Of course, the three night stand at A. Palace takes place from September 9-11 in Europe 1974 tour. And some incredible juicy stuff happens here, but I will focus on night two September 10, 1974, which was one of the very last Dark Star>Morning Dew shows http://gratefulseconds.blogspot.com/2016/08/the-brief-history-of-dark-starmorning.html
London and Europe in general got their fair share of famous Dark Star's and here is another. This tour also saw nice standalone Scarlets', crunchy Playing In the Bands and Weather Reports. This is likely, The Night, on this short seven show strength into France, Germany and England that lead into the Winterland "retirement" shows the next month. I'll let Brian Dyke take it from here:
Dick's Picks 7
September 9, 1974;
Wood Green Jam
September 10, 1974;
Black Throated Wind
Mississippi Half Step
Weather Report Suite
Me And My Uncle
Not Fade Away
September 11, 1974;
Beat It On Down The Line
Playing In The Band
A Conversation with Phil Lesh
Andy Childs, ZigZag, September 1974
Some of you out there probably think that ZigZag has just about OD'd on the Grateful Dead recently, which is a fair criticism considering that in the last ten issues we've had them on the cover twice, and carried a 21-page three-part history plus a feature on the technical aspects of their equipment. But with the advent of their visit last September I just couldn't, on any account, let the occasion slip by without talking to at least one member of the band, and for reasons which you no doubt know if you read ZZ35, I was especially pleased that it was Phil Lesh who I finally got to interview formally.
It was on the Saturday morning before the Dead were due to play Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday night at Alexandra Palace that the 'phone rang and the band's copyright/publishing manager and co-ordinator for their visit, Alan Trist, spoke amidst a riotous cacophony of noise from the other end. Before I had time to even imagine the purpose of his call, he asked me... in the sort of voice you'd expect if say a mate rang up and said come down to the pub for a pint... he asked me if I'd like to come over later in the day to the 'tour headquarters' just off the Fulham Road to chat with Phil Lesh. Unf ***ingbelievable!! Just try and stop me.
Well, naturally, the rest of that day was spent in feverish anticipation preparing a load of questions and wondering whether he'd turn out to be the 'genius' I'd reckoned him to be. When I arrived at the house (appropriately enough, a huge four-storey building of the sort you'd expect to find in Ashbury, San Francisco), I was greeted by a variety of friendly Americans, all having the appearance of being... er, shall we say 'slightly out of the game', when, from the depths of the basement appeared a stocky livewire of a figure sporting a full-grown beard and looking more like a cross between a studious university professor and Santa Claus than the bass player in a rock band. After all the introductions, we found our way to the quietest room in the house and there we talked for well over an hour, mainly about the different types of music from Lesh's experience that manifest themselves in the Grateful Dead at different times, and also about his own personal history and influences. Inquisitive as to why a proper interview with him had never appeared in print before, and why I had been given the opportunity to put that straight, I was well chuffed, as you can imagine, to find out that he'd read my articles in ZigZags 35, 36 and 37 and had been impressed enough to want to talk.
"I don't like to do interviews very much because everybody always wants to talk to Jerry, and I just sort of got off the trip. Besides, nobody ever asks me anything interesting. I used to get the same old questions, you know, how did you find the name? — that sort of thing. Did you guys really take all that acid? It just turned out to be boring. But after reading your articles it seemed that you might have another kind of slant. I'm sure you might want to talk to Jerry too, because you could say that Jerry has the big picture. Or he'll give you what he thinks is the big picture. Also Jerry's the guy who will always answer questions and always talk. He's always got something to say. Me, I've not always got something to say, I don't always want to talk, I'm not always interested."
Well, on that afternoon he had a hell of a lot to say, and fortunately for me he was very enthusiastic, going to great lengths explaining the more complicated areas of his musical interest. By the time we'd finished talking I'd learnt more about music in general than I probably have in the last three years, and my estimation of him as a person as well as musician remains unparalleled.
Okay, here it is, edited and arranged for consumption by Dead-heads and ZigZaggers, starting with... .
"Well, I picked up the violin at about age 8 because one year at Christmas, the last school day before Christmas we had this big party in the third or fourth grade, this kid came and played the violin all by himself... that was his trip for Christmas... He played 'We Three Kings Of Orient Are', or something, and I thought "Wow, that's far out!" But even before that my grandmother had introduced me to music. When the Philharmonic would broadcast on Sundays over the radio she would invite me into her room to sit down and listen to the music, and the reason she did it was because one day when the music was on she happened to walk out of the room and she saw me sitting on the floor with my ear against the wall. My mother told me this, I don't remember at all. And so, she said, "Well, listen kid, come on in and dig the pretty music." And I remember it very well — the first time. It was Brahms' First Symphony, played by the New York Philharmonic. What a flash! I think that's probably the biggest single flash I've ever had in my life, except for the first time I took LSD. Which might give you an idea of how heavy it was for me.
"After that, whether it was subconscious or not I knew what I had to do. I had to have something to do with that. It was just the heaviest thing I have ever imagined. And so I started taking violin lessons which wasn't very good at all, and I got to the point where I could play second violin parts in orchestra pieces. However, I'd always wanted to play the trumpet but my teeth were f***ed up, so after my teeth got straightened I started taking trumpet lessons which by then I was age 14. That lasted for about 6 years.
"I went all the way through Junior College playing in the jazz band and writing. That's where I started doing some real writing for the jazz band. And after that I came up to Berkeley, the University of California, Berkeley, and went into their music department, but it was so jive. I suppose it was like colleges everywhere. You have to take all of the stuff that doesn't really mean anything... they want to make you into a music teacher. If you get to talk to Ned Lagin he'll you about this, even in graduate school, that's what they wanted to do to him. They wanted to make him conform so that he could go out and teach other aspiring musicians how to be music teachers. It was a circle of mediocrity which fortunately he wasn't into.
"I never even got that far, I dropped out of Berkerley in the middle of the first semester because it was incredibly lame. Even so I did learn, just being around a large university like that it is impossible not to learn something. So I was able to learn enough and keep my hand in enough so that when the time came I was ready, thanks to the intervention of my room-mate who was also a composer, who had gone to see Berio at Mills. He said, "Hey, Berio's gonna be at Mills," and even then I knew who he was. He said to Berio, "My room-mate is interested too, can I bring him along?" and the guy said, "Yeah". So I went along.
"The guy is so amazing [Berio], he doesn't teach you a f***ing thing, he just does his thing, and you have to do your thing. But he'll play tapes for you and we went through the Rite of Spring and that kind of thing. He doesn't teach you anything about composition because he knows it can't be taught. So after that it was like completely open and I kept composing and staying in that area of music for a couple of years, but it was like getting to be a dead-end both philosophically and practically, because in order to get anywhere in that area you just have to know somebody, and also you have to have the right credentials. And you have to have gone to school somewhere, you have to have graduated somewhere, and you have to have gone to graduate school.
