Aug 28, 2019

1971: More Live Album Reviews


By all indications (i.e., one listening on the radio), the new Grateful Dead live double LP dives to a new nadir in "middle of the road" sloppy country and aimless ersatz cosmic noodling. And they had the nerve to want to title this album Skullfuck. Whose skull, pray tell?  I might change my mind tomorrow, but the real problem seems to be that the Dead have ceased to be funky and ethereal at the same time. They are one of the few bands that I have gone to see in order to cure a headache. Of course, as every true fan will tell you, none of this Dead-baiting really matters (e.g., the bootleg is as good as ever), but it sure doesn't bode well. As I always say...folkie hearts will out eventually. Look at J. Tull.

(from the Spectrum (University at Buffalo), 29 September 1971)

* * *

Warner Bros. (2WS1935)

I remember when the Grateful Dead were a great band. From 1967 until late 1970, the Dead were really the heart and spirit of American rock. Each and every Dead album stretched upwards and outwards with no signs of boundaries or limitations. If you happened to read the American Beauty review last year in this spot, you know how I felt about it. I mean you could just see it coming. The Dead manage to get up there in sales and teen appeal, and with what? With the fucking most lame music they've ever played since they started.
This new double lp set should just zoom up there in a hurry. And where American Beauty was lamentable but not without its saving moments (Phil Lesh's first lead vocal ever), this thing near my stereo (I doubt if it'll ever get played again) is a disgrace to any Dead freak. And if you want to unite with other Dead freaks like they ask you to on the inside cover, you'll only help the decay spread some more.
Any resemblance between this record and Live Dead does simply not exist. The fire, the energy that transcended everything is lost. A Dead jam used to be spontaneous, and the Dead were actually terrible live sometimes. They had to work hard to reach those beautiful moments on Anthem of the Sun or "Dark Star." It seems that they've given up trying to be the Grateful Dead. The jams are all automatic and uninspired, like a number two play on the hardwood (which could be the result of playing in all those gyms).
"The Other One," better known as "That's It For The Other one," takes up a whole side. Bill Kreutzmann tries to make believe Mickey Hart is still there, so he goes on for about eight minutes in a pitiful display of drum soloing. The "figure eight" sound of the Dead's music is now one lonely "3" looking for help. The whole band chokes on this one, and I honestly felt like melting the record and shoving the free decal over it and mailing it to the Dead Heads fan club .
Of the four new tunes, "Wharf Rat" is the only one that's mildly entertaining, and only because Garcia says "fucking" loud and clear and the tune has been played intact on AM radio.
All there is on this album is wasted space, except for "Me and My Uncle," which used to start out each Dead performance when people used to hiss and yell during the country set. It's a good song, and Weir manages to sing on key for a change. "Johnny B. Goode" and "Not Fade Away" (Oh, wow! The Dead doing fifties stuff, far out) are horrendous, and their butchering of "Me and Bobby McGee" gives me the feeling that the next lp might be The Grateful Dead Tackle Montovani.
Pigpen does "Big Boss Man," and since he has so little to do with the new sound (I mean he even wrote a song all by himself for American Beauty, and it was a jug band song at that), you can't fault him for anything. He's the only one that success hasn't spoiled.
It's hard to believe that the Dead could sink this low. But now that they've finally made it, they probably don't care. After all, they have a lot of mouths to feed.

(by Lanky Lirstrot, from the Spectrum (University at Buffalo), 15 October 1971) 

* * *


The Grateful Dead, like all bands, have their off nights on stage but when they're on, they have a reputation as being one of the finest performing bands in the nation. The new Live Dead album has it all sifted out for you, and in a time when so many groups are turning out quickie "live" albums, the Dead stand miles ahead of the field.
One positive feature is that it's not just a rehash of old material, with only one tune having appeared on a former album. The new version of "The Other One" surpasses the original that appeared on their Anthem of the Sun album.
Furthermore, if you've been Grand Funked, Iron Butterflied, or Led Zepplined into heavy oblivion, this album is for you. Each song is light without sounding thin at the same time. Jerry Garcia's delicate guitar riffs, which make song after song float in the air, have no comparison.
This Live Dead album is much different from their earlier live album. The singing is improved. The cuts are much shorter and more oriented towards the type of material which has appeared on their last two albums than to electronic music (with the exception, again, of "The Other One" which shows the Dead haven't forgotten how to "do it.") There's a little light boogie music in "Bertha" and "Playing in the Band", some old time rockin' with "Johnny B. Goode" and "Not Fade Away," tinges of country in "Mama Tried" and "Me and Bobby McGee", and a bit of blues with "Big Boss Man".
If you've never bought a Grateful Dead Album before, you couldn't start with a better one than this. Just look for the skeleton on the cover.

