Weathering The Storm Of Disappointment: When DSO Doesn’t Turn The Clock Back Far Enough


This has nothing to do with the talent or skill of Dark Star Orchestra. I have never seen them not play well. But I am learning something about myself that I must face: I’m simply not fond of the Grateful Dead’s set lists or sound post 1984. In fact, I would go as far as to say that, where DSO is concerned, I don’t need to see them recreate any shows post 1979. But Dark Star Orchestra doesn’t play for me and me alone, they do what they do. Which is recreate Grateful Dead concerts from the band’s many eras.

And this is where I have to be honest with myself. The Grateful Dead were never the same band for me after keyboardist Keith Godchaux left and Brent Mydland stepped in to take his place. Brent was a supremely talented musician. No one who knows anything about music could deny this. However, his style of playing, singing and songwriting was so vastly different from the Grateful Dead I fell in love with that I was never fully able to embrace his contribution. Ironically, I never had the opportunity to see Keith perform with the Grateful Dead. My first show was in September of 1979 shortly after Brent joined the band. But I had been listening to the Grateful Dead for many, many years before I had the opportunity to see them live. And in those early days of Brent, he was a bit more subdued. But within a couple of years, his playing became busy and forceful to the point where almost all the quiet spaces within the music were filled. For me, it was a sound deluge that diminished the delicacy I had come to love and expect from the Grateful Dead. The jazz-influence that Keith advanced in the band –his sense of when to step up and when to step back– was lost with Brent’s enthusiastic contribution. It wasn’t wrong, just different. And, for my personal taste, less preferable.

Now understand, ever since the beginning of the Grateful Dead, they were a band capable of vast depths of sound; they could be as quiet as a single soft breath or as loud and complex as a city under siege. But it was the contrast between these two spaces that made the adventure of seeing and listening to the Grateful Dead a genuine journey. Brent diluted this contrast for me. The cacophony became more consistent, more the norm. And, as will happen with the addition of any new sound, any new influence, it effected how the other band members approached the music.

Then there were the songs that Brent wrote. Simply put, Brent’s skills as a songwriter were not in sync with what attracted me so intensely to the Grateful Dead. I know that Brent was profoundly disheartened to see so many people choosing his songs as their bathroom break or an opportunity to visit concessions, but he never seemed to consider that his style of songwriting was not the kind of music that attracted many Dead Heads to the Dead; Brent’s songs were more direct in their storytelling, less ethereal and poetic. They were also seeped in a pop-ballad style that seemed to defy the Grateful Dead’s deeper exploratory nature. Yes, the Grateful Dead were a reflection of all types of American music, but I suppose the part of Americana that influenced Brent never appealed to me and, as talented as he was, I never found a way into his music. It simply did not move me. In fact, it did quite the opposite. For me, it stopped the show in its tracks.

Later audiences seemed to embrace Brent’s songwriting. In many ways, it was more in sync with what drew these later crowds to the Grateful Dead. Pop songs like TOUCH OF GREY and WHEN PUSH COMES TO SHOVE or FOOLISH HEART, all Garcia/Hunter originals, were appealing to a generation that preferred “ditties” over depth. I rarely enjoyed these songs and, like Brent’s musical preferences, they stopped the show for me.

Last night’s Dark Star Orchestra show at the El Rey in Los Angeles was filled with these show-stoppers. And, as if pre-planned, the audience seemed to be made up of far more frat-boys (of varying ages) as well as men who clearly spend an inordinate amount of time at the gym pumping iron. This evening would find them with their trendy-clad girlfriends by their sides. It was like DSO were playing 24-Hour Fitness.

In effect, the show recreated was from May 9, 1987 and the audience matched the era. Eek. This was a time when the Grateful Dead were slowly being pushed out of their favorite venues due to uncontrollable crowds. The scene was turning, and not for the better. TOUCH OF GREY ushered in a whole new audience that changed the vibe forever.

Now, one good thing about DSO recreating these later shows is that DSO is, invariably, a far tighter band than the Grateful Dead were at this point in their development (or devolution, as many would refer to it). So the playing last night was solid. Tight.

