News: TV Discovers the Music Scene; “Felix Finally Gets His Own” by Ben Fong-Torres; Woodstock Festival Is On the Run; Pop Comes Back To Miami; Airplane Puts RCA Up Against Wall; The Sound of One Side Negotiating; Country Joe Is Fixin’ to live; “All along the Hash Trails” by Samy H. Abboud; A Sky Pilot in San Francisco; James Brown at City Hall; John and Yoko’s Wonderwall; “Us Dope Crisis: Who’s Holding?” by Ben Fong-Torres and Geoffrey Link; Leary Busted in LSD Death Case; Dylan Booked for Isle of Wight; Aretha: Troubles In Motor City; “Faith Plays Soft At NY Debut” by Jan Hodenfield. And Random Notes on Jimi Hendrix, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Lothar and the Hand People, Expo 70, Eric Burdon, the Plaster Casters, and Ronald Reagan.
The word is it was a cold night with a biting wind that brought the real world temperature to around 20 below. The sky was overcast on that Sunday evening in Cedar Falls, Iowa and there was a chance of snow. It was a fairly common winter evening for this college town of about 50,000 residents nestled next to a river of the same name; some even perpetuated the myth that the University of Northern Iowa campus was the second windiest, trailing behind Loyola or some other Chicago-based college.
The Grateful Dead’s winter tour in the early months of 1978 had just played Madison and Milwaukee, making Wisconsin the lucky recipient of the band’s weekend mojo. The University of Northern Iowa was fortunate enough to book the band for the Sunday night in their large athletic arena called the UNI-Dome.
I should note that I am an alumnus of the University of Northern Iowa, so I’m very familiar with the campus and the area itself. I continue to live in the Cedar Valley and enjoy living here.
I’m also a fan of the Grateful Dead, to the point where my family rolls their eyes when I ask Alexa to play the band in the kitchen. But fuck those guys. I’m cooking them dinner and I want to hear “Jack Straw” sometimes while I’m boiling water.
Acknowledging both of these things is important, because it makes me a barely credible source regarding the time the Grateful Dead rolled into Cedar Falls and performed a concert at a regionally iconic venue/sports complex at the same university that let me walk away with a B.A. in Communications after only five completely underachieving years.
While I wasn’t present for the performance, I was very aware of the folklore of the show while attending the university a decade after it actually happened. The recollections were (literal) half-baked musings or suspect recounts of someone how knew someone who had a friend who went to the show.
Dark Star Orchestra at the Majestic Theater Detroit, February 9, 2012
Detroit in February is cold. Not necessarily a place you want to visit. But on a windy and bitter Thursday night, music hungry deadheads converged on the Majestic Theater in Detroit. Dark Star Orchestra was in town. And the audience got what they came for: two sets of well articulated, passionately played Grateful Dead music. A little bit of summer for a short 3 hours to help us through the tail end of a Michigan winter.
It was my first time at the Majestic Theater in Detroit. Despite the cold and the wind, the line into the venue was practically around the block at its longest, right after they opened the doors. In reality, the long line wasn’t actually to get in. It was to get a wristband if you wanted to drink (the show was 18 and over). At least in Michigan, people are willing to tolerate a little blast of cold if it means they can get their drink on the rest of night.
I got in early enough that I got to see the venue floor relatively empty. Like any place with a bar and live music, it wasn’t the cleanest place in the world. And it’s pretty drab inside. No balcony, no architectural touches to marvel at. To top it off, without a balcony or a graded ground floor, there are really no good sight lines to the stage unless you’re pretty close to the front.
That said, once the music gets going, the Majestic is a nice venue. The sound is pretty balanced, not a lot of reverb off the walls, and it accommodates a crowd of 1,600+ while keeping easy access to the bars, which line the back wall and one side of the venue. Never a long line when you need a thirst quencher.
