Mountain Girl & Jerry at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, Alberta on the Festival Express tour.
Last week’s Grateful Dead concert up at Gaelic Park was a usual Dead session, meaning that the band to- fan-to-band electrochemical process for which rock music is famed was on like high mass at Easter. Although I think I know most of the time what they are doing musically: I don’t quite understand them electro-chemically. Like the New York Knicks of two seasons ago, they can do excellent things together though they are not a group of deathless superstars.
Garcia gets his songs across, but he can’t sing, and Bob Weir’s voice rises to about average…maybe better when he gets to screaming and the music sweeps him along. I still find it difficult to recognize the Dead songs that aren’t ‘Truckin’ or ‘St Stephen’ one from other. I am not one of their fans but seem to be one of their admirers. Their music speaks in a special language to their live listeners, and that language has the vocabulary of everybody else, but a convoluted syntax all its own.
The note sequences are not completely dependent upon musical factors but are also dictated by how involved the band feels and also upon what kind of heat the audience is giving off. I’m trying to get to some essences of this thing. The drama of a Dead concert revolves around the fact that wherever the band plays they know that a certain number (several tons) of their partisans will be there and that their crowd knows the Dead potential to excite them but they also know that the Dead may not get into gear until the crowd begins to apply some heat and so forth.
Both parties also know that the concert will be long enough and infor- mal enough for anything to happen on either side of the footlights, and so audiences improvise (smoke, go to the hot dog stand, kiss and snuggle, cheer, dance, listen like star-struck fools) just like their musician friends on stage (who play light and funny for awhile, retire backstage awhile, stand around, or get lost in a piece and turn on the heavy jets).
Like good lovers, the Grateful Dead know the secrets of good foreplay. taking your time, surprising the audience, intentionally understated; but Lesh kept bopping and thrumming away. heavily at all times, until his patterns were consistently getting the other players off. In the middle of ‘St. Stephen’ there was a special coming together: Lesh had found a nice ambiguous but compelling set of licks; Garcia eased into a solo; Weir strummed a cross-time lick over all of it; it built; it quieted; Garcia started to play strange classical kind of lines; the drums dropped out; the audience got quiet; nothing at all could be predicted for a minute or so; then Lesh began to grope his way out with two chords and rhythms which began to regularize; audience began to jump and then to clap; guitars began to straighten out; the band came home to the cheers of the fans.
Good music making. The listener goes home without a little tune to whistle, but he hears music. As if they were finishing off some personal solos based over the last riffs heard, the fans went out of Gaelic Park without a thousand encores and without a lot of fuss on the streets outside. It’s all very interesting, surprising, and I guess mystifying as before. All I know is that the Dead, or their fans, or the combination of both lure you into planning to return when they’re all assembled and back in town again. -Carman Moore
Photo: Ron Mastrion