But I’ve discovered (or more aptly, am ready to admit) that the allure of DSO for me is in seeing those earlier shows. Opening with SUGAR MAGNOLIA-> SUGAREE was very welcome. And even ME AND MY UNCLE-> MEXICALI BLUES was fun and well-played and still in keeping with the oldies but goodies theme I so love. But then suddenly, I’m plunged into WHEN PUSH COMES TO SHOVE, a song I never understood the appeal of. For me, it was not reflective of Garcia’s musical strengths. If this were the music of the Grateful Dead from the get-go, I never would have been attracted to them. This was followed by the (IMHO) dreadful Brent tune TONS OF STEEL. Try as I did, I was not able to shed the sinking feeling building in my gut. I was no longer “in” the music as I had been for those first two songs. Then BROTHER ESAU followed. While a far better song than the two previous, it’s still something I have a hard time getting excited about. This trifecta left me feeling disappointed and “outside” the show.

Luckily, the TENNESSEE JED and LET IT GROW brought me back up, though never to the level where I had started. There was something in my gut, expectations foiled, that I could not shake. Truth be told, as soon as I walked into the El Rey and saw that the guitars and drums were set up for a show most-likely from the 80’s or 90’s, my heart sank a bit. But there was an extra mic set up which gave me hope that this would possibly be an original setlist and not a show from my least favorite era (as it suggested the inclusion of the fabulous Lisa Mackey in the Donna Godchaux role). Alas, the extra mic was removed and my hopes dashed.

The second set started off with more dismay. TOUCH OF GREY. I could live a long, happy life and never hear this song again. It’s a fun little ditty (there’s that word again), but it’s a sad replacement for the possibilities of second set openers the Grateful Dead were accustomed to treating us to. This was followed by LOOKS LIKE RAIN. Never one of my favorites, it was at least an older tune, but one usually reserved for first sets, not second. Again, given what second sets often had to offer, this felt distressing. I was, at this point, thoroughly removed from the show and could have actually walked out and called it a night.

Now I don’t want anyone to misunderstand my statements here. Dark Star Orchestra played these songs, each and every one of them, with energy and conviction. As I said before, in many ways better than the Grateful Dead themselves had in 1987. The disappointment I was feeling began and ended with me. No one else. It’s my personal taste and desire. It’s what I want to get out of the experience of seeing DSO that was unfulfilled. DSO was just doing what DSO does. And, try as I might to counter it, so was I.

The HE’S GONE-> JAM was very well played, particularly the long OTHER ONE TEASE JAM which started to lure me back in. DRUMS->SPACE were customary and enjoyable, but the sinking feeling in my gut had already settled too deeply. The rest of the show was filled with songs I truly love. All of them soared with energy. And at times I was moderately transported, but that feeling in my gut that had settled there never left. It remained like a shroud over even the best moments. I was aware of trying to get rid of it, to let it go and enjoy being there, listening to live music again. But my attempt ultimately failed. I could not transcend the moment.

All of this is made even worse by the fact that I’ve been reliving the Grateful Dead’s Europe ’72 tour in its entirety thanks to the recent release of the entire tour on CD. This is widely considered the Grateful Dead’s best tour ever. And I wouldn’t argue that. So much so that the set list from ’87 just seems downright lazy by comparison. A friend of mine also in attendance pointed out that DSO could have played any show from ’65 through the first half of ’79 and you wouldn’t hear a single song that would disappoint. The same can’t be said for any show post.

The only criticism I have of DSO as a band is that, now with the inclusion of Jeff Mattson -who I must say is an amazing guitarist and about the best replacement for former lead-guitarist John Kadlecik that one could imagine– this incarnation of the band seems intent on bringing every song to its highest peak. And they’re damn good at doing it. But there’s something almost “manufactured” in their doing so. As if subtlety and nuance were not quite as important as blowing minds. It happened so much that it ceased to be special and started to feel too easy. It didn’t feel organic. It wasn’t the music playing the band. This felt pre-planned in some way. Now that may not be accurate to what was actually taking place for the musicians, but it was my experience. Sometimes making a song “explode” is not the best thing for the soul of the music. But I’m just an audience member and probably one of the few who didn’t walk out of the El Rey last night satisfied. It is my personal cross to bear, I suppose. Again, it’s what I want that is not always in sync with what DSO is offering. That is no fault of theirs. That’s all on me and I take full responsibility for it.