"There are no short cuts. You can't be like Ives, although Ives is the wrong example because he actually went to school for four years and studied music and then he went into the insurance business because he knew music wasn't where it was at. While he was at school he played piano at the movies or in the bars. But you just can't come out of nowhere and get your music performed and so I just gave up and thought 'f**k it!' At that point I was out of music entirely. I had nothing to do with it except I was a great listener.
"Then I figured, well man, if I can't be a musician I'll be a great listener, and great listeners are very important. Without them some music might not survive. And then it turned out that a year later one of my old friends had this rock'n'roll band, so we all took some acid and went down to hear his rock'n'roll band at this pizza parlour in Menlo Park, California. Good God, it sure was a great scene!
"At some party, I guess a month before that... we'd just been to see the Rolling Stones, and The Byrds had been in town, this was in '65, their first gigs ever... and I just happened to mention in passing to Garcia... he was at the party too, we were both stoned out of our minds, he had the band even then, Weir came along with some grass and we went along to the car and got high... and I happened to mention sometime during that evening to Garcia, "I think I'll take up the electric bass and join a band." The next month, or the next whatever it was, we go down to hear the band, and Garcia takes me aside and puts a beer in my hand and says, "Listen man, you're gonna play bass in my band." "But I... er... who me? Well Jesus, that might be possible." Actually, it excited the shit out of me because it was something to do. And the flash was, "Oh shit, you mean I can get paid for having fun!" Of course, it was so ironic because before I'd gotten to the point where I just wanted to quit music entirely, I hated rock'n'roll music, I didn't think it was anything, I hated it, I thought it was so lame. I said, "What can you do with three chords?"'
ZZ: So that story about you learning to play in two weeks, is that true?
"Two weeks before the first gig, yeah I didn't play too good man, it was a real wooden sound, real stiff. But we actually did play a gig two weeks afterwards. And for three or four years after that when I would tell people how long I had been playing bass they would say, 'amazing!'. Now it's been almost ten years so I don't have an excuse anymore."
Tunes and Musical Structure
ZZ: It seems to me and perhaps a lot of other people, that rather than Jerry, you are the musical centre of the group.
"That's kind of hard to really pin down in my opinion, since Jerry writes most of the tunes, along with Hunter, although I have been getting back into writing tunes lately. I didn't do it for a long time, but we all sort of contribute to the evolution of a so-called tune. Before we were into doing tunes like with a whole bunch of lyrics and very little instrumental and a beginning and an end, that sort of thing, I always felt that I was able to bring into the rock'n'roll medium a little kind of highly structured symphonic kind of flow to the music which has been sadly lacking in rock'n'roll music for one thing and especially in our music since we started trying to focus it all down into tunes — or narrow it down to tunes.
"I personally think that tunes, that is songs with lyrics... you can only go so far with them, you can't take them into a new realm, and you can hardly ever develop them. In other words, all it is the melody and the lyrics and a chord change, and if you're gonna have a tune that's comprehensible you have to more or less be musically repetitive. I personally have never been into that kind of music, although I love to play, and the part of playing when we get off the best is the part that’s not structured like that, that is repetitive, over and over.
"I mean, structure is necessary, some kind of structure, is necessary in music if it's gonna be communicative at all. It just seems that tunes don't go past a certain level. That's just a personal opinion. There are some people who do tunes very well. As far as I'm concerned, I don't think that our tunes are that great. I think what we do best is improvise, with some kind of spontaneous structure occurring at the time of the improvisation going on. There are a lot of people who write really good tunes but that's all they are, they're tunes. And I suppose that's a criterion of value judgement at this point in time, especially since the Beatles and all that, who managed to put a lot of development in their tunes, as far as I can tell.
"I may have missed something between then and now, but there's nobody yet who has equaled what they did with a tune. I have always been kind of wary of us trying to do that ourselves because that's not what we do best. Eventually, there might be some musicians who come along, or a single musician, who can do all of those things, who can improvise and stretch out, in a meaningful manner, and at the same time condense everything down to a tune where every note is meaningful, and so on. I don't think it's happened yet. 'Cause when the Beatles first came along they weren't doing that, they learned to do it with a little help from their friends, I think. I don't know how they did their recording sessions, but George Martin must have had a hell of a lot to do with it. A hell of a lot. 'Cause after they broke up and they weren't using George Martin, even their last records when they were using Phil Spector it wasn't the same. It just wasn't the same. But anyway, enough about them."
ZZ: Who else besides the people you've mentioned do you listen to, or admire?
"I come from classical music myself, so my roots run back to Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Debussy, Mahler, Chopin and Ives, and that's the kind of thinking that I would like to bring to any kind of music that I am involved in. It's a kind of larger scale kind of thinking. Since about 1970 the Grateful Dead hasn't been into that too much. It's been like I say more or less small-scale tunes that repeat themselves. As far as rock'n'roll music, or contemporary music, or whatever you want to call it, there are very few people I listen to. My collection consists of people like the Allman Brothers, The Band, Bob Dylan. I have a few Rolling Stones records and I have a lot of Beatles records. I have more jazz actually than I do rock'n'roll."
"John Coltrane. When Coltrane was alive I would catch him every chance I had. Back in the late '50s when he was with Miles Davis I had the opportunity to catch that sextet with Miles Davis, Coltrane, and Cannonball Adderley 'live' in San Francisco in one of the old jazz clubs. That sort of thing, and in a more expansive vein Gill Evans Big Band recordings and Cecil Taylor in some of his more comprehensible moments.
"I don't know, the modern, or so-called avantgarde jazz doesn't sound too much to me — I don’t have too much of that. Weather Report is a really good band, but as far as Mahavishnu or say, even Corea... . Anyway, all those guys seem to me to be like boogaloo, or a superhyperphonetic boogaloo. I don't know, I might be old fashioned but I really love to hear people swing, and it seems to me that it would be possible to combine that with the kind of frenetic, super-fast rhythmic trips going on in Mahavishnu and all those guys.
"Like in Mahavishnu there are two elements to it — there's the rhythm, and then there's the melodic line and that's all there is to it. It's super-primitive music, almost like Indian music. I don't know why people call it sophisticated because it isn't. It's just melody and rhythm which, in a way, is a highly evolved kind of music when the Indians do it, but it's certainly not as jazz musicians do it, it's not systematic in the slightest. Like Weather Report — they're into a more kind of polyphonic kind of music which makes a lot of sense to me. ‘Cause then there's electronic music."
