Dec 23, 2015

1971: Live Album Review


Those of you who have seen the Dead recently know that they are into a straight hard rock thing. This is a reversion to their early sound, and up until now the best representation of the group has been on a live album made in 1966 (Vintage Dead, Sunflower records). The Dead's current style has alienated a lot of their old fans from the period when they were into long improvisationals filtered through a lot of acid and general flower punk mysticism.
It seems that sometime between the release of Live Dead and Workingman's Dead, Garcia and his boys got turned onto beer and steel guitars; it was a great gimmick for Workingman's Dead, and the image of the group as post psychedelic era rednecks served as a decent vehicle for Jerry Garcia's steel guitar and Bob Weir's background tomes...unfortunately the boys took it to heart and recorded an album full of bucolic whimsy called American Beauty. American Beauty did and still does sound like out takes from Workingman's Dead.
These days Jerry Garcia has his spin-off group, New Riders of the Purple Sage, as an outlet for his pickin' and grinnin', and Bob Weir has been listening to old R&B 45's. The result is on the group's new album, Grateful Dead, which is such a reminiscence trip it's enough to scare you off. (The title and personnel are the same as their first disc, and the cover is a reproduction [of a] 1966 Avalon Ballroom poster.)
Instead of just a memory exercise, the new Dead album is a logical extension of everything they have done, see, there's a few long improvisations, and there's easy to take folksy stuff for all the new fans...and then by the time the second album in the double set comes on and things start to drag, Jerry Garcia hits a damn familiar riff and jesus christ if the whole band doesn't play the hardest sounding Johnny B Goode since the Steve Miller Band backed up Chuck Berry in 67...things go uphill from then on, and it sounds better the second time.
The album should be titled The Grateful Dead Play Hard Rock...and they play it as good as anyone else. The new Dead album and the Allman Brothers' live album are the only two indispensable sets I've heard yet this year, no doubt about it, everyone has to hear them once.

(by Charles Eschweiler, from the Behrend Collegian, 7 October 1971)

See also other reviews of the album: 


  1. A student reviewer with some interesting opinions...
    For one, he seems to dismiss Live Dead ("long improvisations filtered through a lot of acid and general flower punk mysticism") and says that the Dead's best representation on album was the Vintage Dead record of a 1966 show! (So perhaps garage-rock was this reviewer's bag.)
    He also has little fondness for the "bucolic whimsy" of American Beauty, calling it "outtakes from Workingman's Dead," which he also wasn't thrilled with, considering it a decent redneck-style gimmick.
    The long improvisations and "folksy stuff" don't excite him too much - what he likes best on this album are Johnny B Goode and (by implication) Not Fade Away, so his preference was for hard rock.

    He has some interesting brief perceptions, though. He's seen the Dead recently, or at least heard from people who had (maybe during the Dead's April '71 jaunt through Pennsylvania), so he's aware of their turn towards a simpler rock style live (what Garcia called "a regular shoot-em-up saloon band"). He also knows that "the Dead's current style has alienated a lot of their old fans" - which was true, but he's also noticed "all the new fans" from the recent "beer and steel guitar" records. He might not have been surprised when this album quickly became the Dead's most successful record - as he points out, it offers something for everyone.
    It's also interesting that he calls it "a reminiscence trip," in somewhat direct competition with the Vintage Dead album (which used the same '66 poster on the cover), so he sees the material here as "a reversion to their early sound." (It was certainly a reversion to doing lots of covers on an album.)
    Overall it's a positive review from someone who doesn't sound like he was a big Dead fan - the other reviews I've posted were from longtime Dead listeners who responded to this album with mixed feelings or disappointment, aware that it wasn't the best the Dead could do live, nor did it come up to their older material. Nonetheless this album hit the spot for newer listeners, or those more into "straight hard rock" - this reviewer puts it right up there with the Allman Brothers At Fillmore East, a bold claim.

  2. As a postscript -
    Eschweiler, who wrote music reviews for the paper for a couple years, reviewed Pink Floyd's album Meddle in the 1/27/72 issue of the Behrend Collegian, comparing them to the Dead:

    "Pink Floyd has always been a cult group, you either like them or not...they aren't making any compromises. The group's limited appeal has kept them buried away too long, so they have finally made an accessible, thoroughly enjoyable album with "Meddle."
    The majority of the tunes on "Meddle" are free improvisational things quite reminiscent of the Grateful Dead's total improvisations on "Anthem of the Sun," "Aoxomoxoa," and "Live Dead". They come out of nowhere and take off into the ozone with vengeance. Floyd is more electronically oriented than the Dead ever were, but they never fall victim to their technology. . . . I recommend "Meddle" as the perfect introduction to Pink Floyd's music."
    (He also recommends Led Zeppelin IV as one of the best albums of late '71, and an improvement over Zeppelin's earlier records.)
    ("Led Zepplin Improves Sound, Pink Floyd Improvises Meddle," 1/27/72 Behrend Collegian)