I saw the first night of the Dead's four concerts at the London Lyceum last Thursday, where they were ever so good for ever so long. What we got and wot a lot we got (almost four hours of nonstop performance) was virtually a musical history of the group's progress from Garcia's humble jug band origins to his band's more countrified approach today.
It has been becoming increasingly obvious that the old format whereby a band played a fifty-minute spot of their best-known numbers was becoming tiresome and uninspired but the Dead have taken things to the other extreme.
Somehow it seems that there is no beginning or end to their programme and their approach is relaxed to the point of becoming languid.
What they do is often impeccable and their musicians – like bass player Phil Lesh and Garcia himself - play with a refinement in which there is more discretion than valour.
It is a good band which has knit together with the kind of intuitive playing which one would expect from six years on the road but on Thursday they seldom smacked me between the ears even with their more ebullient Chuck Berry-inspired rock and rollers.
It seems pointless to refer to any particular song because they played almost everything which has ever been associated with them and they played it well. Bob Weir is a far better vocalist live than I had expected.
Their reception was excellent from an audience who appreciated every move and cheered all the better-known songs. I can imagine that there are occasions and atmosphere which really 'charge' the Dead with some kind of special magic but it was not conjured on Thursday – perhaps one other night – perhaps you can have too much of a good thing?
The New Riders of the Purple Sage were the support band and they did their job well – easy listening, good time and right down the middle country band in which Buddy Cage excels on pedal guitar and John Dawson handles his own songs with care. Their new album title Powerglide sums them up well.
(by Keith Altham, from the New Musical Express, June 3, 1972)