April 23, 2010

Buffalo 3/17/70

This is an attempt to compile all the different reviews of this lost show into one single account...

The concert (called the Philharmonic Rock Marathon) started at 7, in Kleinhans Music Hall. Seats cost $4.50. Newspaper reviews cited attendance at 2,200 or 2,300, "a good house." (It was noted, "People came to hear the Grateful Dead," and that they were "highly responsive.")
"Confirmation of the Dead followed an earlier cancellation of the Byrds. The Dead are accepting expenses but waiving their usual huge fee to help the Philharmonic benefit and for the 'privilege and delight of working with Lukas Foss.'"
They were joined by the Road, a local Buffalo group.

"The program began with Foss at the piano, playing Bach in the Non-Improvisation with three groups - the Road, members of the orchestra, and the Dead." They were to "surround him with a rhythmic and electronic counterpoint."
"As conductor Foss played his Bach non-improvisation, the Road came in around him with their wall of sound, providing a bit too much rhythm & shout and not enough freeform experimentation. The Dead worked their wave of music more adeptly around this freeform style."
[Foss's "Non-Improvisation" was a 1967 composition for four players (clarinet, violincello, piano & percussion), and was based on the first movement of Bach's concerto for harpsichord in D minor.]

"Road played a set, and then there was a piece by John Cage, which included a lecture by Cage from loudspeakers, and live performers strolling through the concert hall."
"The Road started and they were terrible. A teenybopper band with no soul or interesting music..."
"Lead singer Nick DiStephano has a good voice with the rest of the group harmonizing closely."
"The Road was playing away...and the crowd started to chant "Hit the road, Road!" After a few moments, you couldn't even hear the Road - the MC came up on the stage and shouted at us all to quiet down, the Dead were not ready to play yet and the Road was not done anyway. So we got quiet."
"After a pause, the Philharmonic came on. Silence, then a single gong. Down the aisles came tuxedoed men, each carrying a small triangle, hitting them in unison. Scary & funereal... We waited through the piece, trying to like it or at least escape from it, but then it was over."
[The Cage pieces were Variations II and III.]

One newspaper review mentions, "the Dead offered some of their best material in their set's limited time." [Probably about an hour.]
"They had to play an abbreviated set...I am only positive about Lovelight... Accompanying the show were laser lights."
"The set wasn't all that long because they were sharing the stage with the Philharmonic and the Road."
"The Dead played on top of a lift platform, which rose when they played and dropped when the symphony played."
"The stage was a hydraulic platform that was down and all you could see was a few red lights from the amps... They started with "Feedback" before the stage slowly rose out of the ground with the band on it running right into the next song. I also remember a laser light show of some type..."
Two other reviewers provide more detail, saying there were four colors - "red, green, blue, and yellow, that swelled and changed with the music. They were trying to tie the different colors to different instruments." "The idea behind the laser-beams is that they are realizations in color & design of the music sounds... A design blossoms in nervous lines that squiggle and dart over walls and ceiling... Soon the agitated patterns were not very interesting. (Circular forms, used during the final part of the program, were quite beautiful to see.)"

"The soundscape of the Grateful Dead is an interesting blend of organ, percussion (drums and resonant gongs) and guitars."
"From the first chord, the room changed completely. Loud, bright electric guitars, two drummers, and soaring, happy music."
"The exact moment the Dead got their sound together physically sent a sublime shock through the hall... It was a happy realization by both the audience and the Dead that the first few amorphous moments of sound-searching had suddenly found a vehicle to ride to inventive heights."
"The Dead uses two drummers to form a 'figure 8' of sound around the guitars and organ. This duo broke from the set rhythm of 'Dark Star' into a drumming contest... Lynn Harbold, Philharmonic percussionist, joined in this number on Hart's drums, doing a fine job."
"I remember clearly a Philharmonic drummer sitting in with Billy, while Mickey played various percussion instruments around the stage."
"Two firecrackers were set off on stage, increasing the excitement."
"They also played St. Stephen... I remember TC throwing a couple of timed firecrackers into the air during the pause in St. Stephen. [It couldn't have been TC.] During Lovelight, Pigpen was singin' "take your hands out of yer pockets... and stop actin' like a fool"."
"Jerry Garcia's lead guitar had some really sharp and sweet phrases. He is very contented looking [with] his bushy beard and smile... Like a scholar reading his notes, Lesh in wire-rimmed glasses sets down perspicacious bass lines. Weir is constantly moving, with flourishes interweaving around the bass and lead guitars. Pigpen, the Dead's organist, brought the clapping crowd to its feet with Lovelight. He is the individualistic loner in denim jacket & cowboy hat."
"When the Dead got warmed up, it seemed the audience would not be content with anything less than having the Dead finish the concert by themselves. Speaker fuzziness spoiled the first number, but after the sound system was improved the group went through several numbers with good effect, including a long performance in which the beat had most of the audience clapping and dancing."
"Soon there was a sea of heads and patrons, all clapping and dancing... It was a night where I felt my consciousness lifted above the audience. The Dead were the conduit, but they and the audience were being pulled by the music which came from elsewhere. (Port Chester 1971 was another evening where we would hear it, they would play it, and we would hear something new which they would then play.) Lovelight ended with a bang and we all looked around, amazed at what had just happened.... The lights came on for intermission, and the room had the loud buzz of a good party."