I wish in the future I could know whether DSO were going to play a show from an era I want to travel back in time and experience, or whether they’re recreating an era I need not revisit. That would help me decide whether or not I need attend, to avoid disappointment or embrace that which I love and yearn for. But such things are not the way of the world. So I must take my chances, make my decisions. Perhaps I’ll just see DSO every other year and hope for the best.

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Weathering The Storm Of Disappointment: When DSO Doesn’t Turn The Clock Back Far Enough

You Win Again: Copenhagen, Denmark April 14, 1972


The fourth show on the Grateful Dead’s first-ever tour of Europe landed them in a hall that was tailer-made for music. Located in the center of the Tivoli Gardens amusement park, the 1,700 seat Tivoli Concert Hall had been designed for classical music performances, though the Dead were not the first rock band to play there. Needless to say, it was a far cry from the dark and acoustically-challenged venues of the tour’s first three gigs.

Enjoying playing not only to an audience of Danish-speakers (though the Danes are well-versed in English, as I can assure you from having lived in Scandinavia for a time in my youth), the band was also performing for a culture of European hippies, the likes of which would not be seen again till the band hit Amsterdam. In the north part of Copenhagen is a small “town” called Christiania (or Freetown Christiania) which is an autonomous “commune” that exists outside of the drug laws that are somewhat enforced throughout the rest of Denmark. As a result, this Danish audience was more than a little equipped for this particular band’s visit to their humble city.

The results were, to say the least, perfectly in sync.

The sound on this recording is exceptional. You can “feel” the space itself and the energy of this more-than-ready-to-have-their-minds-blown crowd. From the first notes of BERTHA, this show soars. The tour’s first YOU WIN AGAIN makes a welcome appearance early on. WIN’s a song I’ve always loved and one the Dead sadly didn’t keep in their repertoire for very long. I always thought Jerry did justice to the heartfelt Hank Williams tune. Another short but highly experimental PLAYING IN THE BAND helps keep the first set loose and wiggly while Pig’s rendition of BIG BOSS MAN makes sure the dancing and swaying never loses momentum.

Set two gives us another steamrollin’ TRUCKIN’ (this was definitely the tour for that song!) and another heartfelt IT HURTS ME TOO, which I will never get enough of. The BROWN-EYED WOMEN is energetic and a perfect reminder of the Dead’s various roots and inspirations; there is no better reflection of American music than the Grateful Dead songbook. This is followed by the last LOOKS LIKE RAIN of the tour and the last time Jerry would play pedal steel with the Grateful Dead until 1987 (!) when they backed Bob Dylan.

Like all versions of DARK STAR on this tour, April 14, 1972’s is one of the best ever. Deep and spacey, while not quite as luxurious as the Wembley DARK STAR, it certainly takes us on a long, strange trip (though the second verse is left out in the nether-sphere for another night). Pig’s GOOD LOVIN’ may be one of the best examples of the man’s vast talent for rapping as he weaves in and out of GOOD LOVIN’, WHO DO YOU LOVE, CAUTION (DO NOT STOP ON TRACKS) and back into GOOD LOVIN’. It’s a wondrous thing to behold.

Well, the boys could have ended the show then and there and one wouldn’t have heard nary a peep of complaint from anyone in attendance. But they chose to add another five songs onto the evening including a rousing NOT FADE AWAY-> GOING DOWN THE ROAD FEELING BAD-> NOT FADE AWAY. And by the time the band completed their frenzied and energetic version of ONE MORE SATURDAY NIGHT, the audience, and this listener, was more than a little satiated. Oh, to have been one of those 1,700…

Thankfully, this would not be the Dead’s last stop at the Tivoli Concert Hall this tour. They departed briefly to do another show at Aarhus University in Denmark before returning to the amusement park and hashish aromas of the fabulous Tivoli Gardens.

You Win Again: Copenhagen, Denmark April 14, 1972

Spielberg Makes Sure Fans Know He Is NOT George Lucas


Say what you want about Steven Speilberg, but he is fast becoming a firm and vocal voice against the re-writing of film history. So much so that he has not shied away from some very vocal jabs against old pal George Lucas who has recently come under fire once again for his incessant altering of his Star Wars franchise to the point that there is a fan campaign to boycott the upcoming Blu-ray release of these films.