"In my late college years which lasted until about '62, I was fortunate enough to get into a class in Mills College in Oakland, California, which was right across the bay from San Francisco, with Berio, and at that point he wasn't into electronic music too heavily, in fact he's done very little since then, he's more into the voice and instruments. And of all the people who are composing that music today — the three major forces, Boulez, Stockhausen and Berio — conveniently enough they're from each one of the major musical European countries — Stockhausen and Berio are the only ones who are still producing meaningful music. Actually, that last Berio are work I heard in, I guess it was '68 or '69, was magnificent — 'Laborintus 2' it was called. Since then he's brought out a recording of that which doesn't capture the power of this work which had tape — stereophonic tape, two drummers — jazz drummers, essentially, playing tape drum-sets instead of the regular percussion outfit, chorus, a speaker and some instruments like a fourteen-piece instrument ensemble.
"Stockhausen, of course, is getting more and more into this intuitive music, which is, amazingly enough, a lot similar to what we are trying to do. As far as improvisation is concerned, his style is a lot farther out than ours is, but the principles are the same, with the exception of the fact that he notates a lot of the stuff in intuitive ways like, 'Play the longest sound that you can possibly play,' or 'Play a flurry of the shortest sounds as fast as you possibly can, on a given cue. Tune your shortwave radio to something that turns you on and work against it,' that sort of thing. Which is a lot like concept art, and I haven't really heard too much of that music so I couldn't tell how successful it would be. But everything he's done up to 1970 has been extremely impressive to my mind.
"My partner Ned Lagin, Mickey Hart and myself were involved in experimenting with electronic music, but Mickey's since dropped out so there's just the two of us. We perform it in the intermission at concerts. We do it as a break. Ned has a very evolved instrument which consists of a synthesiser, a modular synthesiser with keyboard, and electric piano, and a computer. The computer is like a score in a way, he lays out certain functions, let's say changes, that'll go down in the course of the music, and he programmes it into the computer and then when he starts the computer, the changes all occur automatically within a certain time period. This is the way he's planning to use it. It's the most primitive way because we just got the computer in July or July, something like that.
"The system that I was going to have built is not happening because the guy who was going to build it completely crapped out in the middle of the job. I have the bass with all the switching on it and I've got the frets for the console with all the tone modulation modules, and the foot pedals with all the switching on it and stuff, but that's it, and right now I'm using a ring modulator. So the contrast is pretty great 'cause he has under his control, I should say, virtually an infinite range of sounds and music that he can play, and I've got a very limited range, so it's really over-balanced. He'll tell you different, he'll say, 'Well Phil, you just haven't worked with that enough, you can do more than you have been doing' and so forth, and he's probably right up to a certain point, but I know enough about it to know that there's no possible way that one guy with two pedals and a ring modulator can possibly compete with an entire computer/synthesiser system. That's even the wrong word, it's question of polyphonic music.
"So, I essentially have to be the drone, relating back to Indian music, I have to be the drone, the ground, the pre-conscious state out of which the synthesiser, which he's playing, rings thoughts, let's say. So that's sort of the stage we're at now. I personally don't think that the middle of a Grateful Dead show is the best place for this music, although in some places the response has been amazing. Hollywood, for instance, people were all pretty crazy cause there were some security people who were getting pretty violent, and so we went out and did our thing — everybody was pretty high in Hollywood, they just sort of relaxed, they just got into the zone, in the space of long slow changes which, if you're pretty high and feeling like killing, it might just change your thinking. I really don't know exactly what it will do to a person but the vibe was totally different after we'd finished. Tom could tell you something about it — he was there, he was amazed by it all — all those people, he said, 'You really got them into a good vibe situation, and that was the last thing I would have expected from electronic music.
"I suppose eventually we'll get something out on record. Ned has already one composition that's almost finished, it's 45 minutes in all, so that could come out on a record. Ned has a composition that was complete about two years ago but now he wants to revise it. It's got David Freiberg, Grace Slick, Garcia, Spencer Dryden, Mickey Hart, myself and Ned, like an all-star cast you know, doing this electronic music which nobody except Ned and myself had any experience with before, and it was amazing how intuitively all these people were able to absolutely get into it.
"I mean, the way he [Ned] had us do it was he played white noise, or actually pink noise (pink noise is white noise that has been filtered), and he just had us improvise, more or less, upon this white noise. It was amazing how synchronised the whole thing turned out to be. It just totally blew me away. I would lay down a part, and then Ned would lay down a part and then I would lay down another part, but none of us would ever hear what any of the other had done. We only had this one level, this one layer of stuff to work with, which was the white noise in the cans, and there was also a synthesiser track which was like bleeps and swoops and that sort of thing. Ned would not dig me saying it like that, but that's what it sounded like.
"Those two were the only things that everybody had in common to work with, and it all came out sounding incredible, especially the vocal parts. But now he wants to revise it and add the chorus parts, so he plans to do that probably by the end of the year, and so I don't know whether the record will ever get out over here. Of course, it's not going to be a big seller or anything like that. Although I really shouldn't say that, it could be. It could be crazy enough and 'heads' might decide that they really want this so that they can completely zone out.
"But anyway, some of it is going to be coming out on records in one form or another. As a matter of fact, the first step that we made towards that was using the synthesiser, using Ned playing synthesiser on 'Unbroken Chain' on the new album, which I thought was extremely successful. Not so much necessarily the tune itself as a whole, but the tune itself as a sketch of what happened when we finally laid it down. It blew me over I must say. Even though I had thought of using synthesiser in the beginning, what happened in the middle part when he started playing it like it was drums — that really made it."
ZZ: How much of the 'Feedback' track on Live/Dead was you idea?
PL: "Most of that stuff originally was my idea. Because there we were with all those electronic instruments and it was starting to be obvious to me that it could be used for that, for those functions, in that kind of manner. Even though you can't control them too well, they more or less end up being pretty tonal, tonal in a sense that the sounds that usually come out tend to have the harmonic structure of tonal notes. When that got started, we only did that for a little while, it was for only about two years that we did that and now when we do it just doesn't sound right because people are on the wahwah pedals.
"Weir actually was one of the masters of that stuff but he doesn't do it any more at all. I can't imagine why, 'cause he would just come out with this incredible stuff and it was absolutely off the top of his head, totally. That's why it amazes me that he doesn't explore that. Maybe he just thinks that it's too complicated or whatever, which it isn't I mean, if you've got an ear, the whole range of any kind of music is open to you, you don't have to know what the rules are. This is my theory, anyway. Being a college drop-out."
Bass Playing & Improvisation
ZZ: You don't really play the bass like any other bass guitarist do you?
