DEAD MEN'S GRIP
A Grateful Dead concert is an extraordinary experience. In recent rock history, one can remember flashes of brilliance and milestone moments, but nothing so gripping as the three hour marathon par excellence at the Empire Pool, Wembley, on Friday.
Gathering inexorable momentum, the six patently alive musicians, on their first major British showing, carefully paced their output, occasionally rising in rhetorical force, never giving it all away. An essential difference in the basic approach of English and American musicians became pointedly apparent, namely the latter's skill in restraint and timing. Also worthy of note is their way of springing off the beat, and not crashing down stiffly. Simple as they sound, these attributes gave [the] Dead the power to swing at all times, lay back and sock home real excitement, without recourse to bludgeoning violence.
Apart from the novelty of such a long performance, there were other aspects of the concert which helped to convince that here was one of the great bands, playing at a peak of creativity. Their ability to interpret, convincingly, country music, free improvisation, rock and blues, seemed in retrospect, truly astounding.
Yet there was no blatant clashing of idioms. As one became absorbed in the complex interplay of "The Other Side," it was hard to recall that half an hour earlier we had been jigging to goodtime "Casey Jones." The styles merged, blended, became one music.
Arriving late, it was impressive in itself to enter the cavernous gloom of the mighty Pool to find several thousand Dead freaks seated in serried ranks from wall to wall, the band already strumming quietly at the far end. It was like missing the first reel of an epic Biblical movie, and walking among fellow patrons already absorbed in the plot.
Sound baffles hung like parachute silk from the roof and made a considerable difference to the acoustics. Throughout the concert, the band provided an object lesson in balance and volume level. Powerful without ever becoming painful, nobody missed having their ear drums punctured.
Behind the band a huge screen displayed Joe's Lights, now sadly homeless following the demise of the Rainbow Theatre. Their inventive visuals proved a great boon when the band sunk from view behind those who insisted on standing up.
Above the diminutive figures on stage, towered a massive gantry supporting lights, speakers, screens, etc., on a mobile proscenium arch. The first half hour was deliberately low-keyed, and unexciting. It helped settle the audience and showed the Dead were going to play it their way.
Occasional yells and shrieks rent the air between numbers, as per the "live" Dead album. The atmosphere was slowly charging with electricity. Tempos began to shift into higher gear as the country tunes gave way to an easy boogie. All the while, Jerry Garcia, moustached, amiable, brilliant, rocked his lead guitar in harmony with Bob Weir (second guitar), never flashy, but fast as quick silver.
Around 8.45 pm dancing broke out at the rear of the hall and Pool attendants hustled them back to their seats. Donna Godchaux, wife of the pianist Keith, joined in for a few hot vocal choruses, and there came the first outbreak of cheering. The light show began to soup up, and it all became too much for one of the congregation, who began running at breakneck speed around the blocks of seats. Even plainclothes gents sniffing the air began to tap their feet.
The Dead drove harder yet, and as the words of "Casey Jones" were flashed on screen, the crowd sang along. After the break at around 9.25 pm the Dead walked again, a quiet riot developing all around as fans stood up, then perched on seats to combat loss of vision. But dancers were left to stand somewhat awkwardly as "The Other Side" developed, a free blow that cleverly built a floating, out-of-time mesh of sound, one of the most interesting sequences during the entire rockathon.
The drum sound was surprisingly good in view of the size of the place, and the cymbals cut through even as far back as my seat, about five omnibus lengths from the stage. At about 9.45 pm the music was becoming ghostly, tragic, almost macabre, when suddenly - they were back to 4/4 and rockin'.
At 10.30 pm I saw men jump in the air and hug each other. Still there were more surprises. At 10.36 the Stones' classic "Not Fade Away" paved the way for "Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad," and stamping feet kicked up clouds of dust that could not stifle lusty throats cheering Grateful Dead to the echo. An encore? Mals certainment. "One More Saturday Night" was duly supplied - "our next single." There was no need for another encore. We were sated.
As the hall cleared, a few hundred lucky customers, clutching identifying pieces of paper, fought their way into a party for the group, where the mighty musicians took their ease, seemingly unperturbed by the mayhem around them.
Said Jerry Garcia, eyeing sandwiches and beer with a benevolent gaze: "We play longer sets than that in the States. It takes us a while to loosen up."
