April 8, 1971 - Boston Music Hall
[The first part of the review covered Three Dog Night at Boston Garden.]
[ . . . ] If the Garden was a triumph for one of the best of the mass favorites, the Boston Music Hall was a disaster for one of the leading elitist favorites. I don't care who you are or what your taste is - if Three Dog Night had taken that stage last Thursday night for five minutes, they would have come closer to doing what the Grateful Dead failed to do all evening: getting people off. The Dead performed like slobs. The sound was unmixed - you couldn't hear the bass until halfway through the concert when someone finally got the bright idea of turning it up. Never known for their singing ability, the vocalists butchered everything in sight. Someone in that group sings consistently off key, and whoever he is they ought to find him, put a towel in his mouth, and tell him to cool it. Their instrumental work was uninspired, their performing attitude sterile and, in the words of the Last Poets, sanctimonious.
Who cares if they play for six hours when four of them are less than ordinary, less than interesting, less than moving? Should it really be necessary to wade through hours and hours of rambling uncertainty and false starts for twenty minutes of solid jamming? Thursday night at the Music Hall it was strictly coitus interruptus: the band never really came.
The audience was a show, too. Where Three Dog Night gets high school students, the Dead gets the dropouts. There was enough manic dizziness, enough mindless reacting, and enough dope to last this city for the next six months.
The Dead may be a great band in their own way because they know how to build energy. On record, they take the time to make sure it sounds right. But live - whew. How long can they go on without a good lead singer, a good drummer, and so detached an attitude?
The most frustrating thing about them is that they are constantly repairing with one hand what they have destroyed with another. Jerry Garcia tried to sing Smokey Robinson's "I Second That Emotion." His heart was in the right place but the band was simply not up to this kind of material. His singing was horrid. I threw my hands up in disgust only to hear him line out a beautifully melodic solo on guitar (he is an unquestionably fine guitarist) in the very next instant.
Such are the confusions of the Grateful Dead. One minute they do something beneath criticism and the next they do something above it. Jerry Garcia can't sing but he sure can play. They are masters of the change-up. And we all know that change-up pitchers are good in short doses but don't make it over the long haul.
* * *
April 25, 1971 - Fillmore East
I saw the Dead again last Sunday at the Fillmore East. The mail on my previous report was so critical that I had no choice but to see them again, to check my reactions. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I was right. They were every bit as bad at the Fillmore as they were at the Music Hall. And while the audience cheered ritualistically, everyone in the Fillmore seemed to realize it wasn't happening.
The Dead have gotten themselves into marathon consciousness. They are equating length with some sort of musical virtue. They have forgotten how to edit themselves and they force you to listen to so much bad music in order to hear some fine things that it just doesn't seem worth it. No one really knows why Mickey Hart left the group, but Bill Kreutzmann is not a good enough drummer to carry them alone. Despite their frequent use of (very mediocre) harmony, the critical absence of a lead singer with a competent voice cannot be disguised. As for the rest, well, no one has ever accused the group of being tight and they certainly aren't. Their music has no drive, nothing compelling, nothing that pushes you forward. It sits there and happens. Presumably that is the quality that appeals to their devotees, and I can vaguely see why.
That does not change the fact that the group does certain things that are incontestably atrocious. Anyone who has ever seen the Rascals running wild on a stage - anyone who has ever listened to Felix Cavaliere sing on their first album - has got to laugh at Pigpen doing their "Good Lovin'." He sings off key, he ignores the melody, and he fails to convey any feeling. If you don't believe me, listen to the Rascals do it just once. Likewise Jerry Garcia's lame version of "I Second That Emotion," and the entire ensemble's work on "Not Fade Away." In every case where the Dead do someone else's material, their interpretation is manifestly inferior. The most notable instance in all of Dead history was, of course, their butchery of Bobby Bland's "Turn On Your Love Light."
The audience applauds about the same for every song. They don't seem to recognize any differences in quality or interest within the performance itself. To me, that kind of lack of discrimination is indicative of an insensitivity to the Dead's music in particular, and music in general. In no way is it a tribute to the group.
(by Jon Landau, from the Boston Phoenix, April 1971)
These pieces were reprinted in Landau's 1972 collection It's Too Late To Stop Now, in the chapter "White Rock: Three Dog Night and the Grateful Dead." I don't know the original publication dates.ReplyDelete
Most of the Dead's live reviews from those days were positive (if not raving), so in contrast it's nice to come across such a negative review. Landau hated the Dead; about the only thing he found to praise was Garcia's guitar playing. From first to last, they're awful. He mentions only their lame & inferior cover songs, and complains most of all about their terrible singing, though he doesn't like the "uninspired" jamming either. They're just boring slobs playing atrocious bland butcheries to idiot audiences. (He admits that a show might have 20 solid minutes, but doesn't say what part that might be.) And who would listen to this band anyway? Doped-up dropouts.
So it's a very entertaining read. I'd love to see the letters from Phoenix readers writing in to defend their band, demanding he see the Dead again!
Of course there's some truth to his complaints - later critics would also be bothered by the weak singing, detached attitude, hours of 'warming-up,' indiscriminate audiences, and so on. Needless to say he's also quite mistaken. The other two reviews I linked of these shows are more typical responses: "incredible," "powerful," "packed and ecstatic audience," "they brought the house crashing down," "the entire house was dancing."
But Landau sneers at the Dead as "elitist favorites" who can't move the masses - he says the mindless, "ritualistically cheering" audiences really "seemed to realize it wasn't happening" underneath the mania. He knows the Dead won't last - they're just too dull & terrible to keep drawing fans who care about music. "How long can they go on?"
Landau always was an insufferable stuffed shirt who considered "rock improvisation" an oxymoron. He wrote a hatchet job on Cream that was a key factor in their breakup. For much more astute analyses of the Dead's strengths and weaknesses, see various writings by Robert Christgau.ReplyDelete
It's ironic to see Landau slag the audience, since he later became Springsteen's manager. The last time I checked, "Boss" fans weren't too critical of their man.
Nice that Boston Phoenix archives for the key years are up on internet archives now. I hadnt noticed that 4/71 Landau piece but I saw a lot of the concert ads. Such a great month in GD history. Also nice to see more LIAReplyDelete