COUNTRY ROCKERS HIT CITY; PLAY LONG, PLEASE MANY
Country music came to New Mexico, and the natives loved it.
That statement, while an accurate comment on Wednesday night's Grateful Dead/New Riders of the Purple Sage concert, is a contradiction on several levels. Of course, New Mexico has been country music territory for decades; once you set foot outside Albuquerque, it's Cowboy Country. But country and western music has never been much more popular with the "urbane" youth of Albuquerque than with those of Jersey City, Cleveland, or Seattle. Especially not since the Beatles opened up everyone's consciousness to rock.
But the best of the rock artists, including the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, have always recognized the validity of country tunes and lyrics (remember "Act Naturally" and "What Goes On," "Honky Tonk Women" and "Love In Vain"?), though they usually disguised them behind rock fixtures. Now, however, groups like the Grateful Dead, and especially the New Riders, throw in steel guitars, riffs straight from the Grand Ol' Opry stage, and songs by Merle Haggard - C&W has become respectable in the rock world.
But is what they played Wednesday really country music? I would say yes, while admitting the point is debatable. But why debate it? Just admit it's about as countryfied as rock is going to get, and that the capacity crowd at the Civic Auditorium went wild over it.
The New Riders were great and well-received, but it was the Grateful Dead who made the evening what it was. While the New Riders stuck to their country habits, the Dead threw in more of their "harder" stuff, even a bit of the old "psychedelic jam." They got it on at times - really got it on - but only in brief spurts. That was okay with me. Their first number was around 6:30 p.m., the last one around 12:15 a.m.; five and a half hours of the Dead's getting-it-on would have been exhausting, but as it was I left feeling very refreshed and content, renewed rather than drained.
The Dead are such masters of the rock idiom. They had perfect control the entire time. They would often take what seemed like an interminable time to build up even a small well of tension, mostly just gliding along smoothly until suddenly the bottom dropped out of the world and they started to really wail, evoking a spontanteous, delirious, united manic reaction from the crowd. I've never seen anything quite like it here.
The mood of the concert, however, was one of mellowness, largely generated by the music, but helped along by the smoothness of the event as a whole. There was no trouble at all, inside or out. Good. Let's keep it mellow. We need many more concerts like this great one.
(by Charles Andrews, from Lobo, 19 November 1971)
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(The same writer wrote a followup review in the "Spare Change" Arts & Media column a few days later.)
Two great concerts in one week - I enjoyed Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic only slightly less than I did the Grateful Dead and the New Riders.
Sometimes when you "wrestle with the Muse," you lose. I think that happened with my review of the Grateful Dead concert. I meant to rave about it, but it came out sounding "noncommittal," as one person put it. I have to agree, and apologize for not doing it justice.
The concert so wiped me out, I had trouble coming down the next day - not that I wanted to. I'm convinced now that everything I've heard or read about Grateful Dead concerts is no exaggeration. I doubt if we got a full dose of the best they can do, but it was enough to make me a "True Believer." Jerry Garcia once said, "I've been into music so long I'm dripping with it"; I think that's true of the group as a whole. They've been together about eight years now, and it shows. They became well-known with the emergence of the San Francisco sound of the mid-'60s, then faded somewhat (except for their small band of long-loyal fanatics), now are justly taking their place as one of the best bands in the country. May they stay together and play forever.
I can understand now why people think of long concerts when they think of Grateful Dead concerts; their music is the kind you could literally listen to all night. When Crystal Leif promoters were negotiating with the band, they initially insisted on playing for at least five and a half hours, later gave in when convinced the city was serious about its midnight curfew for Civic Auditorium events. But they wound up doing a show about that long anyway - the Dead did a few numbers, starting off with Merle Haggard's and the New Riders' "Mama Tried," beginning about 6:30 "to test the equipment," and didn't finish till a quarter past midnight. The concert's starting time was moved up from the usual 8 p.m.to 7:30, then to 7, and still the Dead had to get out there and start playing earlier than that. It's a welcome switch from the groups who have to be coaxed to do more than 40 minutes. (Anyone remember Creedence Clearwater?...listen quick.)
The broadcast of the concert over KRST may have had something to do with the peace that was kept, for a change. At least no rock-throwing punk could use the excuse that "they're keeping The People from their music." (Another advantage was that there are now some good tapes of the concert around; and you might even see a bootleg album appear.) Too bad, though, that the Nov. 17 concert couldn't have sold out sooner - the Dead had an open date the next day, and would've done another show if there had been the demand. Instead they took a trip to Taos.
Crystal Leif arranged to have a voter registration table set up at the Civic that night (as has been the practice lately at many Dead concerts), and they did a pretty good business, I understand.
One last comment: that fantastic piano player the Dead had sitting in for the ailing Pigpen was Keith Godcheaux, formerly with Dave Mason. (But nobody in town, including Crystal Leif, knew his name; I finally had to consult a recent issue of Rolling Stone.) . . .
[The rest of the article complains about latecomers and "rude applause" at the LA Philharmonic concert.]
(by Charles Andrews, from Lobo, 23 November 1971)
Thanks to jgmf.blogspot.com