Sunday, May 02, 2010

A WEEKEND WITH THE GRATEFUL DEAD (a.k.a. would you rather hear it from me or some guy with a droopy jam-filled mustache and a fringe jacket?)

It's no secret that I'm not exactly what one would call a front and center fan of the Grateful Dead. It should be obvious to even the dimmest of you regular BLOG TO COMM readers as to why, but if you're still in the dark I could point your nose towards a couple of articles I've written which bring up the subject rather diligently. Perhaps I could just sum it all up saying that it's a combination of their dismal if not downright pretentious music, their sycophantic adoring fans and worst of all the sanctimonious nature of their legend that makes my stomach turn. However I must admit that writers whom I've liked and admired o'er the years have penned various niceties about the Dead even though on the surface I thought they all would have known better (but maybe in some small way I do admire some of these writers who manage to enjoy all different kinds of music outside of a punk realm even if they may be "smorgasbord schmucks" in Lou Reed's own words). I'm talkin' people like Lester Bangs, Richard Meltzer, Nick Kent, Lenny Kaye, Mick Farren, Peter Laughner and Brian Doherty amongst other worthies who have spewed positive assessments of the Dead's music. Hmmmm, if they could like 'em then maybe """""I""""" should try to do the same and drop my alleged preconceived notions and whatnot; try to understand, nay enjoy these asteroids for what they could be rather'n just react to what I saw in a buncha smelly hippies doing the gumby dance whilst speaking about their SF heroes in hushed, humble tones punctuated with a lotta "man"s.

So anyway here come these three disques that I got off Mr. Eddie Flowers, two of which I could recall buying from him (the third 'un was supposed to be a flesh and blood copy of Can's FUTURE DAYS AND PAST NIGHTS) but I'll just consider out deal PAID IN FULL and leave it at that. Nice selection too considering what a sucker I am for these bootleg recordings, but interesting packaging aside and overall quality just what's embedded in these shiny silver dollars anyway?

What else but Grateful Dead music that's what! And fortunately most of it is of the early Dead kind back when it was 1966 and they didn't quite yet become the poster-freaks for organic pseudointellectuals quite just yet. Of course just about everything was good in the middle portion of the sixties and the Dead were no exception, which is why a platter like MASON'S CHILDREN is actually one I don't mind playing over again and again sounding mighty fine in circulation with the various Velvet Underground and krautrock thud platters residing besides my chairside boom box. The '65 demos do click and sound not that much diff'n what else was going on in the folk rock-sated scene led by such respectables as the Vejtables and Charlatans. It is funny to think that the guys who were cranking out such enjoyable garage gems like "Confusion Prince" would later go on to typify everything wrong with mind-addled confusion in only a few short years but then again, who would've said in 1962 that the musical output of the Beatles in 7/8 years would sound like the theme music for the late late show? (Talkin' "The Long and Winding Road" in case you're still confused). Sheesh, even Pigpen doing da blooze wasn't as wretch-inducing as I woulda thought, but like I said the whole San Francisco sound and style hadn't the chance to rot on the vine...yet.

But strange enough the addition of some later-on tracks didn't mess the mood that much. As much of a loather of the WORKINGMAN'S DEAD/CSNY Southern California lilting harmonies person that I am the outtake of "Uncle John's Band" did not offend me as much as the original did. I can't understand exactly why...I mean the lyrics of this 'un are totally jumbled and obtuse beyond belief that in no way can I decipher any logical meaning out of them like Brian Doherty can (ditto "Mason's Children" and a whole load more which so abstract that I don't think a drug has been invented to make any sense out of these!) and the acoustic chiming isn't exactly high energy central. Maybe in the wake of a load of inferior produce being passed off as rock & roll this kind of prattle sounds better, jive and all. It would seem so since I just happened to listen to Yes doing "Your Move" on the radio a few days back and remarked that next to the current hit parade this made more sense. Which says more about today's music than the obtuse music that replaced the high energy of the mid-sixties I guess.

Wish I could say something fantastic about SUNDANCER, a collection of live '66 offerings that would at least be conduit to my own personal frame of musical whatziz, but I find these live performances just about as middling as those on the CREAM PUFF WAR offering I reviewed a few months back (see above link to be taken directly to my review...scroll down as they say). There's really nothing intense or attention-grabbing about the performances from the first half of '66 here that range from admittedly palatable to boring jams that I guess you have to be crocked to enjoy, or have to wait three hours into the set when they really start "cooking". Nothing offensive here mind you (that wouldn't start happening until the drugs really fried their brains and they started making solo albums extolling the virtues of Marin County) but the drill of tiresome sameness makes this one a pretty disposable affair. I'll bet the diehard Deadheads love it, which would figure.

MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON, taken from three '69 vintage performances, starts off with the huys doing their patented oldies rock covers sounding halfway decent if unprofessionally clunky. Such partydown tracks as "Good Lovin'" and "Big Boy Pete" (better known to you as the Kingsmen's "Jolly Green Giant") sound fun enough in the same way I thought it was fun looking at dead rabbits when I was eight...don't get me wrong, the unbridled unrehearsed amateurism actually helps these songs out and I just can't resist liking these renditions the same way I just can't help liking Larry Mondello; they both revel in that mind-numbed sorta sameness y'know. When the Dead get into the acoustic tinklin' and intricate guitar interplay my attention span does begin to waft off into other things, but y'know it all starts sounding better when I keep telling myself that Television coulda come up with some of this stuff and they weren't that shabby at all. But could Television get so time-change-y and intricate phase/mood-shift as the Dead wandering through "Dark Star" into "St. Stephen" and "The Eleven" sounding so clunky in the process? Oh well, at least the change does flow with my own short attention span plus the general mood does conjure a good late-sixties smart-rock feeling not that different from similar excursions by the like of Tim Buckley or even the early Fairport Convention so that's something that does redeem this disque a little.

And the "Feedback" section does work out that way I'm sure the Dead didn't intend (as total hard-drive scrunch intensity closer to the spirit of '66) even if we have to endure 'em doing their standard acapella closer "And We Bid You Goodnight" which naturally jolts everything back into hippie downhome mellowness. But after all's said and done this one will probably be an oft-repeated play maybe just for the fact that it does make for good background music the way it acts as a hippie pacifier on one level yet has some intriguing moments you thought the Dead were too scrambled to think up on another.

1 comment:

Serena WmS. Burroughs said...

That "Sundancer" cover pic looks like N.W.A's "Straight Outta Compton," but without the guns...