(from the Griffin, Canisius College (Buffalo), 5 November 1971)

* * *


Even as you read this, 10,000 Grateful Dead T-shirts full of rose-crowned skulls are being trundled in their four-color glory into Warner Bros' warehouse in beautiful downtown Burbank, soon to be trucked out again for promotional purposes.
At an undisclosed location, they tell us, gnomes frantically stitch Grateful Dead patches with the same signature skull (which also happens to be on the front cover of their latest album). Giant blowups of the Dead are being churned out and in some circles October is officially proclaimed you-know-who month.
If it all sounds a little, well, commercial for a band that's been as much a social institution as anything else with their early San Francisco free concerts and their unwillingness to play the record promotion rock 'n' roll games (at one time they were referred to by some disgruntled executives as the Ungrateful Dead, the story goes), you're right. With the release of their seventh album, "Grateful Dead" - not to be confused with their first, "The Grateful Dead" - a wider audience is being sought for the group's music.
All of which is great, because the Dead still can make some of the finest, most relaxed and yet together music around, especially in live performance. Hopefully, they'll keep on doing that - rather than trying to consciously "commercialize" what they now offer a somewhat cultish following so as to garner mass appeal. The results of that sort of thing - witness Procol Harum - usually turn out disappointing all the way around.
"Grateful Dead," while indeed the group's most commercial in terms of singles potential and all that, also contains some most enjoyable and harmonious Dead, especially in bluesy and western veins. "Bertha" in particular is infectious; so is Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried" and Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee." Not all of the songs are new; some have appeared in different versions on previous releases.
The album is a two-record set, recorded live at Winterland, the Fillmore East and Manhattan Center with, thankfully, no overlylong applause between cuts. All of side two is taken up boringly by "The Other One," a mostly-instrumental combination of some Dead concert staples. The Dead have done this before, taking up whole sides of records with overly long numbers. They'll continue to do it, but it hasn't worked yet.
"The Other One," however, is the only thing I found really dull. Rhythm guitarist Bob Weir, who handled quite a few of the vocals during the Dead's recent four-hour concerts at the Auditorium, sings lead on more than half of the dozen cuts. Garcia takes over on a couple and Pig Pen on one. It's a must for Dead lovers - and maybe some other people too.

Garcia has an album of his own scheduled for release next month. In the meantime he's also heard on "New Riders of the Purple Sage" (Columbia), playing pedal steel and banjo. Phil Lesh, the Dead's bassist, produced. As the name implies, the New Riders make a purple sage sort of sound, dotted with tumbleweeds and well above average as far as country-flavored rock goes. Vocals and music are by John Dawson (Marmaduke), a composer whose works the Dead have occasionally dipped into.

(by Lynn van Matre, from the Chicago Tribune, 17 October 1971)

* * * 

But Dead Album a Letdown

No shit. I once had a chat with Jerry Garcia, driving wheel of the Grateful Dead. It was over four years ago and the world was a different place. It was only the Dead's second trip to the Big Apple, and they played before just about 400 of us, between Christmas and New Years, at the unheated broken down Village Theatre, that wasn't to become the Fillmore East yet for 3 months.
After the loudest, rockinest set in the history of history, the curtain came down so the band could take a short break. Being as I was sitting on the stage, I decided to slide my little 16 year old body under there to see what goes on behind those curtains during half-time. And before you can say "Let It Rock," I'm standing face to chest with Jerry 'Captain Trips' Garcia himself.
I take the initiative. "Hey Jerry, I saw your name mentioned on the back of 'Surrealistic Pillow.' Do you really know Grace Slick?"
His face spreads into a smile that stretches from ear to ear and forehead to chin. "Yeah," he says, "we're all friends out there."
"Out where?" I ask innocently; but too nervous to wait for an answer, I slip back under the curtain to the sound of some belly laughs from behind me.
And once I sat next to the Band's organ genius, Garth Hudson. It was at a Butterfield Band concert at Town Hall, a couple of years back. We were there - my buddies and some ladyfriends - and midway through the show down plunks Garth in the seat next to me. And let me tell ya, his brows were bushier than all of Bob Dylan's mustaches put together. And his beard was twice as long as it is today, which makes it half as long as your arm. And he looked as much like a Southern Baptist minister as a Canadian frontier trapper.
I talked to him too. I said, "Hi Garth Hudson."
He said, "Howdy."