"No I don't. I don't like that kind of playing 'cause it's too repetitive, most of it. I rarely, rarely hear bass players play stuff that's not a pattern, and in fact, that's the way people think of it. They say, 'OK you lay down the bass pattern for this one,' or the 'bass line' they sometimes call it, but it's still very repetitive. So I like to play it more in the sense of like the continuo bass of the baroque period, or the real bass line in classical music — Beethoven or Mahler, in a way that, like, makes the music move to different places even though in rock’n’roll music it just seems to be more convenient to play the root of the chord all the time. Unless you've got a specific kind of harmonic change that's happening like where you can play the fifth of the chord which becomes the root of another chord, being the same note."
ZZ: Do you think of what you play as melodies, because in that sense it's counter point?
"Yes I do, because the bass line always has to be like that. Although it's a little slower than the main melodic line which is up on top, or even some of the voices. Yes, I can see them like that — polyphonic counterpoint or as much as I can which, when you've got four musicians playing pitched instruments, that excludes the drums, it's real easy to step on someone else's lines or notes. In recent years I've slacked off a little bit in that concept, just because first of all we've narrowed it down to tunes, and Keith came along and he's very accomplished and can do all that stuff. Sometimes I like to just play on the high register of the bass and let Keith play the bass line. Which doesn't fit as well with the drums, but it's a different texture. I never have liked having the same texture in a band, or any kind of musical entity because where's it at if it's the same all the time?"
ZZ: Can you throw some light on this business of improvisation? There are times in your performances where one instrument changes the basic pattern and everyone follows one by one over a certain number of bars until you are doing something else completely. But there always seems to be somebody in charge.
"That's just the way our group does it. There are some people who can do it faster than that. Some bands, like jazz bands, can do it faster than that, although they don't very often, they've gotten to be more same-sounding. If we were more aligned in the jazz area it would be just like jazz music, that is solos, the head, the first melodic statement, then everybody takes a solo, and maybe there's a drum solo, and then the head comes back again and it's out. Which to me is a pretty lame structure, surely.
"Even in so-called modern jazz, guys do the same kind of thing. They play the head, although it's more complex, then they do a bunch of solos, then they do the head again and then it's out. I don't know, that's more simple than any kind of structure that was ever used in pre-classical music even a baroque suite or anything like that. So we're not into that level, I think that my group improvisation is more interesting, that's what I've been trying to inject into the way the Grateful Dead thinks about things. Everybody in the band is more or less inclined towards that. It's just real difficult to do because some people just want to get into a rut, as it were.
"So group improvisation is real difficult to do because you just have to be super-intuitive about it. Although, like you were saying, it's true there's always someone that leads it into that direction and then the rest of the band will pick it up. Sometimes it's all at once, but mostly though it's one at a time as you say. I think it's pretty interesting the way it works out. The first idea comes out and then somebody else picks up the other end of that to a point where everybody's doing something completely individual, and then were do we stop? I don't know what will carry on from that. I hope a higher level of togetherness. Because there was one point when we were thinking as one person. None of that was ever recorded of course. The only good it ever did was that we knew we could do it.
"It's very fragile, it depends on people's state of mind, how many drugs they've had, what kind of drugs they've had in their system that day, how they're getting along with their ladies, how many stops you had to make on the flight, how many drinks you had, it's so gradual. On our last U.S. tour we played Ohio, Chicago, Virginia, Washington DC, New York and Philadelphia and out of those six gigs there were three that were good. Unlike four years ago when our average was higher. The thing about the kind of music we play is that you can't do it that well every night. I seem to recall when I was playing in orchestras and stuff like that, when I was at classical school, I thought I'd become a conductor or something like that, I always thought that if I had been born a hundred years ago that's what I'd be. Anyway, our averages where just so much higher then, it was easier."
ZZ: How far have the possibilities of your instrument been extended? You've got probably the most sophisticated bass guitar anywhere, if you can call it a bass guitar.
"The instrument, as it was originally conceived, would have been at one end of the spectrum and electric bass with which you could play rock 'n' roll music but in entirely different tone colours, new tone colours. Like every note would have a change in it rather than just being a note that was a attacked, sustained and then died away. During that period it would change internally, that was what I was after on one end of the spectrum.
"On the other end of the spectrum it would have been a synthesiser which would have been controlled by the strings of an electric bass, so that I could still use my hands to play the electric bass, which I've learned to do fairly well in ten years, and still have a synthesiser to modify the sounds and make a new kind of music with this relatively simple instrument. Unfortunately, that didn't happen so what I have now is a super electric bass which is real easy to play, and has all kinds of great tone colours just for the electric bass, but it doesn't have that synthesiser capability of being able to change or, like, play around and say every note have a different tone colour and that kind of thing. That's what I was really after and it just hasn't happened.
"It's possible that something like that could happen in the future, but with the present synthesiser technology it's just real difficult because everything is voltage controlled and you get voltage out of an electric bass but it's voltage according to amplitude — how loud you play, not what you play, and the hang up of the system that I was going to have built was that we couldn't get a frequency to voltage converter. That is something that will pick out what note you are playing in the audio spectrum and convert it to voltage, a certain amount of voltage, which would then cause your filters, or whatever else you wanted to use, to track along with what you were playing. So it's like still in the future but I do have a great electric bass, it's just a flash, it's just a trip to play. The people from Alembic built it essentially. Rick Turner built the wood, built the instrument itself and the pick-ups, and George Mundy who is an electronic technician, you might call him, he used to work for Alembic but now he's on his own, he's freelance."
"I can't say for sure that the music would have been the same without the drugs, in fact, I'm not qualified to say. The thing about the audiences was that they were exactly where we were, we didn't even have to play good. It was like we were them, they were us, and when you're just standing there on the stage boogying away and you can see 5,000 people going up and down in a wave like an ocean, it tends to give a feeling like you're doing something right. I guess that was where we got the idea that we could play what ever we wanted and it would still work.
"But the drug influence sort of diminished, and at a certain point there was none of us that we would take any of those drugs, none of us. Like at the Monterey Pop Festival in '67, everybody was as stoned as they could possibly be except us ; because we'd been there before, and nobody wanted to go on that trip at that time. I for instance, I do it all the time, acid I mean. All the time, I love it. I think that it's one of the greatest tools for learning about yourself. It's my quality knob. I take a few drops of acid and I turn up my quality knob.
"Listening back to what I've played later on a tape, because the drugs can't have any influence on a tape, I find that generally speaking the quality is just what I thought it was. Especially about what I, myself was playing. The relationship between what I was playing and the whole band is not always that good because not everybody is always on the same plane. Or on the same trip. I've seen some people take acid and just get bombed out horribly, and I'm sure you have too. It all depends on your state of mind, but as for now, the drug influence now, I would say it's a lot lighter that it was at the peak. It's like we're coming down off the other side of the mountain, and besides the quality of acid has gone down to such an alarming degree that you just can't get good shit, and apart from that there's all these other new drugs available that have come around, whose names I don't need to mention I'm sure. Most of which I don't care to use. Cocaine, for instance, makes me evil and makes me hate music. I hate music when I'm under influence, so I can't use it, it's just impossible."
