YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Grateful Dead, Dylan: Ending On A High Note

July 28, 1987|ROBERT HILBURN | Times Pop Music Critic

Anaheim Stadium was anything but dead Sunday afternoon.

The music inside the stadium didn't begin until 5 p.m., but colorfully attired, party-minded fans outside began celebrating hours before the gates opened.

Many of the estimated 60,00 fans had driven hundreds of miles to see the final show in the brief, historic six-city tour by Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan--and they weren't going to waste a minute of the trip.

The parking lot resembled a counterculture swap meet as street vendors--dressed in the same tie-dye T-shirts, headbands and cutoff jeans or gauze dresses favored by the crowd--moved through the endless rows of tail-gate parties, hawking odd pieces of jewelry, clothing--and even, one observer insisted, some "magic mushroom soup."

Only official vendors were inside the stadium, which meant the selection was limited to approved T-shirts and concession-stand food. But the mood was just as celebratory.

More perhaps than any other attraction in rock, the Dead audience is part of the show--a reflection of the communal spirit that has surrounded the band since the '60s.

One way or another, virtually everyone at a Grateful Dead show ends up high.

Part of what the audience finds in the band--both in its inviting roots-conscious music and its longstanding avoidance of pop compromises--is a refreshing escape from the trendiness and hustle of the '80s. They see the Dead concerts, with their lingering allegiance to '60s ideals of good will and brotherhood, as a chance to return briefly to a more innocent and comforting environment.

But there is another part of the crowd that simply uses the concerts as a no-holds-barred excuse to party. A Dead show is one of the few places in rock where pot is still considered hip.

During the two hours the Dead was on stage alone, the fans in the grandstand seemed to be as caught up in the social aspects of the concert as the music itself. A small hand full wandered the aisles with glazed eyes and carried on intense conversations with people only they could see.

Mostly, however, the audience was high on the friendliness and camaraderie that seems such a large part of the appeal of the shows. People admired each other's handcrafted Deadhead garb and spoke about past shows.

The Dead's music was divided into two sections. The first focused on short, compact songs built chiefly around warm and inviting country, rock and R&B strains.

The six-member group returned after a half-hour break in a different, less appealing musical mode that spotlighted extended instrumental jams. While tasteful, the music seemed distressingly monotonous, a sort of psychedelic link between the '60s and today's expanding yuppie-fostered new-age sounds.

It was dark by the time Dylan came on around 8:20 p.m., one reason why the music suddenly seemed more important than the atmosphere. Another reason for the heightened punch of the music was simply the forcefulness of Dylan's delivery and the liveliness of the songs.

In Philadelphia on July 10, the second stop on the tour, Dylan had appeared a bit uncertain about how he fit into this whole Deadhead scene. One thing appeared certain, however: He didn't want to simply be part of any '60s nostalgia. The result was the absence of his anticipated anthems.

At Anaheim, however, a far more confident Dylan seemed to realize that he could perform some of the better-known '60s material without sacrificing his artistry. He opened with "Mr. Tambourine Man," a tune that even predates the Dead, but it wasn't one of the familiar versions. Dylan sang his words in a new, unpredictable fashion that defied the crowd's attempt to turn the number into a sweet, easy sing-along. It was a darker, biting version that downplayed the song's original '60s innocence, but still retained its hope.

The Dead's backing was immaculate, cushioning the song with the understanding of musicians who had lived with the song. Avoiding the extended jams, the Dead played with passion and frequent beauty as Dylan went through a surprisingly varied collection of tunes, from the early commentary of a "Maggie's Farm" to the latter romanticism of "Simple Twist of Fate." It was a marvelous meshing of two very distinct, but richly rewarding styles.

In the darkness of Anaheim Stadium, the music, again, was what mattered most. The Dead and Dylan will continue on their independent paths. But there was a magic in their brief crossing that made this an evening to remember--a celebration of two forces that had made it through to the '80s with their spirits intact.

Los Angeles Times Articles