At a recent screening of a new digital restoration of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK at Los Angeles’ Hero Complex, Spielberg commented on filmmakers who alter their films, thus erasing their historical context:

“Speaking for myself, I tried this once and I learned to regret it. Not because of fan outrage, but simply because I was a little disappointed in myself. I got very kind of overly sensitive to some of the criticism E.T. had gotten from parent groups when it was first released in ’82. Having to do with Elliot saying penis breath or the guns with the CIA. And also there were some rough around the edges close-ups of E.T. that I had always thought if technology ever evolves to the point where I can do some facial enhancements with E.T. I would like to. So I did an E.T. pass for the third release of the movie and it was okay for a while then I realized that what I had done was I had robbed people who loved E.T. of their memories of E.T. My only contrition that I could possibly do because I feel bad about that, the only contrition that I really performed was when E.T. came out on DVD for the first time. I told Universal, we’re going to do this or we’re not going to put E.T. on DVD. You have to put two movies in the box and one movie will be the 1982 version and the other will be the digitally enhanced version. What I’d like to ask is this. We’ll do a little poll here. I know we’re coming out with the Blu-ray of E.T. If I came out with just one E.T. on Blu-ray, the 1982 one, would anybody object to that? [Audience shouts ‘No!’] Ok, so be it.”

But friends and colleagues must be careful of just how “critical” they are of their pals. Spielberg also added:

“Let me put it this way, George does what he does because there’s only one George Lucas, and thank god for that. He’s the greatest person I’ve ever worked with as a filmmaker collaborator and he’s a conceptual genius. He puts together these amazing stories and he’s great at what he does. My feeling is that he can do anything he wants with his movies because they’re his movies and we wouldn’t have been raised with Star Wars or Indiana Jones had it not been for George.”

But luckily, Spielberg’s point has been made and it is a most welcome response to Lucas’ continued alterations and his open disdain for the people who are fighting for the very things he himself once stood before Congress and campaigned so vigorously for (see my post HERE). Let’s hope more filmmakers take the same stand Spielberg has. Which, in supporting the importance of film and its history, automatically sheds a light on just how selfish and misguided George Lucas has become. Perhaps one day, Lucas himself will come to understand and respect the wishes of those of us who care about preserving film and cultural history and remember that there was a time when he was one of us. Let’s hope that Mr. Spielberg is, in perfect Dickens fashion, the first of many ghosts to haunt Mr. Lucas.

Spielberg Makes Sure Fans Know He Is NOT George Lucas

Grateful Dead Movie Announced For Blu-Ray Release!


Shout Factory has just announced a November 1st release date for this amazing film on Blu-ray. Here’s what it will include:

Disc 1 – Blu-ray
The Grateful Dead Movie in its entirety transferred from the original 35mm film negative in High Definition and presented in: 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio

5.1 DTS HD Master Audio presentation of the original theatrical audio mix
DTS 5.1 audio mix, mixed from the master multitrack tapes LPCM
2.0 audio mix, mixed from the master multitrack tapes
Feature-length commentary with supervising editor Susan Crutcher and film editor John Nutt
English subtitles option on entire movie

Disc 2 – DVD  
More than 95 minutes of bonus concert footage, including: —
Uncle John’s Band — Sugaree — The Other One — Spanish Jam — Mind Left Body Jam — The Other One — Scarlet Begonias — China Cat Sunflower — I Know You Rider — Dark Star — Weather Report Suite
Bonus songs transferred from the 16mm camera-original film negative
Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix on all bonus songs, mixed from the master multitrack tapes
Dolby Digital 2.0 audio mix on all bonus songs, mixed from the master multitrack tapes
Visible Lyrics Option on all bonus songs
“A Look Back” documentary film
“Making of the Animated Sequence” documentary film
“Making of the DVD” documentary film
Television commercial for Mars Hotel album from 1974
Multicamera and multitrack audio demonstration
Extensive photo gallery of production notes, photos, film stills and other historical items from the Movie’s production

I wish the supplemental concert footage were being released in Blu-ray as well. But beggars can’t be choosers, I guess. At least the film itself should look and sound amazing! Thanks, Shout!