The Rock Press
"In the United States we've got a million of them and they're just so jive. What I do, I usually pick up the classical magazines like The Gramophone, Records and Recordings, and stuff like that, and I've been noticing that our latest records have been getting a lot of flack over here. One guy in Records and Recordings, said something like 'Well, this here band has been getting a lot of flack for the last couple of years and everybody seems to have forgotten how great they were when they came over here and played, and at that time everybody was getting on the bandwagon for superlatives. So why don't we just look at it as a sort of ongoing process. Just because it's not like it was, or not like you expect it to be, is that bad? That doesn't make it bad.' However, I would say that it's really difficult to perceive, just through the recordings, some kind of continuity rather than, like, we're just churning them out."
© Andy Childs, 1974
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Grateful Dead - How the hell do ya play them five-hour sets without slinkin' off for a leak?
Charles Shaar Murray, New Musical Express, 21 September 1974
Yes, it's an interesting one isn't it? I mean, five hours...that's a long time, and well...camels are different of course, so really it must be a problem. However, Smilin' Jerry Garcia doesn't let The Grateful Dead's music get bogged down with details like that. Read his answers in NME – the one that dares ask the big questions.
IT'S DA Dead, mayun!
Everybody's bloody grinning.
Everybody's bloody grinning.
The roadies who're running around Alexandra Palace launching frisbees into the stratosphere, the ones who're plugging things in and carrying things about, the Old Ladies'n Wives trucking around with their kids...
Everybody is grinning.
Jerry Garcia is grinning as well, wandering around in circles on the stage with his guitar tuned right in on the intergalactic noodle wavelength and a seraphic grin plastered over his mug.
His fingers trucking along busily like the game little troupers they are, he listens with his head on one side to the almost imperceptible sound of his beard growing.
A week ago he only had stubble.
Now he's sporting a Full Fledged Growth. They don't call him the Fastest Beard In The West for nothing.
What's da story, Jerry?
Welllllll, the story is that Jerry Garcia is standing in front of a scale model of the Great Wall of China playing his geetar. There's a bit of Kozmic Ragtime, some patented repeat-echo doodlerama...and what a lovely smile. The Osmonds should be so lucky as to be able to smile with the warm, friendly sincerity of the Grateful Dead and their crew. Why they weren't signed up for a Coke commercial hasta be one of the best-kept secrets of all time.
I mean, here's just one example – just one – of how thoroughly, overwhelmingly wonderful the Dead are. Are you ready for this?
It seems that at the Watkins Glen Festival (which out-statisticked Woodstock by 150,000 folks) the Dead set up speaker towers geometrically proceeding into the audience, complete with a delay system to keep it all in phase, so that even if you were one helluva way back you could still get good sound.
And – here's the killer part – they wired a goddam radio, transmitter into the sound system so that all the people stuck out in the traffic jams could hear Thuh Day – ud on their itty-bitty car radios.
Now, ain't that sump'n? Would you get ELP doing that? Would you get The Faces doing that? Wouldja? Wouldja, huh?
So Uncle Jerry stashes his axe and, still grinning through his chin-warmer, saunters back-stage to a room full of impressive-looking electronic devices. On the previous night, some extremely agile thieves had descended through an airvent and ripped off a tape deck. "It's basically what we get for starting late", beams Garcia. "That's the karma – the starting-late karma."
A philosopher, yet!
Okay, Jerry, let's do the interview. There's one real insiders' Grateful Dead question, the real heavy secret that we've all wanted to know for the last seven years, which is – how the hell do ya manage to play them long sets without needing to slink off and take a leak?
Is it some form of esoteric Yoga bladder control that you learned from Ken Kesey? Do you have tubes strapped under your jeans. What's the deal?
"Hahaaa. There isn't any real secret, I don't think ... and I'm also not a beer-drinker, which probably makes a big difference. I haven't really thought about that before" – something goes click, Garcia's brain revolves 180 degrees and he feeds in another punch card – "There are times when somebody will leave the stage for some reason or other...it just doesn't seem like it.
"We don't really do five hours directly. Like we'll play an hour and a half or so, and then come back. Makes the whole thing more reasonable. Hahaaa."
"When you went off last night, I walked out into the crowd," volunteers a member of the road crew, "an' a lotta people thought you were putting them on a hype trip".
Garcia nods a couple of times, inserts an untipped Camel into his smile. "I can't understand why they would think that. They might think that that was where the band was at. I'm on a self-destruction programme," he says, alluding to the untipped cigarette. No filter tip's gonna come between you and that ol' debbil cancer, right, Jerry?
"Maybe. Hahaaa. Death has a better than fair chance anyway. Like tooth decay."
Ye-e-ah...mighty fine lookin' PA system you got there, Jerry.
"The reason that we have it and the reason that we developed it'n all that is that we weren't really anticipating an amazing growth in our audience, which has happened, and so in terms of – uh – respecting the situation and trying to deal with it righteously, our point of view has been, well, since we're playing to larger audiences in larger places, the thing to do should be to divert the energy into improving the quality of the performance.
"Obviously, the bigger the place, the worse the sound."
Yeah, but Jerry, that problem exists for lotsa bands ...
"Yeah, but not that many acts are concerned about it."
"It's a problem of individual responsibility. If the musicians feel very strongly about it, then it's up to them to do something about it.
"The economics of rock and roll don't allow for trying to get a better and better sound, since the idea is to cut down on expenses. Our motive is simply a sense of responsibility about what it is. When you're playing in a big room, there's no way to – uh – de-escalate."
So that's why you play all those club gigs in your spare time, huh, Jerry?
"Oh, I do those 'cuz I'm a musician. I'm a player. The thing I want to do most is to play. I wanna learn how to play better, and the only way you can do that is to play."
Hey, Jerry...didja hear about Windsor? Bummer, man. Bad vibes, y'know?
"We've seen it happen in the United States...time and time again. It's almost at the point now where you can describe music as an illegal activity in terms of the free equation. Woodstock and Altamont and all the other large-scale things that were characterised by a certain amount of confusion or violence have all produced a new level of paranoia. We still get busted a lot.
"Basically we're outlaws. We're viewed as outlaws, and we've developed outlaw-style protective colouration. We're not immune, by any means. We haven't gained any degree of respectability."
Well, you could play it like the Allmans and get a dude from the diplomatic corps to waltz you through customs...
