springfield, one of L.A.'s best rock groups. Every song a mind-blower, doing all their single hits including their first record "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing." This song was not much of a hit, but is very heavy in lyrical content and generally a very groovy piece of music. How about a re-release for this song, guys? It deserves another chance.
The Springfield's finale was "Bluebird" - thirty minutes worth! It just went on and on and on; every second a more fantastic trip than the previous! The people that dug what this group was into were enraptured. Wow. The Buffalo Springfield is one group whose albums don't do them justice. But then, how could one possibly put thirty minutes of incredibility on one side of an album?
Pinnacle plans more of these in December and I think it's just what L.A. needs to really turn it on. When the show comes again next month, let's really make a freakout of it, in the fine olde tradition.

(by Mike Pearce, from the Los Angeles Free Press, 17 November 1967)

See also:

11/10/67 now released!  


  1. An interesting review - Pearce notices something that was much remarked on later, the transition in audiences from dancing to sitting. He says a year ago, everyone danced at shows ("or rather freaked freely"), but now they just sit and listen, which he finds inhibiting. (The Dead themselves weren't too thrilled about it either.) More amusingly, he remarks, "So many came in straight clothes, it looked like a vast sea of narks." Although that might indicate that back in '66, it was mostly the "freaks" and "beautiful people in groovy costumes" coming to see the Mothers, whereas now it's more of the general population of kids coming to see, say, Buffalo Springfield.

    He liked Blue Cheer more than the Dead - Blue Cheer "blew my mind," but the Dead were out of place and just "commendable." Far be it from me to say he was mistaking volume for quality, but it's striking that he takes the Dead to be "a heavy blues-rock group, not a freak-out group." He was right about the blues-rock, with a large part of the Dead's setlists still blues-based, but it's odd that he could watch a half-hour Caution and figure it wasn't a freak-out.

    Like the LA Times reviewer, he found Buffalo Springfield to be the best of the bands, "the stars of the evening" - the other reviewer said, "They seem to be able to do anything...[they] made the psychedelic efforts of the Cheer and the Dead sound amateurish." Descriptions of the long live 'Bluebird' make it a shame the Springfield weren't being professionally recorded. But the dilemma here is identical to what the Dead also faced on vinyl albums - "[their] albums don't do them justice, but then, how could one possibly put thirty minutes of incredibility on one side of an album?"

    A couple live Bluebirds from 1968: (22 minutes)

    1. Another Free Press article had some more detail on Buffalo Springfield's set:
      "The Buffalo Springfield turned their backs on a concert audience at Shrine Exposition Hall a couple of weeks ago and played 30 minutes of pure abstract sound - variations on one note, with electronic embellishments. This backs-to-the-audience gesture is symbolic, of course, used first by early proponents of progressive jazz. They were saying then, as the young rock musicians are saying now, that it's the music, not the performer, that is important."
      (Gene Youngblood, "Sound Trip Is Rock and Real," LA Free Press, 11/24/67, p.12)

  2. The 4/5/68 LA Free Press had an article on the Shrine, contrasting it to the over-hyped, plastic Kaleidoscope, worth quoting:
    "We all dug the Fillmore. It was big and drafty and funky and you could sit on the floor stoned and look and listen. It was chic to sit on the floor...this was the New Music and it was for LISTENING.
    But the code was Do Your Thing and you danced if you wanted and no one put you down for it. That was the Fillmore; that was the scene. It wasn't polished. It wasn't plastic. It was very freaky. And some of our most beautiful nights were spent there. It was anti-hype. It was anti-Whiskey-A-Go-Go...
    I want to ask a serious question of everyone who's been to the Fillmore, Cheetah, Kaleidoscope, and Pinnacle's concerts at the Shrine: where did you feel most relaxed, least put-on, and most satisfied with the environment and music?
    The answer must be the Pinnacle if you apply any of the alleged standards of the New Music and the New Society...
    Pinnacle [is] an environmental experience far more impressive than any I've experienced. Shrine Exposition Hall dwarfs virtually every other rock auditorium in the country. I'll never forget the spatial experience of just being inside that place, feeling small and anonymous and totally immersed in an environment of light and shadow and space as massive and unearthly as Bald Mountain itself...
    Pinnacle's environment is more total (that is, more varied) than Kaleidoscope's, simply because there are more things in its environment to groove on...
    Kaleidoscope is small enough that, no matter where you are in the auditorium, the sound and the lights are the same. There is nothing to do but sit there and let it happen to you. And sit you must, because when it's crowded there's no room to dance.
    Not so at Shrine Exposition Hall. You can walk around for half an hour and not cover the entire square footage of the place. You can stand at the far end of the auditorium and gasp at the size of the screen, while at the same time feeling glad there is something other than screen to look at if you wish.
    There's plenty of room to dance - so much, in fact, that you feel as though you're alone on one of those endless chessboards of "Through the Looking Glass." Or you can wade into the sea of motionless bodies near the gargantuan portable stage. There's something epic, almost religious, about having to raise your head up to see the musicians and the towering light show.
    Or you can climb steep, scary stairs - shot through with staccato flashes of strobeburst - to the balcony and watch a fantastic filigree of light playing across the massive canopied ceiling.
    I'll never forget looking down from the balcony onto a sea of 5000 heads (pun inescapable) one night as Gracie Slick cried "Feed your head! Feed your head!" and the mob surged ecstatically in the echoing cavernous chambers of the monster cathedral of sound and sight.
    If you're stoned you can go on a walking trip that will take you through caves of dark and light, and out into open spaces so big and freaky you'll shiver.
    Shrine Expo is, I would say, at least three times as large as Kaleidoscope or Cheetah. It is truly a sensory-kinetic gymnasium. It's so big you forget you're in a building; it's teleportation to another world...
    Every time I attend a Pinnacle concert I remember the first time I walked into the Fillmore: it's that same glorious feeling of freedom and revolution, of being completely alone yet completely together with everyone. The feeling of a society turned inward on itself."
    The light show and the selection of great bands is also praised: "Pinnacle has not presented one group that wasn't truly worth hearing."