In rock 'n roll, most often what one first suspects as National Music, upon further examination turns out to be merely Regional stuff. The brilliantly eclectic musics of the Byrds-Doors-Beach Boys, which first sounded so American, has been revealed to be more precisely Southern California soul music. And sunny South C. isn't exactly prototypically American.
But about two years ago, an album by the Band, and entitled "The Band," was released; and it contained the most thoroughly American music since Chuck Berry told Beethoven to tell "Chi-cow-ski the news!" And the fact that the group is composed of four Canadians and an Arkansas boy is so pregnant with meaning as to be irrelevant. The album is rich with associations, and its thematic material touches a lot of very American bases.
The Band has a new album called "Cahoots." And surprisingly, by no stretch of the imagination could it be called National Music. But it sure is great.
The record shows the group forsaking the demands of a National Music for an individual sonic identity. And whooeee, do they do it up right!
Where the Dead on their new album have sloppily collected a lot of diverse musics that they don't know how to handle, the Band has finally synthesized the influences of their diverse musical origins. Now, not only do they know who they are, and where they're goin', but they know so well how to get there that they can almost coast.
They could very well be the tightest band in the land.

No less than Captain Paul Lundberg, REN (ret.) has noted the Motown influence on "Cahoots." And the giveaway there is Rick Danko's Motown style bass pluckin'. On the opening cut, "Life is a Carnival," the horn arrangement is not so much derived from Sly Stone, as it is influenced by Motown's imitations of Sly. No small trick that!
These fellas sure can kick it out. Levon's fat-back drumming cracks like a whip. Richard Manuel's piano must have given off sparks in "Smoke Signal." Garth's organ fills up all available sonic space. But the key is Robbie Robertson's guitar; though rarely out front, he can be found on all sides of the others' music, framing it with his chording and picking.
But the real surprise is how mature Rick and Levon have become as lead vocalists. They used to sound like groundhogs. Now they sound like the mellowest woodchucks in the Appalachians.
Certainly the album's high point (and maybe this year's or even this century's!) is "4 percent Pantomime," a song which includes a guest appearance by Van Morrison, conceivably the finest singer-songwriter in this or any universe. Van and Rick trade back the verses, while sorcerer Garth leans his big body all over the organ, Levon slaps the stuffings out, as Richard stomps the piano into splinters, and Robbie's guitar is ripping flesh. Rick's bass carries the weight of the whole thing, as Van Morrison wails like a siren!!!
"4 percent Pantomime" is as good as it gets. No. Better.

For a long time the Grateful Dead had little more than a cult following outside their home, the Bay Area.
They were the rock critics' fave rave. And they deserved it, 'cause they really could breathe fire. On a good night, their white heat-rave up-break on through-high energy-killer-New Age music could melt the sun! But it's been a while since the boys dared to do that kind of stuff, and it's been even longer since, with a little coaxing, Pig Pen would sing "Midnight Hour," and Bobby Weir had the finest head of hair in rock.
During the last year and a half, the Dead have picked up a broad based national following. But they certainly have paid the price.
Lookit. I love the Dead. And you love the Dead. But you just can't avoid the fact that the Dead's new 2-record set, "Grateful Dead," sucks the mop. I mean, I like shooting fish in a barrel as much as the next guy, but I never thought I'd see the Dead float to the surface belly up.
On their new album they concentrate on doing all the things that they never have been able to do well, and ignore the more demanding modes of expression they had previously perfected. It's a patchwork of shallow imitations and half-baked homages to admirable people. With the exception of Weir's new song "Playing in the Band," and Garcia's handsome "Wharf Rat," the whole two-record set is a throwaway. Not only that, it stinks! It stinks worse than Tom Seaver's pits after a muggy day on the mound!

