Rock Is The Dead
Standing about five rows back in front of the stage at The Nassau Coliseum. Small talk abounds and the loud crackling stereo system cranks out some generic rock tunes. The roadies spend about twenty minutes setting up but it seem more like an hour. No matter, the time has come. The lights are dimming and the band is about to take their places on stage. Mostly everyone begins making bets on what they’re gonna open with as the stage gets pitch dark. The hum of the crowd builds as it gets closer and closer to go time. Bill and Mickey tap out a few drum rolls as they position themselves at their drum kit thrones. Keith is at his piano which has a steal your face skull flag draped over it. Donna can be seen walking on stage and Phil is back by the speakers. Bob and Jerry’s silhouettes walk on stage and we are ready! Most of the time after the first five notes everyone knows what the boys are going to play. Tonight was no exception and they opened up with a rousing cover of Chuck Berry’s “The Promised Land”. The music has already lifte our souls into a new dimension. So good we don’t even need drug to feel high, but of course we consumed so much by now our brain waves are stumbling around. From that they sear right into one of my favorite Dead tunes, Sugaree, and Jerry was smoking tonight. I don’t mean he was smoking pot although we all assumed he was, it’s a term for when Jerry was especially on fire. Jerry plays improvisational tripping music and no song is ever exactly the same. Tonight he had a sort of Spanish sounding twist to his playing but the notes were uper crisp and clear and you can feel the notes bending.. The trademark of all Grateful Dead shows is when Garcia begins strumming his improv jam and he goes off into space. As he plays a cosmic snowflake of sound erupts into an iceberg of joyful soul tickling music. Jerry’s playing is like a super melodic interpretation of Jimi Hendrix. If a kaleidoscope could make noise it would sound like what flows from Jerry’s amplifiers. His strings hypnotize and separate our mind from our bodies. Lift and separate, not just a Playtex claim, a mindfuck reality at a Dead show. Some of the jams were so long and spacey you completely forget what song you’re listening to until they went back in to finish it. Sometimes they would even change to a different song in the middle, trance off into space and then finish that song before returning to the original one. It was like being on a musical roller coaster, full of surprise turns, dips, and so many tempo changes you could loose your equilibrium in a flash. Jesus shit man, this is it. This is what its all about, rock and roll at its ultimate. The mind altering effects of the Orange Sunshine are accentuated by the music. The trip peaks as stacks of big ass speakers, gigantic stereo amplifiers, blare music so loud I can feel the hammer and anvil shake loose in my middle ear. The music coming from those amps create an almost demonic possession that sucks up your essence and takes you over the top. Fuck the exorcism I don’t ever want this feeling expelled from my body I want it to enslave and possess my soul forever. Carrie, Ken, Sue and I did not utter a word during the show but gave hand signals indicating how un-fucking-believable it was. Jesus shit man, we’ve got the music, the hallucinations, the dulled senses bordering on numbness, the feeling of love and togetherness. There really is nothing quite like it anywhere. Thousands of people concentrating the collective consciences on one very powerful wave length of unity. When we are tripping, listening to live rock and roll, and we are mere droplets in a massive sea of love. We understand the concept of nirvana, the oneness of existence, and the music helps us transcend all the dimensions we know of and opens our ears and eyes to new ones. The universe is in perfect balance inside this concert hall and it is filled with love, and peace, and a sense of completion. It is filled with rock and roll. I mean it is all about the music, but not just music alone. It is everything that goes along for the ride. The best part of it is that it has just begun.
The show continues with “Birdsong, Mexicali Blues, They Love Each Other, Jack Straw, Stella Blue, Big River and Casey Jones, each tune whipping us into a deeper frenzy than the one before it. Beach balls take to the sky and bounce around in endless search of destiny. Bob Weir walks up to the microphone and announces that they are gonna take a short break, and the lights come on. Our minds are humming and our ears are ringing as our min and bodies dance freely.
The entire Hall is alive with the buzzing of thousands of ecstatic bees engaged in small conversations, nobody aware of how loud we are speaking because our ears have a dull but constant ringing. We don’t even notice. Now The four of us can talk, and most of the conversation centers on what we had just experienced. Carries favorite was Stella Blue, Sues was They Love Each Other, and Kens, no surprise to me, loved Mexicali Blues the best. I prattled on and on about Sugaree of course, but the talk was all about the show. The lights, the Grateful Dead skeletons, the songs, whatever it was it concerned something we had just seen and/or heard. “He whose true spirit dwells in that of a Grateful Dead Concert knows true bliss inexpressible through words.” That was one of my sayings, a bastardization of a Herman Hesse line from the book “Siddhartha” that had become my bible. All kinds of chatter filled the room, as joints and pipes were passed among strangers. If you lit a joint, you passed it to your friends, and they passed to whoever was next to them. It was like getting a smorgasbord of buzz. Someone next to me would pass me a joint of real good gold pot, next someone passed along some crap green Mexican, then maybe a lucky shot of incredible Thai stick, and every once in a while a chamber pipe filled with hash. I wondered if the owner ever got the pipe back. That’s why we always rolled joints. A half hour later, our buzzes restored to ecstasy and fully refreshed, the lights once again go off.
The stage is pitch black dark but we can hear the instruments getting warmed up as a renewed anticipation hangs like a cloud of smoke. Or maybe it really is a cloud of smoke, a sweet earthy smoke. The stage fills up with a neon rainbow of flashing multi colored lights and right on cue the band all begin the first tune. The Dead open up the second set on a bit slower pace to build up to a telepathic mind fornicating guaranteed to please. “Mississippi half step” into “Me and My Uncle” into “Row Jimmy Row” into “Dark Star” as if it were one long song. In the middle of “Dark Star” Jerry went into what felt like a half hour “space jam” which goes so far off the path that everyone in the building forgets where they are until he hits a familiar riff that brings us all back together in an instant. Phil Lesh starts playing some unfamiliar bass chords and Keith plays some soft piano rhythms as Bob, Jerry, and Donna appear to be talking. Maybe they are deciding what they will play next, or maybe they are just talking bullshit to each other. Could be they’re sharing some drugs, who knows and who cares? The only thing on our minds is what’s coming next. I tried to yell to Ken over the buzz of the crowd, “Jesus shit man, I hope they do ‘Eyes Of The World’” to which he yelled back “Man I’m hoping to hear ‘Going Down The Road.’”. We were both wrong but certainly not disappointed as Bob Weir came forward and they did a rousing version of “El Paso”. I loved the way they went back and forth between Bobby songs and Jerry songs. This was a Bobby song and a crowd favorite. Jerry jammed a flamenco-oriented jam allowing us to see his Classical Spanish talent and no sooner did it end when we were already jumping to “Eyes Of The World” with another long space jam in the middle. When it wound down the band took another very short on stage break, and seemed to want to change the tempo. At the very first note the reason for the pause became crystal clear. It was a Jerry song, a very haunting version of a post apocalyptic tune called “Morning Dew.” I felt this was Jerry’s best song vocally, and his guitar strings just wrapped around your soul and sucked a feeling of deep sorrow and sadness onto the stage with him. His guitar was crying at the devastation his eyes were seeing, ears hearing, and soul feeling. It was the most emotionally stinging song I ever heard, yet instead of sorrow or regret it filled us up with hope and joy, as if the words bounced off and only the music remained. When it ended, the lights went off and the band walked off the stage, and we were left with a vibrating sensation wishing this had never ended. But the Dead always do encores and the louder we begged the better the aftershow. The hall filled up with clapping, and whistling, and screams of delight and approval. The chant began to take shape in the form of “more more more.” The stage and the hall were still in the dark and we continued chanting until the sound of a drum roll erased the chant and replaced with a most enthusiastic and incredibly loud collective scream of approval. The colored lights on the stage went back on, and the band took their places. We had gotten so loud that no one knew which song they were playing until we calmed enough to hear “Blossoms blooming and I don’t care”. In an instant we knew it was another fan fave called “Sugar Magnolia” and we erupted into cheering and jumping mass of teenage energy sensing an end to an evening most of us wished would go on forever. From Sugar Magnolia they went into the tune Ken was hoping for, “Going Down The Road And Feeling Bad”. On stage Donna came forward on this and was really getting into it, pulling her extremely long blond hair up over her head and letting it fall a few times as she belted out some back up vocals that were more like musical notes than words. Jerry took control of the mid jam and it was his best of the evening. I don’t remember ever seeing Ken jump quite so much before. He normally got into any show we went to, but whether it was the acid or, the fact that it was most likely the last show we would ever go to I guess I‘ll never know. Whenever he went jumping around with such reckless abandon it made me happy and proud to be with him. Like that wasn’t enough, they continued the encore with one last tune to finish out our night. Bob Weir really let loose on “One More Saturday Night” to the ecstatically rambunctious delight of the crowd. Upon the last note Bob Weir walked to the microphone and said simply “Good Night Long Island, we love you.” Donna stood center stage blowing kisses as the band turned and walked off the stage. A very hopeful crowd tonight, we all started chanting and screaming and clapping again as if another encore might be coming, but all the lights went on, a signal that the show was officially over. We all stood with our brains vibrating and our ears ringing, this time so loud we couldn’t hear much of anything else. We decompressed for five minutes before even trying to speak, and even then our throats were sore and horse from yelling non stop, and our ears were ringing too loud to fully comprehend the words at all. The music had ended but between the drugs, the LSD, and the pure energy of Grateful Dead rock and roll we would remain in an electric state for hours. Fucking A, there really is absolutely nothing like a Grateful Dead concert.