(by Chris Welch, from Melody Maker, April 15, 1972)
The Dead made it at last! Friday evening at the London Wembley Pool saw the culmination of the hopes of thousands when the Grateful Dead finally took the stage after months of false hopes as to their coming. The concert was to start at 7 p.m. As there is usually a warm up band playing for a couple of hours, many did not turn up until nearer nine.
By then, the Dead had been onstage for an hour and a half. They did the entire concert themselves, stopping for a 10-minute break at 9 p.m. By the interval, the stadium was full and the atmosphere was at fever pitch.
The band won their audience song by song. They opened with pianist Keith Godchaux's wife Donna helping with the vocals. Garcia stayed fairly much to the background as Bob Weir carried most of the singing. "Big Boss Man" was the first well-known song they hit with - Pigpen coming out from behind the seclusion of the organ to play harmonica.
The sound was turned up after a while, although the acoustics were already almost perfect. Huge pillow-slip affairs had been hung from the room to baffle the sound. "Me And My Uncle" - a track for the double Dead album - misfired slightly as there seemed to be some confusion between Garcia and Phil Lesh, but they picked it up again. They really broke the wall when they began "Playing In The Band."
All of the audience which wasn't actually penned in the sides of the Pool, came forward to the front and crowded the aisles. Those at the back who couldn't see, stood on chairs, and eventually everyone was on their feet. But "Casey Jones" topped the lot, it was easily the most popular song they did, and the words were flashed up on the light show screen behind the band so that everyone could sing along.
The second half proved to be more of an instrumental show rather than the first, which was a straight run through of about 15 numbers. They intermingled three or four songs, including "Spanish Lady" which had some words, and achieved quite a science fiction sound to their music.
Everyone who had been clamouring at the front, was awed into silence during this rather doomy set, and when they broke back into rock and roll, the relief was apparent.
The rock and roll numbers really went down better than their other stuff, and they actually did "Not Fade Away" twice, with another number in the middle. They slipped from song to song often without announcement and certainly without the fuss and tuning up so prevalent among lesser bands.
Many of the songs came from the double album - "Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad" and others already mentioned - and "The Same Thing" which is an old track just released again on "Historic Dead."
At the end, there was a long pause while they decided what to do as an encore and the audience was going mad. They'd already been asked to move back from the front of the stage because of the pressure the Pool officials were putting on the band - fire hazards, etc. - and Lesh had announced, "You'd better go back, the cops in the front don't have room to dance!"
Eventually they came out and played Bob Weir's new "solo" single "One More Saturday Night" which has the Dead and some of the New Riders of the Purple Sage on it. Donna Godchaux came out at the end - she also sings with the New Riders - and finished the last, great, rock and roll set.
(by Rosalind Russell, from Disc & Music Echo)
It might have been the place, it might have been that I just wasn't close enough to the stage, or it might just have been the way I was feeling (quite likely a combination of all three), but I didn't come away from the Grateful Dead's first night at the Empire Pool Wembley on Friday with anything like the sense of elation and satisfaction that I'd anticipated.
Primed by the excellence of their records and their reputation as one of the best, if not THE best live band in America, I was disappointed to find that a lot of what they played sounded a bit scrappy and untogether - almost tired. There were some moments of great beauty, but I found their 3-hour-plus set decidedly patchy and the musicians - with the possible exception of Jerry Garcia, rather erratic. It wasn't what they played, it was the way they played.
It was strange, but for a lot of the first half, they played like a support band, and when they played the beautiful "Sugar Magnolia" in the second set, it was like a cover version. You knew perfectly well how it could have sounded, but it didn't.
The yawning cavern of the Empire Pool didn't help at all - it must be incredible difficult to set up any kind of general warmth and atmosphere in a place like that - though I felt that if I'd been right at the front - physically closer to the band - I would have found it a lot easier to feel involved in what was happening. Beyond the first few rows, something was lost. But there were some excellent moments - many from the guitar work of Jerry Garcia, and there was one section, soon after they loosened into the second half, where they got into creating shapes rather than playing lines, in a really effective way. Bill Kreutzman's drumming was pretty solid throughout, and there was a nice surprise in Donna Godchaux's singing. I'm glad I saw the Dead after all this time, but I'm sure I'd enjoy them more in a more relaxed and open environment. Maybe Bickershaw will provide that - then we'll all have more room to breathe.
(by Steve Peacock, from Sounds)
Thanks to Simon Phillips.