For anyone curious to know more about this film, here is a link to my extensive review.

Grateful Dead Movie Announced For Blu-Ray Release!

Self-Proclaimed Barbarian: The Altering Of Our Cultural & Artistic Heritage


Let me begin by explaining here that I am not a rabid Star Wars fan. I did love the original film as a kid. I was, in fact, quite obsessed with it. But I was also 13 at the time. Now, at the ripe old age of 47, my desire to go back and see the original Star Wars films is one of nostalgia more than need or great passion. I think they’re terrifically fun films. But the reason I choose to write about these films and what Lucas is doing is simply because I strongly believe in preservation. I believe that film represents our culture. A time and place. Emotionally, sociologically and technologically. Lucas’ much reviled attitude toward fans of his work and his insistence on erasing history is as worthy a topic for my blog as it is for the many, many forums out there voicing their opinions on the subject. Certainly as worthy as Lucas himself bringing this same argument before Congress in 1988.

In that fateful year, George Lucas stood before Congress –with many other filmmakers by his side– and protested the altering of films and the resulting altering of film history. Since then, he has become the poster-child for such alterations with his constant reworking of his Original Star Wars films (though he only directed one of the three) and his insistence that the original versions not be seen. He did, under protest, release the original cuts to DVD years ago in low-grade, non-anamorphic transfers. The result is these films will disappear forever in this hi-tech world. And this is, according to Lucas himself, exactly what he wants to see happen.

Here is the transcript of his plea to Congress. How is it that one so passionate could lose all sense of self and environment to become the greatest transgressor of what he so articulately argued against?

My name is George Lucas. I am a writer, director, and producer of motion pictures and Chairman of the Board ofLucasfilm Ltd., a multi-faceted entertainment corporation.

I am not here today as a writer-director, or as a producer, or as the chairman of a corporation. I’ve come as a citizen of what I believe to be a great society that is in need of a moral anchor to help define and protect its intellectual and cultural heritage. It is not being protected.

The destruction of our film heritage, which is the focus of concern today, is only the tip of the iceberg. American law does not protect our painters, sculptors, recording artists, authors, or filmmakers from having their lifework distorted, and their reputation ruined. If something is not done now to clearly state the moral rights of artists, current and future technologies will alter, mutilate, and destroy for future generations the subtle human truths and highest human feeling that talented individuals within our society have created.

A copyright is held in trust by its owner until it ultimately reverts to public domain. American works of art belong to the American public; they are part of our cultural history.

People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians, and if the laws of the United States continue to condone this behavior, history will surely classify us as a barbaric society. The preservation of our cultural heritage may not seem to be as politically sensitive an issue as “when life begins” or “when it should be appropriately terminated,” but it is important because it goes to the heart of what sets mankind apart. Creative expression is at the core of our humanness. Art is a distinctly human endeavor. We must have respect for it if we are to have any respect for the human race.

These current defacements are just the beginning. Today, engineers with their computers can add color to black-and-white movies, change the soundtrack, speed up the pace, and add or subtract material to the philosophical tastes of the copyright holder. Tomorrow, more advanced technology will be able to replace actors with “fresher faces,” or alter dialogue and change the movement of the actor’s lips to match. It will soon be possible to create a new “original” negative with whatever changes or alterations the copyright holder of the moment desires. The copyright holders, so far, have not been completely diligent in preserving the original negatives of films they control. In order to reconstruct old negatives, many archivists have had to go to Eastern bloc countries where American films have been better preserved.

In the future it will become even easier for old negatives to become lost and be “replaced” by new altered negatives. This would be a great loss to our society. Our cultural history must not be allowed to be rewritten.

There is nothing to stop American films, records, books, and paintings from being sold to a foreign entity or egotistical gangsters and having them change our cultural heritage to suit their personal taste.

I accuse the companies and groups, who say that American law is sufficient, of misleading the Congress and the People for their own economic self-interest.

I accuse the corporations, who oppose the moral rights of the artist, of being dishonest and insensitive to American cultural heritage and of being interested only in their quarterly bottom line, and not in the long-term interest of the Nation.

