Jul 23, 2012

1971: Vintage Dead


Though the Grateful Dead is still very much with us, it is entirely appropriate for a nostalgic look at what it was five years ago and we have it on "Vintage Dead" (Sunflower SUN-5001).
The music, sometimes called "San Francisco sound," which this group was largely responsible for popularizing, is no more available to us now than new grapes from a noble harvest of the last generation are to a vintner for a new pressing. We have pressings, record pressings in this case, but the freshness is gone: light shows, fuzztone and wavy-lined posters are no longer experiments.
The big difference in San Francisco music - that it was for dancing - is not the case today. Bay area ballrooms have had some hard times and rock is again mostly for listening.

But half a decade ago the Avalon Ballroom and the Fillmore were thrilling names even on this coast.
The Dead was the very first San Francisco group, though Jefferson Airplane became better known, and it innovated not only in music but in style. The Dead was the first group to live together, constantly playing and developing and in effect performing 24 hours a day.
It's different now. Some of those pioneers are dead from drugs, some groups have split, some have reformed and then split again, and each success removed a bit of the exuberance that was so appealing at the first.

Fortunately "Vintage Dead" is not a studio album but a concert, recorded in 1966 at the Avalon.
The music is not by the Dead, but by Bob Dylan or Wilson Pickett, but the treatment is pure San Francisco. There may have been more typical San Francisco concerts, but this is a fine example.
The sound is smooth, with bounce enough for dancing. "In the Midnight Hour" is a jam, not soulful but graceful. Grace is the distinguishing characteristic of the first San Francisco music. When the Dead sings Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" it loses all the harshness and bitter sound that Dylan usually writes into his songs.
We won't hear this sound again, live. For even the Dead or the Airplane, its time has passed by. It had an innocence that didn't last long.

(by Harry Eagar, from the Rock On! column in the Norfolk Ledger Star, January 12 1971)

1 comment:

  1. Later in '71 a second record from these '66 tapes, Historic Dead, was released. I'll be posting an October '71 article on the story behind these records.

    For now, a quote from Garcia when asked about these records by Jann Wenner in '71:
    "There's no point in going back to the past, for one thing, and for another thing, those performances weren't meant to stand around forever. They were for that night. And if you were stoned and there that night, that was probably exactly what was happening, but it's not what's happening now. It's just a source of embarrassment."

    Setting aside Garcia's embarrassment (which he usually felt with older Dead performances), this is an interesting philosophy, apparently opposed to the release of any old live shows as pointless!

    The article above, lightweight & uninformed as it is, I think has a more accurate perspective of this album.