"Yeah. Hahaaaa. Screw it, I'd rather take my chances. I don't like to feel that I'm existing on that level. That's not who I am at all. I don't like any of the trappings of success at all. They're all poison. It's hard enough just playin', and that's all I wanna do."
In that case, does it hang ya up to be a guru'n a "signpost to new space" and all the rest of that Charles Reich aardvaark waste?
"It could, but...I don't deal with my public image. I regret having ever spoken to anyone...haHaAAAh...but I feel that as long al I have...I have a kinda responsibility to follow it up and clarify it as much as I can.
"The difficulty is that my viewpoint is not static. My mind is dynamic and my thoughts are changing and my ideas are changing. I'm embarrassed by that book (Garcia: A Signpost To New Space by Charles Reich and Jann Wenner), I'm embarrassed by seeing my name in print, I'm embarrassed by having to be out on stage, I'm embarrassed...on many levels."
Whoooo-ee. It's amazing that Garcia can even bring himself to walk out of his house in the morning.
"I really just love to play, y'know? I love to play without having to be – uh – fulfilling this human drama aspect of – uh – whatever it is."
Jerry Garcia is really such a nice old hippie that I felt kind bad about talking to him under false pretences. I mean, I saw the Dead two years ago at Wembley and they were great, but I've never been able to get off at all on their records. So I said just that.
"Ye-e-ahh – our records are awful."
"We've never bothered too much, y'know? HaHAAAA-haah! I don't think that recording is a suitable form for us. The live thing is what we do."
Well, if we're all agreed that the Dead's records just don't cut it, doesn't that make them a bit of a rip-off, something of a burn?
"That's exactly it. HaaHaaa-ha!! It's a burn for us and for the public, too. We've never really made money from records. Our records have always like sold to a small, closed audience. We've never scored big from records. We've always spent more making them than we've made back...or some other permutation of unsuccessful possibility.
"A lot of people come to see us, but don't but our records. There's a whole big scene of people who do nothing but swap live tapes of us – for free! That's a heavier trip than records, y'know?"
Has having your own label made any difference on that level?
"Yes, it's made it possible for us to get into a – uhhh – a scheming bag, y'know? Haa – HAAAA! We've got our own record company, which means that we can make any kind of crazy plans we want to.
"We can spend time...plotting, y'know. It gives us something to play with. And it also means that we can make records 'n stuff without feeling 'we're gonna turn out another record for The Man'."
The Dead not only tape every single show that they perform, but hey even tape their sound-checks as well, even if the sound-check is just Garcia doodling for three hours. It all goes down on tape. Why d'ya tape everything, Jerry?
"We-e-e-e-lll...you can't always trust your memory...can you?"
But what do you do with all these miles of tape?
"We take 'em all back to California and burn 'em. Hey – take a look at this." He ambles over to a corner of the room and pulls this huge mound of celluloid tagliatelle out from behind a chair. "This here is last night's show." He lets it cascade back on to the floor, wipes his boot on it and drifts back out on to the stage to play a little more.
When you glance over the sleeve credits on West Coast albums of the last few years, you get a distinct "old pals act" vibe off the whole schmear. Maybe these guys are getting a little insular in their old age. Hey, Jerry, have you ever been to see Alice Cooper?
"I never have; never seen him perform. Never been curious enough. It's not my trip. I'm not that much of an entertainment freak. If I go out, I go out to hear some music, and I usually know what I'm going to hear.
"If I'm goin' out, I'm goin' out because I know that so-and-so is playing bass. I hardly ever go to see rock and roll bands, because I'm not into the space of being able to get off on a rock and roll band. Whatever I would be digging would be whatever the band's limitations were, and I'm less interested in my own music than in the music I'm going out to see.
"So if I'm gonna go out, it automatically has to be better than me, which means that it has to be better than anything I'm better than. And I'm better than a lot of rock and roll bands.
"I have a small percentage of get-off space. There's not many things that get me off. It has to be pretty deep."
Hmmmmmm...it does seem as if Jerry Garcia is getting a trifle hidebound these days. I mean, it's one thing to rap about striving for new forms 'n all that garf, but if you don't bother to check out where other people are at then there's a very real danger of getting a trifle out of touch.
Jerry Garcia is a genuinely charming old hippie. If he wasn't in the Dead and wasn't a star and lived down the street from me, I'd probably try and hang out with him a lot and maybe cop the odd guitar lesson from him. But listening to the Dead these days is like visiting your relatives.
It's pleasant and relaxing and really quite enjoyable, but it's also more than a little soporific. They've lost most of their punch and power, and their music now is rich and full, but sluggish and old and fat and slow.
They open up their set with Chuck Berry's 'Around And Around' played about as inappropriately as is possible. It would be foolish to sing: "Well, the joint was flowin', flowin' round and round/just ebbin' and a-flowin', what a laid-back sound," but that's really the way it is.
Even when the Dead play Berry, it just doesn't rock.
Not that I'd want them to come on with strobe lights, power chords and green eye make-up, but...hey, wake up in there, you guys! It is only on 'Peggy-O' and 'I Know You Rider' that their laid-backery coalesces with their material and produces music of genuine, tranquil beauty.
The blue lights highlight the grey in Garcia's hair and beard, turning it almost silvery. He looks very old against the clean-cut All-American Boy collegiate look currently spotted by Bob Weir. Even that phoenix-like guitar sparkle seems a trifle dimmed, and the same licks just seem too be coming around again.
And – horror or horrors – at one point he even leaves the stage between numbers to take a leak.
Another illusion shattered.
© Charles Shaar Murray, 1974
Grateful Dead: Alexandra Palace, London
Robin Katz, Sounds, 21 September 1974
DEAD? No, just snoozing
ACCORDING TO my flatmate, the Iowa refuge, 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 others 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.
© Robin Katz, 1974
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The Exhumation of The Dead
Mick Farren, New Musical Express, 3 August 1974
They've been slagged, slated, abused, and misused – most often in these very pages. But Hell hath no Fury like a Dead fan scorned, and so MICK FARREN comes, not to bury the Dead but to praise them.
WAY BACK in 1970 I lived with a certain David Goodman. Every morning, round about noon, I'd be lying in bed and "St. Stephen" by the Grateful Dead would come pumping through the wall and I'd know the day had started. I'd stagger out into the living room, and he'd be sitting, with a blue polka dot dressing gown wrapped round his not inconsiderable bulk, rolling the breakfast joint. By the time we'd turned over the album and run through "Turn On Your Love Light", we were both mellowed out sufficiently to face the wicked world outside.
Those morning interludes kind of summed up the Grateful Dead for me. They were solid, stoned, freewheeling and a little untogether.