The set lists for this show are outstanding. There’s not a “I think I’m going to go get a beer” song in the bunch. The band kicked off the first set with Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land,” a common opener for the Dead. This was followed by a rockin’ “Sugaree,” then Bobby’s country masterpiece, “Mexicali Blues.”
With those song selections, it felt like a 77 show to me at that early stage. Maybe that’s because I had been listening to the 1977 Mosque show, which was just released as Dave’s Picks, Vol 1, in my car on the way to the show. In any event, that turned out not to be the case. It was actually a show from 1973 – March 22 at Utica Memorial Auditorium. Just weeks after Pigpen died, and during Mickey Hart’s hiatus from the band. It was a transitional year in Grateful Dead history. Pigpen was gone, the repertoire was expanding in several different directions, and they were still adjusting to Mickey’s absence.
Both set lists had a strong country flavor to them, beginning with “Mexicali Blues” as the third song in the first set, which also included the George Jones classic “The Race is On” and Marty Robbin’s “El Paso.” The second set rounds things out with “Big River” plus “Me and My Uncle.”
And it wasn’t just a country celebration, of course. The first set crescendoed with a “China Cat Sunflower -> I Know You Rider” sequence followed by a “Playin’ In The Band” that left the crowd exhausted and ready for the set break. And the second set was dominated by a rocking “Truckin’ -> The Other One -> Eyes of The World” sequence, which wound down with a soothing “China Doll.”
“You Ain’t Woman Enough” was a particular treat. It was the biggest surprise of the show. I’ve always enjoyed Donna’s singing, but you don’t see her take the lead vocal spot very often. With Dark Star Orchestra, it’s always a treat when Lisa Mackey (who plays the Donna Jean Godchaux role in the band) gets center stage. So I’m glad they picked this particular show to cover. Really an inspired choice.
The band, as usual, was outstanding. Only one of the drummers — Dino English — played the show, since the original show was sans Mickey Hart. The arrangements are tight when they need to be, and they know how to inhabit a jam. And they’re good at bringing the crowd with them, which, to be fair, is pretty easy since we’re all a bunch of easily excitable deadheads, and we know all the cues, and all the lyrics.
This show was early in a 25 show tour for these guys. They tour relentlessly. Always on the road. I don’t know how they do it. Take a look at their tour schedule. Granted, some are 2013 dates, but still… These guys are one of the hardest working bands on the jam band touring circuit. And that’s saying a lot. They are extremely tight. Go see them if they’re coming around your way.
Who says people don’t buy CDs anymore? Rhino just pre-sold its entire limited edition pressing of the Grateful Dead’s “Europe ’72: The Complete Recordings” box set, in less than four days. This is an insane collection, with 60+ CDs that comprise the full recordings of all 22 Dead shows on that historic tour. With a $450 price tag and a whole bunch of extras including a coffee table book, this was not a box set for the casual fan.
Which brings us back to the problem that’s been plaguing the record industry for over a decade: It’s run by MBA dickheads at giant corporations who don’t give a shit about music, real music fans, or anything other than money. If these assholes can’t create a celebrity culture around an artist, with an integrated marketing plan that includes movies, books, toys, and other “branded product tie-ins” they don’t want anything to do with it.
Well, fuck them. Do the math here: 60 CDs and 7,200 copies is 432,000 discs sold. Even if Billbaord/Soundscan doesn’t count each individual disc of a box set as a separate sale, when “Europe ’72: The Complete Recordings” ships the Dead will have sold over four times as many CDs as the Decemberists did this past week with their #1 album “The King Is Dead.” And the sales number for this new collection will certainly grow between now and the actual release date in September, as the Dead have announced plans to issue a music-only version of the collection to meet the overwhelming demand.
Back in July 2006, I read somewhere that Owsley Stanley was still alive and selling jewelry in Australia. I found his website, read a bunch of his essays, and got in touch. I’m not sure what I was hoping for, but he wasn’t very interested in talking to me.