The public’s interest is ultimately dominant over all other interests. And the proof of that is that even a copyright law only permits the creators and their estate a limited amount of time to enjoy the economic fruits of that work.

There are those who say American law is sufficient. That’s an outrage! It’s not sufficient! If it were sufficient, why would I be here? Why would John Houston have been so studiously ignored when he protested the colorization of “The Maltese Falcon?” Why are films cut up and butchered?

Attention should be paid to this question of our soul, and not simply to accounting procedures. Attention should be paid to the interest of those who are yet unborn, who should be able to see this generation as it saw itself, and the past generation as it saw itself.

I hope you have the courage to lead America in acknowledging the importance of American art to the human race, and accord the proper protection for the creators of that art–as it is accorded them in much of the rest of the world communities.

I ask, most humbly, that George Lucas heed his own impassioned words and allow the original cuts of these immensely influential films to be restored to their original state so as to be seen by, as he so eloquently put it, “those who are yet unborn, who should be able to see this generation as it saw itself, and the past generation as it saw itself.”

Self-Proclaimed Barbarian: The Altering Of Our Cultural & Artistic Heritage

Happy Birthday, Pigpen!!!!


Today I’ll be celebrating Ron McKernan’s Birthday with yet another show from his final tour. The new Europe ’72: The Complete Recordings box is chock full of many of Pigpen’s last performances (he returned to the States for one more show at the Hollywood Bowl and then succumbed to the illness that eventually took his life. Yes, another member of the 27 club). Such a talent. And despite his failing health, his performances throughout the Europe tour were energetic and full of life.

We miss you, Pig!

Happy Birthday, Pigpen!!!!

Comes A Time: Newcastle, England April 11th, 1972


A Tuesday night at Newcastle City Hall in Newcastle, England. Third show of the tour before taking the ferry across to Denmark and the mysterious continent beyond.

Many a band had played the industrial town of Newcastle, England before the Dead. In fact, Eric Burdon and The Animals derived from Newcastle so the locals already had their own rock and roll celebrities. But the City Hall had never been a favorite place on any band’s list of venues to play. It was not the warmest of settings, with a tiny stage and concrete pillars spaced evenly throughout, blocking sight lines and making the acoustics a bit wonky. Even the crowd seemed a tad suspect as the gig began, but soon enough, the Dead had proven their worth and those cold concrete pillars and walls started reflecting the heat that was coming off the stage.

The first set was a whopping 18-song affair. Not as tight or energetic as the 2 previous Wembley shows, but no slouch either. The Newcastle crowd was privileged to get one of the tour’s three Jerry-on-pedal-steel LOOKS LIKE RAINs as well as a scorching BIG RAILROAD BLUES. The BEAT IT ON DOWN THE LINE offered the first false-start of the tour, but once the song got up and running (how many beats was that again?) all was as it should be in Grateful Dead land.

Pig led off the second set with another GOOD LOVIN’. It’s great to hear Pig belting out each and every song with so much energy and emotion as this would turn out to be, unbeknownst to anyone at the time, his last tour. Pigpen was already sick by this stage and looking mighty frail, but you’d never know it by the recording.

The highlight of the second set is the epic 20-minute TRUCKIN’ that devolves into some deep psychedelic spaces before spinning its way into DRUMS and then into a 25-minute OTHER ONE that leaves one breathless as it winds down into the first of the tour’s four renditions of Garcia’s beauteous COMES A TIME. The set closes out with one of only two versions of BROKEDOWN PALACE offered on the tour. It is as stirring an interpretation as I’ve ever heard.

Even Eric Burdon’s Mum was overheard to declare about the Grateful Dead (somewhere during the show’s over 4-hour running time), “They’re very good, you know.”

High praise, indeed.

A few days off to re-energize and the band will soon be taking the stage at the famous Tivoli Gardens Concert Hall. A far cry from the grey of Newcastle and the band’s first show in front of a foreign-speaking audience (though one could argue that Newcastle’s northern dialect might seem rather foreign to some). But music is, after all, a universal language. And so it would be in the land of the Danes. And beyond…

Comes A Time: Newcastle, England April 11th, 1972