"Following intermission Foss led a performance of his "Geod" for orchestra. This entailed the use of four additional conductors, and laser-beam light projections created by Sonovision... The music of "Geod" requires five conductors to give cues... Most of the music is very quiet, familiar tunes played against a soft curtain of sustained tones, with snippets of wind phrases for gentle agitation... Sounds included gentle singing from the orchestra, organ, harmonica, percussion & mandolin. The audience joined in clapping at once point, and by the end of the performance was making knocking, popping mouth sounds that seemed to fit quite well."

"Two conductors stood back to back, dividing the orchestra - on one half stood Jan Williams with the Road, and on the other Lukas Foss and the Dead... The Dead showed more experience... As the groups & orchestras jammed, the atmosphere was intensified with a laser-beam light show. Rapid patterns and curves of pure light chased along the walls in time with the music...."
"The orchestra was split in two sections - the Road was in the front left and the Dead were in the front right. Lukas Foss led them on some orchestral space music, pointing to different sections of musicians to have the music rise & fall. Very experimental and not beatific."
"The program ended with an attempt to merge symphony orchestra & rock bands in an improvised jam. It didn't work very well. Jan Williams & Foss issued spoken directions ("Attention: attack... Gliss downward... Vibrato") which made the performance rather unspontaneous. Only when a rock band came alive did the jam work."
(McNally) "The Dead, a local rock band, and members of the orchestra played an improvisational piece that involved having the orchestra members stand up, flap their arms, and make strange noises."
"The audience suddenly took the initiative and began making music themselves by imitating the instruments & calls of the musicians."
[This is an interesting detail - possibly it's the same audience participation the other reviewer mentioned in "Geod".]

The deadbase reviewer concludes: "After a while, it was over and the Dead did another set... They sent word that they were too tired for an encore, and everybody got up to go." [Neither newspaper reviewer mentions a second set from the Dead; but they might have left early! The deadlists contributor also suggests there were two Dead sets.]


  1. For a lost 1970 show with no tape, this is actually quite a well-documented show, with two newspaper reviewers there (and one of them was clearly a Dead fan already). I consider their reviews quite reliable. I am not so certain about the audience witnesses writing about the show decades later (our best witness says he was blasted on acid and doesn't remember Dark Star!)....it's likely memories are clouded & a few fibs have slipped through. (Like the 'memory' of Constanten being there - the newspaper says he wasn't.)

    And for instance, I can find no evidence that the Kleinhans Music Hall had a lift platform that could be elevated...two people mention it, but the newspapers don't.

    But sometimes there are little details that are confirmed (for instance, the firecrackers in St Stephen).
    One person remembered them starting with "feedback", which I find quite suspicious (it would be unique for 1970) - but of the two newspaper reviews, one says "speaker fuzziness spoiled the first number," and the other says the set started with "amorphous moments of sound-searching". Hmmm....

    1. I went to this show with a half dozen friends. We were students at UB, Buf State and Canisius. Kleinhans had a motorized orchestra pit that could lift up flush with the stage. The Dead were down in the pit when they started their set in the dark with a very slow and loose Dark Star. They segued into St. Stephen after rising up to stage level. Very cool. I also remember Pigpen playing this huge set of gongs and other percussion during the jam with the Philharmonic.

      The Dead wanted to play a second set and started to but it went past 11:00PM so the union electricians cut the power to the stage and brought the house lights up. Angry response from the crowd. Jerry may have said they "were too tired to play more" to calm things down.

    2. Thanks for the comment! Some interesting new details - it figures they couldn't play overtime in the Kleinhans.
      After some digging, I've found that the Kleinhans actually does have a lift platform - technical info on the hall states, "The pit is a screw jack elevator. It is manually operated and has the capability to stop at any level between basement and stage."
      For an example of it in action, see the description of this show where another performer comes up from the pit, like the Dead did:

  2. A Buffalo researcher took his own image of one of the newspaper reviews of this show, to confirm that it was indeed real:

    He also wrote the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra archivist, who replied:

    Yes - the concert took place in Kleinhans Music Hall - it was a special program
    for which maestro Lukas Foss invited the GD to perform with the BPO
    (I was a member of the Orchestra 1963-1990) - and I remember the performance very well

    The GD members were very polite - very respectful - and we could see immediately they
    had never been on stage with a symphony orchestra before - I spoke with them during
    rehearsal - they barely "warmed up" - but kept looking around and listening to around
    35 violinists, 12 violists, 10 cellists and 10 string bass players, along with all the
    symphonic woodwinds, brass & percussion - quite a scene - they were very appreciative
    of the opportunity to share the stage with 90 symphonic musicians

    The BPO & GD performed a piece together - with 2 conductors - an experimental ad hoc piece
    titled "Challenge" where the point was to trade musical effects back and forth - good fun
    (no printed score or parts - only verbal cues from the conductors)

    The GD also played a couple of pieces by themselves.