In some ways it also spotlights their current problem. At the height of their popularity, when Garcia's name was being bandied about as the world's greatest guitar player, they were very close to us all. They were the very antithesis of rock and roll glamour. They weren't conspicuous consumers of anything except drugs. They got busted the same as everybody else, and they screwed up the same as everybody else.
They were a bunch of regular stoned freaks; the only thing that separated them from the rest of the herd was their ability to weave long meandering boogies that sounded good if you were straight, and even better if your were stoned. Occasionally they even came out with small gems of vocal philosophy that were among the most accurate that ever came out of rock and roll. Among all the thousands of words that came out of the Altamont fiasco, the Dead's 'New Speedway Boogie' was one of the most constructive pieces of observation.
Even back in 1970 the clouds had been forming on the horizon for quite a long time. It seemed that as things became progressively more confused, the Grateful Dead went their way, and a good many of us went ours. We all reacted to the tightening grip of urban desperation in different ways. The Dead retreated, with their wives, old ladies, children and retainers, into the hills of San Raphael, in California's rock and roll suburb of Marin County. Those of us who were less lucky, and still had to live with the city's pressure forsook their blue jean cowboy boot funk and clutched at the dangerously esoteric thrills of Bowie, Cooper and the whole procession of terminal mutants.
Not, of course, that the Dead always enjoyed such protected isolation. In many ways, they were one of the most genuine of the West Coast's street bands. In the early' sixties they were at the hub of the San Francisco break-out. It wasn't just the human be-in and flower power summer of 1967. They were very much a part of the creative explosion of a few years before. Culturally they bridged the gap between the hipsters, beats and Bay area poets of the 'fifties and the hippies. They were the link between Lenny Bruce, Neal Cassidy and Gary Snyder, and the Woodstock gang of the next generation.
Those early years, sporadically documented in The Dead Book by Hank Harrison*, must have been some of the most exciting times of the last couple of decades. The mind wrenching revelation of lysergic acid had just hit the California intellectual community with the force of a limited nuclear strike. Ken Kesey was propagating it and Owsley Stanley III was manufacturing it. The Acid Test was on the road and the Grateful Dead were the spearhead sonic shock troops.
Coupled with the San Francisco Mime Troupe (then managed by a certain Bill Graham), the Diggers, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and even the notorious Hell's Angels, they instigated the concept of rock and roll street parties, Golden Gate Park concerts and the whole gamut of the rolling psychedelic circus.
This small tight community didn't last very long. The great trek to San Francisco began in 1966 and grew to flood proportions by the summer of 1967. Alienated kids from all over the US flocked to the Bay area looking for a paisley Utopia. The majority found mainly poverty and methedrine. As the dream faded, a lot of the bands who had so blithely propagated the floral myth retreated behind a barrier of obscurantism and dedicated themselves to making a buck. The Dead remained in their chaotic home on Ashbury Street, put out their energy, and dealt with the situation as best they could.
But of course, not all their efforts were purely altruistic. They toured; they signed a deal with Warner Brothers; played San Francisco rock halls, the Avalon and the original Fillmore; and recorded their first, rather flawed, album. The Dead survived in a totally haphazard manner. At any given time, their operation supported up to fifty people. Their original managers, Rock Scully and Danny Rifkin, operated in an environment of mammoth fantasy and astronomical debts.
In 1968 they even turned their attention towards Europe. They dispatched an advance party to check out the viability of a UK tour. Where most bands would have just sent a manager, the Dead sent out a collection of a dozen or more assorted freaks; Scully, Rifkin, artists, astrologers, cooks, concubines and the ever-present Hell's Angels. They were initially offered hospitality and a base at the Apple offices. Unfortunately George Harrison freaked at their California ways and ordered them out. The Dead's advance guard were distributed round households all over London. Needless to say, the tour didn't materialise.
BACK HOME, however, things were beginning to happen. The Dead, in their early recordings, suffered from the curse of all independently minded bands. They had to learn recording techniques as they went, and their first three albums, despite a good deal of progress, all exhibit their trial and error mistakes. Their first live album, the double Live Dead, exhibited them as they really were and, for the first time, they achieved the kind of international sales that compared with the magnitude of their legend. At last they transcended the label of the great hippy band, and began to be recognised as musicians. It was the start of the Garcia cult.
It was also the start of a massive reorganisation. They had a new manager, John McIntyre, who was determined to put the Dead on a secure financial footing and clear up the mess that had been created by erratic hippie business efficiency.
Not that McIntyre is a crewcut Allen Klein. He is a determined, long-haired Nordic' blond, who could easily play Moorcock's Elric, if Hollywood ever decided to film the Stormbringer saga. He took over management of the Dead in 1969 and by 1971 they were out of debt. It was the era of ‘Uncle John's Band’. Not only did McIntyre solve their fiscal problems, but his arrival also seemed to cure the Dead's notorious lousy-one-day-inspired-the-next attitude to playing.
It was an intense period of creativity and hard work. It produced their finest studio album, Workingman's Dead, possibly one of the greatest musical studies of working class America since the days of Woody Guthrie and Jimmy Rodgers.
They also made a fleeting British trial run to the Hollywood festival, and a year later a full-scale tour of Europe that took the Continent and the UK by storm. They were the darlings of the underground establishment, American Beauty and the second live album were the hippies' fave rave, and everyone seemed to be trying to sell them coke. At the cold, damp Bickershaw festival they played for six solid hours, and Garcia was elevated to the pedestal that had so recently been vacated by Eric Clapton.
After the tour, Garcia produced his rather patchy solo album that fluctuated between flashes of brilliance and long hauls of cosmic tedium, and Bobby Weir came out with the more even and workmanlike Ace. Then they made the major miscalculation of a triple live album of the European tour. The public was surfeited, and got bored. Lurex and mascara raised its ugly head, and the Grateful Dead were suddenly last year's thing.
Up in the hills of San Raphael nobody seemed too worried. For the first time in their lives the Dead were materially secure. Garcia played with everyone from Commander Cody to David Crosby, and the rest of the band relaxed in the bosoms of their families and worked on In the Wake of the Flood. The album was badly received, and the Dead seemed solidly out of favour. They had obviously changed direction and their erstwhile supporters neither understood the change nor welcomed it.
Rumours abounded. One of the favourites was that they had joined up with the guru. Garcia's subsequent drug bust, with a glove compartment stash of a quantity and variety that equalled anything from their vintage years as lords of multiple drug abuse, seemed to put the lie to that.
It seems a little insensitive to pry too deeply into the effect of Pigpen finally drinking himself to death on the work of the band. In a family as tight as the Dead it couldn't have failed to be painful and far-reaching. There seemed to be a virtual halt to their work. Little came out of San Raphael apart from a series of vintage live tapes. For almost a year they seemed to hang in a kind of creative limbo.