    1. Pinnacle is praised for presenting worthwhile groups rather than the hyped-up, soon-forgotten pop hits of the moment. All this is ostensibly the introduction to a brief review of a Quicksilver/Traffic show: "It takes courage to put the kind of money into a show that Pinnacle put into the Traffic show last weekend... They knew they were likely to lose money on Traffic, but they also knew Traffic is a good group... As it turned out, Pinnacle did lose money on the Traffic concert, but they gained something else in the process: they gained the admiration and respect of anyone in the audience who could recognize great music and a rare opportunity when it was upon them."
      He found Quicksilver "fantastic" and Traffic "impressive."
      ("Pinnacle: Far More Impressive," Gene Youngblood, LA Free Press 4/5/68, p.39-40)

  3. Of related interest, the LA Free Press also ran a Buffalo Springfield show review in the 5/10/68 issue:
    "I went down to Long Beach to preside at the farewell concert of the Buffalo Springfield. In my opinion, when the Buffalo was good there was no group performing in America today that could touch them. The best musicians in pop, some of the best songs, vocal sophistication and harmonies that no other group except the early Airplane (pre Balin/Slick contests) and the Byrds could match in both dramatic reading of a lyric and intensity of feeling they brought to that lyric. They were on, for this, their farewell appearance...
    [After good opening sets by Canned Heat & Country Joe, Buffalo Springfield are announced:] A roar of "wowee" from the audience, a surge for the stage, the show is stopped and the kids are told to sit down or Buffalo Springfield will not perform, and Steve Stills, beet red, a study in fury, says in effect "fuck you" to the cop making the announcement. The kids return to their seats, for the moment subdued.
    "This is it," says Neil. When his guitar goes out of tune, shattering the opening harmony of 'Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing,' the group - for the first time in my memory - copes with it, makes faces, and digs one another's problems. They are having a good time, are as good as they were at the Kaleidoscope benefit (where they were superb). The audience is beginning to stand in the aisles and clap rhythm to the songs. 'Something's Happening Here' becomes an anthem as many in the audience sing along. One has forgotten how good the song is.
    Through all the album cuts until the final song, 'Bluebird,' which becomes an extended raga, then a bolero - the audience is too excited to stay where they are, they sense the end of the Buffalo Springfield is an end to a part of what they grew up with. An emotional, hands over head, clapping in rhythm throng gathers at the front of the stage, some crying, many smiling. Beads rain onto the stage like hailstones, scribbled love notes, notes of appreciation, of empathy, of say it isn't so, cover the stage. Cops come onstage and hang in the rear. "It's the last song. Everything will be all right," we tell them. Trip of trips, they allow the song to finish. With a deafening roar that is a death rattle, The Buffalo Springfield leaves the stage and pop... With all their far out ego problems, with all the hot tempers, too much talent to confine in one group perhaps."

    The same article includes another rave review:
    "At the Shrine/Pinnacle concert Big Brother and The Holding Company did it up in high style to the biggest crowd since The Airplane played there a few months back. Janis Joplin came on strong..." The band is praised as getting tighter since Monterey; and compared to "the bored, world-weary performances" of other San Francisco groups like the Airplane and the Dead (!), "it was refreshing to see a group that seemed to enjoy being on stage, performing, turning an audience on. The group even seemed to like each other... As far as stage presentation...The Holding Company wins hands down."
    (John Carpenter, "Roach Clips," LA Free Press 5/10/68, p.38)