It's a sad day in Mudville when the Dead make such a boring, low energy record. They just sound anemic since the exit of their full time keyboard player, and their second drummer. The Grateful Dead used to make music that Kesey called "the Handsomest in the land." Now the sound is somewhere between "plain" and "homely."
The Dead's dive at National Music ate them out, they should have known better.
The Band abandoned nationalism for the sake of a more unified musical identity. The Grateful Dead watered down their singular identity for a broader based style that spreads their talents too thin, in an attempt to do music that they don't have the cultural apparatus, much less the chops, to play.
The Dead were in town last weekend. At both shows, they played generous 4 hour-plus sets. And they sure did play sweet and mellow. But what they didn't do is breathe fire; in fact, it seems they held their breath! They've only got one drummer now; and Bobby Weir never lets his hair down anymore. All of which is too bad.
Meanwhile, Jersey Marc Ryby says the Band's "Cahoots" is the best album of the year. And Jersey Marc wouldn't say something like that if it wasn't true.

(by Hank Neuberger, from the Daily Northwestern, 27 October 1971)

* * *


It's the time of the year for the devil winds to bring their message of dust and fire peril.
Winter, the Southern California variety anyhow, is tiptoeing nearer.
What better way to spend the long nights than with a close friend or two, and for music, both to stir and smooth.
One of the best musical samples to be had is the new Grateful Dead release on Warner Bros. titled simply enough "Grateful Dead."
It's a live double album recorded variously at Winterland, the Manhattan Center, and the now-defunct Fillmore East.
You'll not find a better Dead album anywhere.
The group has made some memorable studio albums, but its best work has been live, the band seeming to enjoy the interaction it creates with an audience.
There have been past attempts to catch the Dead live on disc, but nothing has worked, at least until now.
The aura of relaxation and good times the Dead emanates is present throughout the group's new release, which includes such songs as "Bertha," "Big Railroad Blues," "Playing in the Band," Willie Dixon's "Big Boss Man," "Not Fade Away," made famous more than a decade ago by Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry's chestnut, "Johnny B. Goode," and Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee."
Jerry Garcia, that gentle-visaged man whose stature grows with every recording he makes, creates vivid tonal textures as his runs and fills keep the Dead rattling along at a foot-stomping clip.
It's not all Garcia though, with Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann fleshing out the ensemble to create exciting vocals and instrumentation which provide an irresistible urge to dance.
And when last did you hear music rollicking good enough to make you want to dance?

Straying from the Dead now, but not from Jerry Garcia.
The man with the impeccable guitar lines shares billing with pianist-organist Howard Wales on "Hooteroll?" (Douglas).
It's [a] different kind of trip for anyone used to hearing Garcia's work in the country-rock idiom he normally inhabits.
Jazz licks predominate as Garcia and Wales front an energetic group that includes horn work arranged by Martin Fierro, noted particularly for his stints with Sir Douglas and the quintet.
It's strictly instrumental, a rarity in itself in the pop music world.
The music sounds as if it came out of a studio jam session with someone saying after it was over, "Hey, you guys ought to put that down on tape and get it out."
Down on tape it is, good it is, and plenty of easeful listening it has.

(by Geoff Kelly, from the Pasadena Star-News, unknown date) 

