Sweet Cancels, but Garcia Soars
Troy Sunday Record February 24, 1980
“She was only booed off the stage in the first concert,” noted Evan Gold with futile optimism. Evan is State University’s concert chairman, and he was understandably a little rattled. Stiff Records’ Rachel Sweet had just stiffed him, canceling as opening act for the Grateful Dead’s lead guitarist Jerry Garcia’s (Palace Theatre show on February 13th) with five and a half hours’ notice.
In my preview article, I had characterized the pairing of the two acts as “a candy-lipped pop rocker meeting the aging vestige of hippy psychedelia.” Despite the fact that Jerry had personally requested her on his mini-tour, the cultural differences apparently were too vast for Jerry’s fans to swallow. So, they booed the rising young star right off the stage in D. C. the night before she was to play Albany, and the insult was too much for the sensitive 17-year-old.
Rachel Sweet comes out of an environment that fans the flames of extreme audience reaction. It is not unusual for a British new wave mob to shout insults at a performer, get into spitting contests with him or her and even get more physical than that. But it is disappointing to hear that the fans of a rock institution like Jerry Garcia were so rude as to totally unglue a singer as talented as Rachel. Love, peace and understanding have become anachronisms even to Dad heads.
That’s not the only thing that’s changed. Where the Grateful Dead, the ultimate flower power act, once epitomized one generation’s rejection of capitalism’s obsession with money, the painful realities of 1980’s 13 percent inflation have now permeated every aspect of the band, and everyone remotely associated with it. The name Dead equals big bucks.
Before the show, people from the (Rensselaer nightclub) The Hulla-Baloo were handing out posters that proclaimed in big letters ‘Hulla-Baloo Music Club presents “THE DEAD.” I smaller letters, the poster clarifies ‘Three recent members of the GratefulDead – The Healy Treece Band.
“Now, this is what I call target advertising,” John Lasek (owner of the club) laughed as he handed me a poster.
In reality, it is false advertising. The Healy-Treece Band is not the Dead, and the only member of the band who is a present member of the Dead is Bill Kruetzmann. Keyboardist Keith Godchaux left the Dead a year ago, and the third Dead connection is a sound man. Inside the Palace, Dead shirts were going for $9 a pop, (a lot in 1980) and tickets were selling for $10.00 on this mini-tour which was set up ostensibly to put some bucks in Jerry Garcia’s pocket until the much-delayed next Dead album come out. It’s currently scheduled for March release. (Note: It was wrong for me to assert in 1980 that Garcia was taking the money on the run. Even though The Grateful Dead had been popular for 15 years by that time, they still were losing money on tours that played venues like Albany in venues too small to recoup costs. And unlike bands that enjoyed a similar level of popularity, their albums were not big sellers. This double hit put them consistently behind the eight ball financially forcing Garcia to do “solo” gigs to make up the losses and pay for the next Dead album.)
Thank goodness, this mercenary attitude and the bad vibes for Rachel Sweet have not affected Jerry’s music. It may be too simplistic to say this, but for my money Jerry Garcia’s guitar playing is the Dead essence, and we got more than three hours of that essence on February 13th. With session bassist John Kahn and two aggressive young cats on keyboards and drums, Jerry launched into a set that included three Dylan songs, Marvin’s Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is,” “Chuck Berry’s “Let It Rock” and Jerry’s own “Sugaree.”
Dead heads know and understand that the magic of Jerry’s playing is a sensitive – often tentative – phenomenon. He can have a night where his long jams never capture the spark, or he can be unbelievably thrilling from the first note. Most often, he falls somewhere in between and that’s how he was this time through.
About half way through the first set, he caught fire on a Chuck Berry riff and rode his adoring fans to the heights with “That’s All Right, Mama” by Arthur Crudup, the father of rock and roll, and he closed the first set with his perennial favorite, “Sugaree.”
The second set was dazzling. Jimmy Cliff’s’ “The Harder Tey Come” was crisp, tight reggae that belied Garcia’s reputation for lazy, lacy jams. “Tore Up” was down and dirty rock and roll, and the insistent crowd got the management to turn off the lights and cut off a Robert Gordon exit tape for an encore of Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece.”