According to my flatmate, the Iowa refugee, Alexandra Palace resembles an empty gymnasium, but the Grateful Dead are closer to heaven than the Post Office Tower. The pleasant male species crushed next to me had but one regret in his twenty odd year life span: that is that he missed the Dead's last U.K. date, two years ago. For these two Grateful Dead fanatics, Wednesday night with the Dead was the let down of the year.
Actually, the three days of concerts ran more like an Olympic marathon. A marathon to see how many of the enthusiasts would pay for three nights of the Dead. A marathon as to how long the Dead would play, and unofficially a race to see how many people would fall asleep.
Grateful Dead freaks, like roadies, are a human species on their own. Packed in the thousands along the floor with the atmosphere of a festival. On one hand they listened to the group while a good many simultaneously carried on other activities as if it were a support band up there.
During the first set, the Dead went very slowly though songs like 'Row Jimmy Row', 'Mexicali Blues', 'Ramblin' Rose', 'Me and Bobby McGee', 'Tennessee Jed', and 'Playing in the Band', plus a few unidentified, presumably new songs. Despite the presence of numerous parachutes hung from the cathedral ceiling to try to help the sound system, it kept blowing the music back into the band's face. This, along with the fact that a ritual group of ten insisted on standing up in the front of the hall lethargically swaying and blocking most everyone's view, didn't make things any better.
By the second set all the smart journalists had adjourned to the Oasis (the press bar) and made hourly checks into the main hall to count bodies. But the Iowa kid and I stuck it out. The second set started out sounding like a bad sound check. Or a poor Stockhausen imitation. The electronic music had the overall sound of one of those "Monster arising from the Swamp" movies. After an hour of watching the Dead's sound equipment (as the stage was blacked out so that one could not see the group) and listening to the hundredth variation on the Goola monster theme, we headed for the door along with dozens of other migraine-struck humans.
At the Oasis we heard something a lot more musical: Atlantic press officer Rod Lynton and his Rama-Lama-Ding-Dong-Ram-Jam Jazz Band. They were warming up for the press festivities ahead. As my disillusioned flatmate threatened to weep over his sacred copy of Workingman's Dead, he murmured something to the extent that what was good was not done; and what was done wasn't good. His brevity at such a moment was more than well appreciated, and very much to the point.