* * * 


A "live" album is often a copout for performers who don't have anything new to say or are just too lazy to spend time sweating out studio sessions. They record a couple of concerts, include plenty of applause and cheers, and put out an album.
On the other hand, groups like the Grateful Dead are genuinely better on live recordings. Their best previous album was Live Dead (Warner Bros.-Ampex tapes), and their new one, Grateful Dead (Warner Bros.-Ampex tapes) is almost as good.
The studio albums have some very interesting musical ideas, as well as some good performances. But somehow there is a missing ingredient - call it edge or excitement - which only finds its way onto the live recordings.
Don't confuse Grateful Dead with The Grateful Dead (Warner Bros.-Ampex tapes), the mediocre first album. Maybe the title similarity means something like the Dead coming back to their roots, but the album certainly doesn't sound that way. The roots on the first album were noisy blues-rock, which was combined with the Dead's freaky image and dubbed acid rock.
The new album's quality is immensely better, and the songs are mostly mellow and country-folk tinged. The best numbers are "Playing in the Band," which features nice harmony, weird rhythm changes, and tasty instrumental work with Robert Hunter's strange lyrics, and "Wharf Rat," which, sort of, is the Dead's version of "Aqualung" and which has the same ingredients as above, plus a fine piano (who?).
The Dead's reach exceeds their grasp on this double album, and all of Side 3 could have been dispensed with. Not that John Phillips' "Me and My Uncle" isn't a terrific and funny song, but its humor lies in the lyrics, and sung in a mealy-mouthed unintelligible fashion, as here, it is worse than not done at all. Similarly, the other songs on Side 3 need not have been recorded.
But Side 2, although repeating a piece from Anthem of the Sun (Warner Bros.-Ampex tapes), was worth recording. It is one of those long flowing pieces. Parts are a little tedious, but they are worth putting up with. Similarly, the Dead contribute something new to the old chestnut "Not Fade Away" on Side 4. Altogether, the album is relaxing, satisfying, and fun - and also a good preview of the Dead's concerts in the Auditorium this Thursday and Friday. [10/21-22/71]

Appearing with the Dead both nights are the New Riders of the Purple Sage, friends of the Dead who occasionally use some Dead personnel. Their first album, New Riders of the Purple Sage (Columbia records and tapes), is a delight.
Maybe some recognized the greatness of the New Riders when they appeared with the Dead at the old Syndrome [11/27/70], but two things got between the musicians and the audience: the Syndrome vibrations, which certainly weren't conducive to quiet, mellow music, and the unfamiliarity of the material, which didn't have the heavy riffs to win immediate acceptance.
All this should be solved by this fine album and the friendly atmosphere of the Auditorium. Because John Dawson's songs definitely grow on you the more you hear them; so does the New Riders' restrained, easy-going style of playing.
There's no telling if Dawson, David Nelson or David Torbert have really good voices because they never raise or push them. It's always soft, tasteful harmony, even on a protest song like "Garden of Eden," which is reminiscent of the firm yet unhysterical tone of the original "For What It's Worth."
There are a good variety of songs, from the humorous myth of a modern Jason's perilous quest for the golden keys ("Henry") to tender love ("Portland Town") to a neo-folk ballad that beautifully mixes dirty feedback guitar with soft acoustic guitar ("Dirty Business"). New Riders of the Purple Sage is a sleeper album because it's so unpushy, but it might make a lot of people wake up.

Jerry Garcia is lead guitarist for the Dead and also plays pedal steel and banjo for the New Riders, but that's not enough for him. He's also on Hooteroll? (Douglas), an album of jazz-rock instrumentals. Co-leader of this combo is organist Howard Wales, who wrote or co-wrote all the tunes, although he didn't credit Herb Alpert, whose "Lonely Bull" he borrowed for "A Trip to What Next."
There are other echoes, like Hugh Masakela on "South Side Strut," on these nice jams by good musicians. Martin Fierro's horn arrangements seem to be at their worst when they're out front making the big blast, but the quieter things are really nice, especially his flute in "Da Birg Song."

(by Al Rudis, from the Chicago Sun-Times, 17 October 1971)

Thanks to Dave Davis.

See also:


  1. A mixed set of reviews - some complimentary, others damning. While it was rare to find negative Dead reviews in college papers in 1970, when this album was released, for many reviewers delight turned to disappointment and grave doubts about the Dead started to settle in.
    Though it's not a firm rule, in general those who had loved the Dead the most or the longest were the most bitter about this album. "A new nadir," "a disgrace," "wasted space," "a throwaway," "it stinks!" they cried. So here we start to see some old-time Dead fans jumping off the bus.
    But meanwhile, mainstream reviewers (and the mass public) who had a more casual Dead acquaintance were quite happy with this album: "a must for Dead lovers;" "if you've never bought a Grateful Dead album before, you couldn't start with a better one than this."

    Old-timers tended to feel betrayed by the Dead "going commercial" and pursuing "teen appeal," but it turned out that an album of "fifties stuff," "middle of the road sloppy country," "shallow imitations and half-baked homages" was just what the general audience wanted. Many people liked the "light boogie" and "old-time rockin'" and appreciated that "the singing is improved [and] the cuts are much shorter" than the more imposing Live/Dead.
    Almost everyone found the Other One too long and dull, both the casual fans (like the Tribune reviewer who didn't like side-long jams anywhere), and the Dead freaks who compared this "aimless ersatz cosmic noodling" to the fire, energy, and spontaneity of old. The drum solo was greeted with universal impatience.

