Grateful Dead at UCLA
SUCCESSFUL CONCERT EXPERIMENT
On stage nearly four hours. The Grateful Dead dispensed a soaring, roaring set of powerful rock jams, countryfield funk and rip-snortin' rock-n-roll to a near-capacity crowd at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion November 20, while delivering the most enjoyable concert since Procol Harum's recent tremender at the Santa Monica Civic.
And that wasn't even half the story.
Of far greater significance was the daring promotion presented by the UCLA Committee on Fine Arts Productions and produced by Merlin/Aura. It represented a bold innovation; it was the grand noble experiment - as well as the initial significant one to take place locally in concert promotions for the year 1971.
For the first time in a large arena (13,000), designated floor-level seats were removed and the floor area was converted into a sit-down concert, just like the Palladium, while regular arena-level seating was conducted at the same time, and conducted in the same manner.
This idea was considered with great trepidation among veteran observers of the concert scene. Chief among many feared possibilities was that wholesale masses of the arena-seated audience would try to drop down to the floor level. It would be met by security forces attempting to stop them, and the result would be a big mess - if not a riot.
Well, as it turned out, no one need have worried - it couldn't have gone better. Blue-uniformed UCLA ushers were strategically placed on the arena level and effectively, but with an acceptable minimum of force, prevented wholesale movement to the floor level. Isolated audience members did occasionally drop down, but there were not enough of them to be significant.
Another past problem of sit-down concerts was that without designated seating, there was no way to establish an accurate capacity. Consequently, unscrupulous promoters sold as many tickets as they could print, which resulted in blatant over-selling and subsequent hard feelings which in turn caused several concert halls to close down.The UCLA promoters easily solved this problem by simply doing the obvious ethical thing: estimating a capacity and selling only that many tickets. Thus, even though the floor level was sold out, the promoters acted honorably in refusing to sell more tickets to the floor level anyway, something no other promoter has had the principles to do.
The floor level capacity estimation was as perfect as it needed to be...the floor was crowded, of course, but there was still room to boogie and play towards the back for those who wanted to, while those who just have to be as near as possible to the stage packed themselves in to do so. Because of the enlightened promotion, the concert as such was the most fun since the old Pinnacle-Shrine Exposition Hall days - even outstripping the recent Palladium shows.
So smoothly run was the UCLA promotion that even a mistake in ticket printing caused no problems. Many arena tickets were mis-labeled for floor seating. Those who erroneously wound up on the floor were efficiently and courteously transported by elevator to the arena level. Except for the ticket misprint I'm at pains to discover a single mistake made by the UCLA promoters. They deserve all due praise.
Well, Merlin/Aura has shown us the light as far as concert promotions are concerned. It is now up to the rest of the promoters to pick up the ball.
As for the show itself, the Dead were consistently pleasurable and often nearly unbearably exciting. For me, the Dead's recent albums (starting with Workingman's Dead) have been extreme disappointments, and the time spent recreating them by the Dead November 20 was not thrilling, although this material sounded much better in person than it does on the records.
I greatly prefer, however, the earlier Dead of Turn On Your Lovelight days. I have seen them many times, and have been enthralled just as many times by their long trademark jams and improvisations - featuring the uncanny way rhythm guitarist Bob Weir and lead guitarist Jerry Garcia work together. Weir feeds Garcia ideas and Garcia expounds on them beautifully. As they say, it is a match made in heaven.
Garcia is one among a handful of the most distinctive and unpredictable guitarists to emerge in rock music. He is never trite and his solos righteously move-move-move and boogie - and never fail to excite. He seems the most consistent and maybe even the best pure rock guitarist - ever. Garcia did enough of his famous solo work November 20 to make the show a thing of awesome power and overwhelming beauty.
Lead-off group New Riders of the Purple Sage were far less boring than they were during their recent Palladium gig and would have been acceptable if they hadn't played for an hour and fifteen minutes. Forty-five minutes is just about tops for this band, and even at that, they seem clumsy when compared with the gliding suppleness of the Dead. New Riders weren't that bad, though, and given a set of reasonable length they could be mildly enjoyable.
(by R.E. Maxson, from the Los Angeles Free Press, 26 November 1971)
* * *
This review could do one of two things. It could tell you what kind of music the Grateful Dead play and how they play it (with a blurb on the Riders), or it could tell you about Saturday night at Pauley Pavilion. I prefer the latter, so I'll tell you about the concert. Honestly.
Normally a critic is given all the benefits of contemporary elitism (i.e. free tickets, great seats) to insure a positive frame of mind before viewing the evening's entertainment. Accordingly, an apparently objective and sincere review may well represent the feelings of those with muscles or connections up front, while convincing those in the back that they somehow missed out. (Shit, man. This dude says they were great. I thought they sucked... Well he oughta know; he's the critic.)
Ideally a meaningful story on an evening of rock and roll would include the man on the street. The unspoiled, uncorrupted music freak who pays to come and comes to enjoy. But follow through on that concept and you get results like these: What did you think of the concert? Far out. What did you like about it? They played good, man. Could you be more specific? Yeah, they played real good. It was far out.
So the task is left to Normal Human Beings who somehow decided to become A Critic. Self-righteousness is a must, but don't ever take yourself too seriously..
Back to the Dead. There you are, Critic, stuck in the rear. Nothing special this time, just settin' ona flo' and struggling for comfort like everybody else.
What was it like? A drag. Long and monotonous; a muddled continuum of twangy reverberations; a Sominex commercial; a never-ending jam from eight o'clock til one in the morning. It was all the same.
From the front? They say it was great. Some people never sat down; others never stopped dancing. With partners? Nah, that's old fashioned. To the music.
There were gypsies and gnomes and thirteen year-old drunks. And jeepers, those sleepers, and leapers were weepers (On the Floor, Out the Door... Don't forget the motto, Men. Remember, you're bigger than them. Now get out there and Patrol!). And balloons and frisbees. And skyrockets too.
It was a zoo. What can you say? They did "Truckin", "The Other One", "Bertha", all the biggies except "Uncle John's Band". It was a long concert. The New Riders of the Purple Sage played too.
(by Bill Pique, from the UCLA Daily Bruin, 23 November 1971)
And a letter to the editor in the Daily Bruin, December 1, 1971:
About the Dead concert at Pauley...
The tickets had "no smoking" printed on them, but no one seemed to care. The air (ha!) was filled with a grey haze that made spotlight beams look solid. The crud was mostly cigarette smoke, although a really with-it expert might have been able to detect the sickly sweet odors of burning Space Food Stiks, chamomille tea and other well-known combustible psychedelics.
It was pretty hard to breathe in there, but apparently, I was the only one having trouble. Is it possible that city-dwelling Dead freaks are so addicted to smog that they must take it with them wherever they go? Or, is it possible that most rock ravers smoke, since the same sort of cloud was in the air at last month's Traffic concert? Or...
Anyway, the stoned Dormice who were sitting in Section 13-C, Row 12, are hereby collectively awarded the Future Solid Citizen and Innocent Bystander Trophy. Seems they were so busy lighting matches and giggling over the no smoking edict that they failed to notice people on the dance flooor who were getting crushed against the stage and whacked on the head with frisbees.
Those of you who survived this latest encounter with the spectre of commercial mass freakiness might care to lay a plastic flower on the grave of the Unknown Rock Fan - a sort of thanksgiving offering.