ANOTHER BIG DEAD MARATHON
I'm not sure whether the Grateful Dead is or are back in town, but whatever the case, dearie, it's time to haul out them rock and roll cliches.
Bill Graham has long been fond of saying that, when they're on, the Dead is the world's greatest rock and roll band. He was at least half right on Monday night at Winterland - the Dead was on. They played for nearly two hours, took 30 minutes off to regroup, then returned for another 120 minutes. Being a mere mortal (Dead buffs are not mere mortals), I vacated the sweltering premises after the first half of the four-hour extravaganza, but I can only assume they got better. True to Dead precedent, the evening was anything but normal, even for Winterland. The only thing that didn't happen was a repeat of the mass freak-out which marked their last stay at Winterland.
Otherwise, business as usual. The evening raised in the neighborhood of $10,000 for the band's roadies (so that they might buy a house, and what other band jumps to mind for giving benefits so that their roadies might buy a house?), and a touch-football game was played on the Winterland floor until 8:15 a.m. It was suitably entitled the Toilet Bowl. The trophy - engraved, of course - need hardly be further described. Graham's home team lost to the roadies, 36-18. He is appealing the outcome. On the basis that he lost.
The evening started appropriately enough: A girl, in disarray and not quite herself, was curled up on the Winterland basement parking lot floor, taking comfort from her attentive beau. This in itself is not of great moment, but they were occupying Bill Graham's parking stall. When the Dead play, apparently, nothing is sacred. Then into the hall, full but not jammed, where Graham associate Jerry Pompili smiled and cooed, "Don't drink anything you haven't opened yourself."
On the stage itself, Noelle Barton, the Dead's house dancer, was doing her rope trick - the rope being her body - and Jerry Garcia regarded his court with a beatific combination of sleepy contentment and total, unwavering concentration. Heavy Water, which has been doing the Winterland gigs of late, flashed its kaleidoscopic light show overhead, the stage was crammed with a motley ranging from the Jefferson Airplane's David Frieberg to Gay Talese, author of "Honor Thy Father," and strange Day-Glo painted beasties roamed unfettered through the night. Some celebrants popped off a string of firecrackers, others teetered merrily in the highest reaches of the upper balconies; bothered neither by acrophobia nor a healthy concern for their own well-being.
It was then, vintage Dead, and unfettered by [the] reserved-seat formality of their four Berkeley Community Theater concerts in late August. Monday night brought their total attendance to some 18,000 in the last seven weeks. They probably could do it again in the next seven.
As for those threatened cliches, well, the band hit 'em all. Lead guitarist Garcia, rhythm guitarist Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh, drummer Bill Kreutzmann and new kid piano player Keith Godchaux shook, rattled, rocked and rolled, they boogied and smoked and cooked and trucked, they got it on and got it off, mellowed and laid back, uptight and outasite, whatever that means, and so on and so forth. They moved, is what the Dead did, and not just from point A to point B.
The set - or [the] first half of it - began kind of easy, with the country-rock sound that has predominantly identified their music of the post-"Viola Lee Blues" period. Garcia and Weir split the vocal chores pretty much down the line, integrating their singing flawlessly with the instrumental work, ambling through such as "The Streets of Laredo" like your basic old cow hands. Godchaux's rolling piano, with the feel, if not the technique, of honky-tonk, beautifully complemented matters (as in, How come they never had a piano before?) and his wife, the lovely Mrs. Godchaux, bobbed in now and again to warble a few notes herself.
The crowd, as always, went mildly berserk at every opportunity, throwing their hands into the air like thousands of tiny shrimp waggling in a wading pool.
But it was on the last tune, lasting 20, even 30 minutes, that the Dead outdid itself. It began as an irresistible, underplayed, non-Rolling Stones rocker, striking like a rattlesnake in slow-motion; moved into an extremely complex section of Garcia and Weir entwining each other in molten guitar lines, rolled back and forth from ensemble to solo to duet, dissolved into an area that was almost Pink Floyd, then broke out with long, sweeping lines by Garcia, riding the rhythm section like BART to the end; no crash except from the audience.
There, appropriately, the first half ended. And for once, the audience didn't have to go through the tiresome encore ritual. They knew the Dead return, at least under these circumstances.
(by John Wasserman, from the "On the Town" column, San Francisco Chronicle, 11 October 1972)
Thanks to jgmf.blogspot.com