    I sympathize with the enraged Spectrum reviewer! "It's hard to believe that the Dead could sink this low." He says he'd panned the "lamentable" American Beauty when it came out as "the fucking most lame music they've ever played," but I couldn't find that - the Spectrum had run a review under a different name, but saying the record was "absolutely flawless...I love this record." (Maybe he'd changed his mind as well as his name.)
    The Dead used to be so great, but what happened to them, he wonders - have they given up trying? But he was right that this album "would just zoom up there in a hurry." Success has ruined them, and he angrily dismisses them.

    The Northwestern reviewer compares the Dead to the Band as "American music," concluding that the Band's much better at it, the Dead are just no good at this broad-based, diverse style (they don't have "the chops," the right background or talent for it). The implication is that the Dead should just stick to their unique brand of fire-breathing psychedelic rock - now they sound anemic, low-energy, watered-down for the masses. Even at their latest Chicago live show, they were "sweet and mellow" but too tame and cautious.
    He writes as one fan to another - "I love the Dead. And you love the Dead." Like the Spectrum reviewer, he compares the current Dead to the genuine old Dead (in this case, New York '67, "the loudest, rockin'est set in history") and feels that they've gone sloppy and abandoned their strengths and their "singular identity" for a "national following."

  2. The Griffin reviewer here was one of the few who liked the Other One, saying it "surpasses the original." (Others complained that it was "too long," "aimless, formless," "they can't do the old stuff anymore," and missed Hart & Constanten's presence.)
    Garcia himself told Rolling Stone that it was "some of the best playing that we've ever done."

    But one reason for the album's success (aside from the heavy promotion and live broadcasts) was that it mostly kept away from the long jams. Many listeners just couldn't be lured into the Dead's style of improvisation!
    For instance, one Spectrum reviewer of an unrelated album wrote in the 6/23/72 issue:
    "I get bored a lot more easily than most any given performance, a group has to be doing keep me interested... It's very difficult to get me to listen to a jam over five minutes unless I really think that there's something going down. That's why Grateful Dead live albums bore me and Allman Brother albums keep me listening. There's really quite a difference between the groups, though I don't doubt that many of their fans are the same and look at the groups in the same way."

    Robert Christgau, a longtime Dead fanatic, gave the album a B+. "The drum-and-guitar interlude isn't going to inspire anybody to toke up, much less see visions. But even there they gather some of that old Dead magic. And it's about time they documented their taste in covers--I've craved their 'Not Fade Away' for years." Ironically, he also wrote, "I wish some of this live double had been done in the studio" to save some of the weaker songs...if he only knew!

  3. I added a couple more reviews at the end, from Pasadena and Chicago, both praising the album.

    The Pasadena reviewer could represent the totally mainstream viewpoint, the listener who knows little about the Dead and doesn't care for their old stuff (he dismisses Live Dead, if he'd even heard it, saying "nothing has worked"), but is happy to find an "aura of relaxation and good times" on this album, as well as "an irresistible urge to dance."
    "You'll not find a better Dead album anywhere," he claims. Garcia's "impeccable guitar lines" get special praise: his "stature grows with every recording he makes."

    The Chicago reviewer, on the other hand, knew all the Dead's albums, had seen them live at least a couple times, and had written a rave review of Live Dead (the "Dead's finest hour"). Unusually for a critic so familiar with the Dead, he finds the new live album "almost as good." He even praises the lengthy Other One (though "parts are a little tedious"), while saying some of the cover songs "could have been dispensed with." He likes the Dead's new "mellow country-folk tinged" songs more than their old "noisy blues-rock" material, and calls the album "relaxing, satisfying and fun."
    He'd seen the Dead at the Syndrome a year earlier, but if he wrote a review for the Sun-Times, I don't have it.

    Both reviewers also have positive words for the "nice jams" and "easeful listening" of Hooteroll. I haven't sought out Hooteroll reviews, since Garcia's side-trips are somewhat outside the scope of this blog.