GRATEFUL DEAD, NASSAU COLISEUM
It had to happen: even the Dead have gone glitter. Resplendently suave in Nudie-type sequined suits, the group appeared on the stage of this comfortably-sized Long Island arena as formal gentlemen, playing before a sold-out and devoutly clamoring Monday crowd who nonetheless held true to their flannel shirt and dungaree colors. The music was consistently superb and was delivered with a professionalism and class that might even be taken for granted were it not so historically precarious, caught as it is in the double bind of massive anticipations and internal complexities, good nights mixing inevitably over the bad.
Still, instead of wrestling with the hyper-reactions of their audience - as was once the case - the Dead have resigned themselves to that unquenchable factor, even to the point of enjoying it, learning ways in which it might be manipulated and controlled. Their technique here involved pacing - stretching out the four hours of their pair of sets so that the crowd moved with, rather than against them. The long breaks between songs served the dual purpose of relaxing the audience as well as the band.
The audience had been warmed early in the evening by the pedal steel dominated sound of the New Riders (replacing the Sons of Champlin who opened the first two nights of the stand), high-pointing with "Willie and the Hand-Jive" and a lovely country version of Billy Joe Royal's "Down in the Boondocks." Producer Bill Graham also was on hand, nostalgically tussling with the crowd. "I know this is Long Island," he said at one point, attempting to gain breathing room for those unlucky souls piled up in front of the stage, "but let's try it anyway." No one budged and, of course, Graham threw up his arms and stalked out.
The Dead came on to the usual mass eruptions, played a quick western shuffle and closed it off before Garcia took even the glimmerings of an extended lead. They moved deliberately into "He's Gone," Jerry leaning to the microphone in the evening's only apparent reference to the recent death of Ron (Pigpen) McKernan, reeling out the final chorus: "Ooooh, nothin's gonna bring him back..."
The improvement and strength of the group's vocal harmonies was readily apparent; no more do their voices quaver up and down the scale trying to find the right series of notes. Joined by Donna Godchaux, the blend registered chorally near-perfect, if a shade eccentric.
The group then opened into their repertoire, which has become so large as to be in the main unrecognizable. Alternating between Bob Weir and Garcia, the band offered such things as a sharp clicking rendition of "Mexicali Blues," matched by "Looks Like Rain" (perhaps Weir's finest composition), "The Race Is On," Marty Robbins' "El Paso," and finally, the first semi-oldie of the night, "Box Of Rain." Instrumentally, they were in high form, Phil Lesh bottoming well, Bill Kreutzmann hale and hearty, Keith Godchaux wrapping piano fills around Weir's and Garcia's tone-perfect guitars.
It was the longer songs that got them into trouble, but not by much. "China Cat Sunflower" began the launch into what has become the Dead's extended trademark, and as they took it in a roundabout way to "I Know You Rider," it seemed as if the night was sure to be tinged golden. But later, over the hump of "Around and Around" and "Tennessee Jed"'s sing-a-long chorus, it proved to be a false start. The big song of the set, "Playin' in the Band," never quite caught the handle they were searching for, gears touching but never completely in mesh.
The rest of the night belonged to Garcia. Returning from a short intermission and several filial descendants of "Cumberland Blues," he forcibly led the band through a combination of old and new material, capped by a beauteous ode to a woman named Stella Green. A long jam around "Truckin'" was successful in parts, as was a follow-up slice from "The Other One," and with the band now beginning to group around Kreutzmann in a semicircle, concentrating on making contact, they finally got what they wanted in a long, jazz-oriented piece I'd never heard before, the sound very free, gunning and spooking each other in a continuous upchurned spiral.
They left the stage after "Johnny B. Goode," all those hours of playing not diminishing its strength. To call them back, the audience set off a few matches in the orchestra, a few more responding along the balconies, expanding outward until the whole inside of the arena was lit by matchpower. The Dead returned with "Casey Jones," responsive puffs of smoke rising from the banks of amplifiers, the band chugging along as a revolving mirror-ball refracted minispots around the audience, all ridin' that train.
(by Lenny Kaye, from Rolling Stone, April 26 1973)
Reprinted in Rolling Stone's Garcia book, and on this site: