Sunday, August 26, 2012

Grateful Dead - August 1972

Upon returning from their winter-spring 1972 jaunt through Europe, the Grateful Dead chose to spend the summer into fall alternating between large outdoor shows and mid-sized, theatres. This week marks the 40th Anniversary of a run of Dead shows that culminated in the much-heralded Veneta, Oregon performance on 8/27/72 that was memorialized by the unreleased but oft-bootlegged film Sunshine Daydream and was lauded by John Dwork in the first volume of the Deadhead’s Taping Compendium as one of the high water marks of western civilization. I went to two of the  less heralded of the six shows of that run,, and took a few pictures at the 8/20/72 show, so I thought I would take this occasion to share a few reflections here.

In the summer of 1972 , I was between my frosh and sophomore years at the University of California Santa Cruz and home in Palo Alto for the summer. As was the case every summer during my undergraduate years, I scrambled to find employment that would allow me to fund the next year’s schooling. After quite a bit of searching, I secured a temporary gig at plastics company Raychem in Menlo Park, creating heat-shrinkable tubing for electronic wiring on the graveyard shift. This was my first and only job on a production line, and it gave me a deep appreciation for what my colleagues in the plant – and their counterparts in similar facilities throughout the world – did every day. I think it also gave me an even greatea appreciation of the privilege I had to gain a college education.  In the meantime, the graveyard shift schedule, which began at midnight Sunday night and ended at 8 AM Friday mornings (unless we worked overtime on Friday night as well) wreaked havoc with my biological as well as social clocks.  I would get home, eat breakfast, try to sleep during the day, and emerge, vampire-like in the late afternoon or evening. It never quite worked, and I always attempted to revert to a conventional schedule on weekends, which meant that I spent most of the summer in a sleep-deprived state.

In July, when tickets were announced for a run of four Dead shows at the relatively intimate Berkeley Community Theater, I realized that the only one of the shows my work schedule would permit me to attend was the Friday, August 25 show. I and a few of my college friends, went to the local Sears Ticketron outlet and got tickets which, if memory serves, were either in the first or one of the closest rows. Roughly a week before this run of shows began, a last-minute addition to the Dead’s schedule was added, for Sunday, August 20 at the equally intimate San Jose Civic Auditorium. Since I didn’t have to be at work until midnight that evening, I figured I would have time to see that show as well, so it was back to Sears for general admission tickets for my friends and I.

The Sunday show was the only time the Dead played the San Jose Civic Audirorium, Although the band had roots in the mid-peninsula, and had famously played the San Jose Acid Test in an old Victorian house on the current site of the San Jose City Hall Rotunda the night of the Rolling Stones’ 1966 show at the Civic, they never gigged at the Civic Auditorium during the sixties, when the auditorium hosted shows by a wide variety of rock acts including the Byrds, Cream, the Airplane,  and the Buffalo Springfield. Garcia had played there a few weeks earlier (7/1/72) with Merl Saunders, Tom Fogerty, John Kahn, and Bill Vitt, and apparently liked the intimate, funky confines of the Civic enough to bring the Dead there as part of their west coast August run. 

San Jose Civic Auditorium
San Jose Civic Auditorium in its heyday
The Civic is a gorgeous, 3300 capacity mission-style auditorium that was built as part of the WPA project and opened in 1936. The horseshoe-shaped seating arrangement made for good sightlines from the floor, the mezzanine seating, and the balcony.  After years of relative disuse during the late 20thcentury, the audirorium underwent an extensive makeover in the last several years, and now again serves as a mid-sized venue for south bay concerts. I saw veteran rock bands Yes and Procol Harum there a couple of weeks ago, and was impressed with the improvements in seating, lighting, and sound reinforcement, while maintaining the feel of the old facility.

Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir 8.20.72 Photo: M. Parrish

Bill Kreutzmann and Phil Lesh 8.20.72 Photo: M. Parrish
Although the San Jose show was held on a Sunday night and was a last-minute addition to the roster, it was the Dead’s first local appearance since the trip to Europe, and drew a respectable, if not sold out crowd. Their set included a few songs that local crowds had not heard before, including the Garcia-Hunter ballad “Stella Blue” and “He’s Gone,” Hunter’s not to Mickey Hart’s father Lenny,  the one-time Dead manager who had absconded with a bunch of the band’s money a couple of years before. What was most striking, to me at least, was the extent to which Keith and Donna Godchaux had been incorporated into the band.  Keith’s jazzy piano chops proved a powerful foil to Garcia and Lesh, as evidenced by the extended improvisational workouts on “Playing in the Band” and “The Other One.” Donna’s vocal role was most evident on choral arrangements such as the coda to “He’s Gone” and the almost doo-wop harmonies that now ornamented Bob Weir’s “One More Saturday Night.” The relatively concise show was over by about 1030, giving me plenty of time to make it to work by midnight.

The 8/20/72 gig was, sadly, the Dead’s only performance at the San Jose Civic, and they only played the city of San Jose one more time, an outdoor show at San Jose State University’s Spartan Stadium in 1979 that was the debut of keyboardist Brent Mydland.

Berkeley Community Theatre
The Berkeley Community Theatre which seats 3500, is similar in size to the San Jose Civic, but configured more of a conventional theatre than the arena-shaped south bay venue. Throughout his years as a promoter, Bill Graham used the facility for more upscale acts that benefited from its fixed seating and acoustics far superior to Graham’s other venues like Winterland and the Cow Palace. The Dead first played the BCT in 1968, and had played two shows there the previous August, but the decision to play four nights there rather than two or three at Winterland this time out was clearly was an artistic rather than a financial one. 

The band’s BCT run is considered by many to be a high water mark of 1972, leading up to the infamous Oregon Field trip show the following Sunday. Excellent soundboard tapes circulate of the shows on the the 21st, 22nd, and 24th, but the Friday show is one of the few shows for which neither a complete recording or even a full setlist exists. A fragmentary soundboard recording is known that has the song order jumbled, based on my memory of the show. 

After waking from my Friday afternoon slumber, I collected my college roommate Tim and on and off girlfriend Debbie for the trip up to Berkeley. Arriving there, we made what proved to be a serious tactical error by chowing down at the Giant Burger on University Avenue, a perennial Berkeley landmark for many years previously and afterwards. We got to the Theater early, which proved to be a good thing. At 730, Bill Graham came out to announce that the show, scheduled for 8 PM, would be starting early with an unannounced set by the New Riders of the Purple Sage, who played their distinctive cosmic cowboy country rock for a good hour.

After a break, the Dead came on and got a rare person-by-person introduction “for all the folks from Boise” before the band slipped into their slow, funky rendition of “Cold Rain and Snow.” The first set was relatively textbook, save for a rare, and very rough, rendition of “The Frozen Logger,”which tended to show up when the band was dealing with some onstage equipment woes. The set ended with an uncharacteristically ragged version of “Bertha,” with Garcia mangling the words of a song he had performed at practically every show for the previous year and a half.  The second set opened with Weir’s spirited reading of Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land” which was followed by another wild and wooly voyage through “Playing in the Band” which, clocking in at 18 minutes plus,  was half again as long as the version we had heard in San Jose a few days before.

During this era in the band;s existence, the extended segment during the second set almost always alternated between sets of songs built around either “Dark Star’ or “The Other One.” As fate would have it, the Dark Stars occurred on Monday and Thursday, so both the San Jose and 8/25 Berkeley shows featured sets of music that opened with “Truckin’ and wound their way into “The Other One,” terminating in a slow ballad.  For the San Jose show, the transition between the two songs was punctuated by a Bill Kreuztmann drum solo, but the Friday Berkeley show found Truckin’ gradually giving way to one of Phil Lesh’s infrequent but always adventurous bass solos which drove the band powerfully into  another long, frenetic version of“The Other One,” which is separated by a break (presumably because of  a tape flip) from “Black Peter”on the soundboard tape.  

The Berkeley Community Theater was (and presumably still is) a union house, and stiff penalties were assessed if shows went beyond the contracted midnight curfew. Although the New Riders had started early, their set placed time pressure on the Dead’s usually open-ended time schedule. Thus the show ended somewhat abruptly without an encore with a “Sugar Magnolia” that just squeaked in before the witching hour.  Our show actually ended even a bit earlier, as the Giant Burger in Tim’s stomach had been making its presence known more and more strongly through the latter part of the show, and had us taking our leave just as the band was swinging into “Sunshine Daydream.”

After this run, the Dead did not play the BCT for many years, although Garcia played a benefit there with Merl Saunders in 1974 and some of the band participated in an acoustic set for a 4/15/81 benefit for SEVA.  1984, 1985, and 1986, the band did an annual run of shows there that were benefits for their chairtable arm, the Rex Foundation. Their last show there, a benefit for the music programs of the Berkeley public schools, was an acoustic set billed as Phil Lesh and Friends on 9/24/94.  The BCT has fallen into relative disuse in recent years, but recently had a new sound system installed, so perhaps it will, like the San Jose Civic, experience a 21st century revival as a live music venue.


Corry342 said...

Another fascinating post. A couple of points to mention:

I recall the late addition of the San Jose show. I remember that it was advertised on AM rock radio, probably KLIV-1590 out of San Jose. I wasn't even a tenth grader yet--no chance that I could go (on the bright side, I wasn't working a graveyard shift, either).

Berkeley Community Theater, among many other things, is also the High School auditorium for Berkeley HS. Perhaps because of this, it has no concessions, or it least it didn't up through the 80s. No popcorn, no soda, nothing. Thus it was never the first choice for Graham or other promoters, because one key source of revenue was eliminated.

cryptdev said...


Thanks for these thoughts. I had never thought about the concessions angle for Graham's decisions about when and how to use the BCT, but it certainly makes sense. My impression was that he tended to focus more (for want of a better word) 'adult' shows at the BCT that he wanted to put in a slightly more intimate, upscale setting. The reserved seat configuration supported that idea as well, although there were certainly some heavy duty rock acts (Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix come to mind) that played there. Another logistical headache with the BCT appears to be the lack of a well defined load in/out space, which means that trucks need to park on the city streets to bring equipment in and out. At any rate, neither Live Nation or Another Planet seem to use the BCT much, if at all, these days.

Light Into Ashes said...

Ralph Gleason wrote on article on the Berkeley run, in which he mentions the shows starting & ending early:

It's curious that your memory of the song order on 8/25 is quite different from how it goes on Charlie Miller's copy of the master reel.
Alas, the tape cuts off in the Other One... Too bad you missed both the Dark Stars - but all the Other Ones that week were awesome!

cryptdev said...

My inverted order is more of a hypothesis than anything. I am certain that I would have remembered if wharf rat was played in the first set, and the PITB Promisel Land Bertha sequence seems unlikely to end the first set. It is clear that the reel, fragmentary as it is, is also scrambled to some extent. I started keeping set lists awhile after this show, so I only have memory to go on for specific order.

ned said...

It has occurred to me that no other venue in the US can approach the full list of top name rock acts that have graced their stage than BCT. The only Legend I'm certain did not is the Beatles. I don't think the Rolling Stones did either but I'm not certain. Winterland, the Fillmores, various Arenas like MSG or the Forum, none of them can come close. It has been hosting performances regularly thru out the entire Rock/Pop era. Dylan and the Band '65, The Who '70, Led Zeppelin '71, Zappa, Springsteen, Paul Simon and on and on.

Raychem said...

Thanks for these thoughts. I had never thought about the concessions angle for Graham's decisions about when and how to use the BCT, but it certainly makes sense.