A year later, he did a couple of huge interviews with Rolling Stone (not online [Update: finally online! -ed.]) and the San Francisco Chronicle. Here are some choice bits:
• “By conservative estimates, Bear Research Group made more than 1.25 million doses of LSD between 1965 and 1967, essentially seeding the entire modern psychedelic movement.”
• “As the original sound mixer for the Grateful Dead, he was responsible for fundamental advances in audio technology, things as basic now as monitor speakers that allow vocalists to hear themselves onstage.”
• “Any time the music on the radio starts to sound like rubbish, it’s time to take some LSD,” he says.
Digging through the GLONO archives as we approach our tenth anniversary, I figured we might as well run what we got out of him…
It’s not every band that can afford to give away five hours of free music. But when you have 7,852 recordings listed in the Live Music Archive, well, you’re not every band.
Each day in November, the Grateful Dead released a free, high-bit-rate mp3 for a limited time on its site, Dead.net. Most of them were “unreleased” live tracks, and while I haven’t listened to the whole batch yet, there are some real standouts there, like a 29-plus-minute version of “Playing In The Band.” (MP3)
You had to be signed up as a member to download the songs, which wasn’t a problem for some of us. But they seemed to appear later in the day (Pacific time?) and then disappear by the time I’d go back to download them at night. As it stood, I only managed to snag four of the 30. Until this weekend.
Seems I must not have been the only head wishing he would have been more with it, as the good people running the promotion have made the whole lot of songs available for download now, but only through “the evening of December 8.”
The latest from the Grateful Dead is Crimson, White & Indigo, a three-CD set (plus a bonus DVD) that’s the complete recording of the band’s July 7, 1989, concert at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. For the uninitiated, those of you who might think it odd that a band that called it quits nearly 15 years ago continues to produce elaborately packaged live CDs that it sells at exorbitant prices ($31.68 at Amazon right now), that’s just part of the continued weirdness that is the legacy of the Dead, the most recorded band ever.
But understand that this release is not really for you. Deadheads, well, you are the demographic regardless of your own particular demographics, and you aren’t going to need my advice or guidance on purchasing this anyway. Suffice it to say that if you’re a fan of the late-’80s era, you’ll be pleased, and if you’re not, well, there’s not much here that’s going to change your mind. (For my next prediction, the sun will rise in the East tomorrow morning — though I’m not yet ready to say where it will set.)
Bob Weir and RatDog at Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom
New Hampshire, July 23 and 24, 2009
While I was driving up to Hampton Beach from Logan airport, I was thinking that I’ve done crazier things than fly halfway across the country by myself for a weekend to see two concerts, but it had been a while. Still, it’s a precedent I’m glad I set.
RatDog was playing two shows over the weekend at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, one of a handful of two day runs on their Summer 2009 tour. Tickets in hand, beachside reservations booked, I rolled into town on a cool, foggy morning.
It was mostly mayhem outside the theater. My brother and I were trying to meet up with our compatriot, and it was taking longer than it should. There were tons of people hunting for tickets – looking for a miracle, as they say. I’ve never seen so many heads looking for tickets. For good reason.
The marquee read Happy Birthday Phil. It was Friday, March 12, and a big birthday party for Phil Lesh was about to get under way at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. Phil Lesh was turning 70. 70! And believe it or not, he and his bandmates played over six hours of music that night.
A couple of weeks ago, a buddy of mine emailed me: “This is it. This is the one.” The subject line was “Furthur.” He had just seen them play. Like me, he’s a little obsessed with this stuff. He goes to see the post Grateful Dead bands when he can, like I do, and goes to see the new kids on the block, too – Umphrey’s McGee, moe., etc. Since that email I’ve read similar comments in forums where like minded people congregate. On Tuesday, March 2, 2010, I got to see Furthur for the first of a two night run at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago – a theater steeped in Grateful Dead history. It was everything that I’d hoped it would be. Just a tremendous show. If you get the opportunity, go see a Furthur show this year. You won’t be disappointed.