NOW WITH almost no warning we have a Dead album, Mars Hotel, a Garcia album, and one on the way from Robert Hunter. Something is obviously stirring in the hills of old Marin. The question is what? There's no mistaking that it isn't the old raunchy, risk-taking Grateful Dead we were once so hot for.
The Dead have never been leaders. Their songs were observations rather than battle hymns. Even at their funkiest they still managed to retain a trace of contemplative reserve.
On Mars Hotel the reserve has fanned out into a kind of front porch relaxation. It's a cord of a bunch of good old boys playing in the shade. Each one has written some tunes and they play them. It's that simple, only this is 1974 and these are electric rock and roll musicians who have been in each other's hands for ten years.
And then you have Garcia who takes it a stage further. He sits on his porch and plays his favourite tunes, everyone from the Stones to Ed Thigpen. Nothing is urgent any more. They're off the train. There's British weirdoes and New York faggots playing pharmaceutical Russian roulette. The Dead don't have to try any more.
The problem they are solving is how to relax into maturity and still keep your rock and roll. It's a similar problem to the one Dylan tackles on Planet Waves. The mind wrenching adventures are, for the most part, behind both Dylan and the Dead. He's found his way out of Mobile, and they know their back's that strong. It's not the struggle of youth, it's the adaptation to maturity after running through a world that believed only the young were beautiful.
It's like Lennon said, "I don't want to be jumping round on a stage singing 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' when I'm thirty." Neither, it would seem, do Dylan or the Dead. Maybe now and again, just to get away from the old lady and the kids, but certainly not all the time. Lennon experiments with being an L.A. nightclub rowdy drunk. Dylan and the Dead sit on the metaphorical front porch and play rock and roll that don't make them sweat too much.
From the perspective of warp factor seven teenage jive bombing, these experiments may not be of the ultimate priority but some of us are coming up to it, and if we stay lucky a few of us might get there. When that happens both Mars Hotel and Planet Waves could be comfortingly relevant.
* The Dead Book – Hank Harrison – published by Links. (import) £2.50.
© Mick Farren, 1974
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Dick's Picks Volume 7
Alexandra Palace - London
[September 9-11, 1974]
First Appeared in The Music Box June 1997, Volume 4, #6
Written by John Metzger
It's late in the day on a hot, summer afternoon as I carry my compact disc player and the latest Dick's Picks (Volume 7) out to the deck in back of my house. There is plenty of blue sky above me, separated by a few white, fluffy clouds, so I set up my lounge chair in the shade provided by the house. I pour a cold drink from the pitcher of margaritas sitting on the table, press "play" on the disc player, and settle in for a long ride.
As the clouds swirl past, I drift back to early September 1974, as the first notes of a brilliant Scarlet Begonias reach my ears. The members of the Grateful Dead are in tune with one another right from the start, carrying the song outward, anchored only by the solid, rhythmic drumming of Billy Kreutzmann. Even Phil Lesh's bass takes off to dart in and out of the twin guitars of Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia. This may only be a compact disc, but the sound is so incredible, it's like being there.
Culled from three shows at the Alexandra Palace in London, England, the band was gearing up for their farewell shows later that year. Dick Latvala has raised the stakes with this release, by far the best Dick's Picks to be released. This is the seventh release of the series, and it is packaged as three jam-packed discs that will surely blow you away. Each disc is better than the previous one, and given that there isn't a weak song here and that the Phil & Ned > Eyes of the World > Space > Wharf Rat > Space segment from the final night didn't make the cut, a fourth disc certainly could have been added. In addition, the cover graphics have been appropriately revamped for this issue with a gorgeous ticket taking the form of a magic carpet and soaring through the sky. The only complaint is that it would have been nice to have each song labeled with the date of the show from which it was taken. Some are obvious, others are not.
Among the outstanding songs on the first disc is one of the best versions of Black-Throated Wind ever performed. Lesh's bass is thick and heavy; Garcia provides a number of soaring guitar fills; Keith Godchaux's piano fills sound like he's in a blues saloon; and Weir's vocals are powerfully heavy with emotion. A fully jammed, spaced-out Playin' in the Band provides a fitting ending to the first disc.
The second disc kicks off with a delicate rendition of Weather Report Suite that gradually builds in intensity before concluding with the roaring finale of Let It Grow. Lesh fans will love this version — the sound of his bass is crystal clear as it weaves throughout the song. The ending jam briefly hints that it might turn bluesy before creeping into Stella Blue. Beginning as a whisper, the song erects a musical monument around Garcia's vocals and finally erupts in a beautiful guitar solo. I don't think the band ever performed a bad version of this wonderful song, and this is no exception. What is truly incredible is that this song which so often appeared towards the end of a show in later years, merely marks the midpoint of this collection!
Next, Truckin' erupts with a fiery passion and winds through a jam that briefly falls somewhere between Nobody's Fault and New Speedway Boogie. Quickly though, the jam steers further out into the oddly titled Wood Green Jam. The song threatens to dissipate into chaos, hinting at The Other One and Eyes of the World along the way but steering clear of both songs. Suddenly, the tempo changes and from the wreckage emerges the masterfully-performed, disc-concluding Wharf Rat.
As if the performances on the first two discs aren't enough, the third set begins with a solid Me & My Uncle and a well-jammed Not Fade Away. Garcia's guitar sings while the rest of the band locks into a funky, underlying groove. Everything culminates with every member of the band twisting and turning the song inside out, before heading back to the concluding lyrics. But the absolute highlight of the set is the truly amazing combination of Dark Star > Spam Jam > Morning Dew.
Dark Star settles into a mellow groove right from the start as the rocket ship effortlessly lifts off to travel among the stars. Dark Star is always a musical wonder, and this is no exception. This version clocks in at 24 minutes with plenty of space-age rooms to explore, including a spaced-out Death Don't Have No Mercy-style jam. In fact, it's 20 minutes into the song that the lyrics finally emerge, and once they do, Dark Star quickly dissipates into the chaotic space of Spam Jam. This is a total, apocalyptic meltdown, and out of the glowing embers a brilliant Morning Dew emerges. Garcia's vocals are superb as the band gives this one a tender treatment that gradually increases in intensity.
Appropriately, U.S. Blues appears as the encore to cap off the set. At the time of these shows, the band was near the end of nineteen performances in a row in which this song was played. Whew! It's a powerful ending to a wonderful three disc set. You will definitely want to check this one out! starstarstarstarstar
Read more: Grateful Dead - Dick's Picks 7 - September 1974 (Album Review) http://www.musicbox-online.com/gd-dp7.html#ixzz58nkBIui7