    Recordings of live symphonic concerts without recording fees were forbidden - so
    regretfully there are no recordings available (from time to time a rumor claims that
    a pirated tape was made - but nothing has ever emerged) (it was very difficult at
    that time to pirate a concert - the needed equipment was then too large to hide)

    ...and no one had a camera of any kind (to our best knowledge) - sadly no photos

    There were no posters - but I think a printed program was issued - which may be in
    the restricted holdings of the central Buffalo library - if you wish I can try to
    locate a photocopy

    If you ever find supporting memorabilia, we would appreciate copies for the Archive

    Best Wishes,
    Ed Yadzinski,
    BPO Historian and Archivist (volunteer)

  3. My dad was at this show and during the extended jam at the end he was on stage and actually got to play the drums for a few minutes. One of the quotes in the article is

    "I remember clearly a Philharmonic drummer sitting in with Billy, while Mickey played various percussion instruments around the stage."

    I wonder if that could have been my dad who was mistaken for an orchesta member.

    1. mosh is that you?

    2. I recall it wasPhilharmonic percussionist who , in his tuxedo, was invited by Mickey to play Lovelight while it was in full jam mode & he just relished hitting the snare on the 4/4 and Mickey Hart stood next to him, beaming, and would be clapping and looking into audience just smiling & pointing at the Philhrmonic drummer hammering away, a total joy to watch.

  4. Another writer also said, "I was on stage at the end of that extended jam session playing some percussion with a bunch of other folks from the crowd."
    So that's an interesting detail.

    I also found another mention in a recent Bob Weir interview (he will be playing with the Marin Symphony Orchestra in a couple months):
    "The first time The Dead ever played with a symphony orchestra was in Buffalo, New York. The number one challenge is that a rock n’ roll trap drum kit is twice as loud as a symphony orchestra by itself, un-amplified. We took the smallest amplifiers we had, they were Fender Princetons and they were only seven watts loud. Even then we had to turn them down to the point where we couldn’t get any tone out of them."

    1. Blair Jackson interviewed Weir in 2010, before the First Fusion symphony concert, and Weir had the same memory of the Buffalo show:
      "I seem to recall we made quite a racket in there. I remember we brought our smallest amplifiers and we were still three or four times too loud. We had to turn them down to the point where we couldn't get tone out of them, in order not to drown out the orchestra." (from Dead Studies vol. 2)
      The Dead's sound depended on loud volume, so even the Dead part of the show without the orchestra must have sounded unusually restrained, maybe Hartbeats-ish.

      I wish Lesh would have shared his memories of the show at some point!

  5. Just for a little tid bit, the Buffalo Orchestra reinacted this event in March of 2012. You can go to their facebook site to see the posters and comments.

    A Rochester Head

  6. I posted my research in to this show here http://www.thedeadblog.com/grateful-dead-buffalo-philharmonic-1970/ - There are scans of some of the newspaper articles at the time. One thing I did not do that would be worth following up is whether the University at Buffalo sent someone to review the show. Not sure if they have archives going back that far.

    1. Thanks for the invaluable webpage and research into the articles!

      The Spectrum (the University of Buffalo student newspaper) may well have reviewed the show. They've started digitizing their newspaper archive online, but I believe the Spectrum is only available up to 1962 so far:

  7. And now the Buffalo News on Jan. 6, 2017 provides this headline: "$500 reward offered for elusive recording of Grateful Dead with the BPO"... The Buffalo News reports that Buffalo area radio personality, Michael Caputo is offering $500. And in the comments section of this piece, Foss' son throws in another $500. Then on Jan. 24th, 2017 a follow-up article in the Buffalo News states that word of the reward is spreading and people are upping the ante further - by my count now to $1,700. So maybe somebody has audio - or some Super 8 film perhaps in their basement, and they just forgot about it. In any case Caputo and the others are not interested in the tape or whatever's found for commercial purposes - just to uncover for general consumption (free of charge) a venerable piece of Grateful Dead and BPO history. OK so head down to the basement and check your bootleg tapes!

    1. Interesting update... did anything come of this? Of all the Dead shows not to be recorded by anyone on either side of the stage/ soundboard..! There are Buffalo audience tapes from 1969-72 I'm aware of.

    2. Hopefully not the same Michael Caputo as the asinine k00k Drumpssolini supporter...

  8. An outtake from Gans & Jackson's This Is All A Dream oral history, a lengthy recollection of the show from musician Peter Case:

    "They were playing in Buffalo, at the Kleinhans Music Hall. It was a very strange gig, because the billing was the Grateful Dead, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Lukas Foss. The opening act was a top-40 band that was starting to kind of freak out. They were called the Mellow Brick Road at one point, but I think they just changed their name at the gig to The Road.
    The Grateful Dead was fantastic, and they were full-on into that “Dark Star” period. They were great. Then the orchestra came out. I guess they said it was going to be a battle of the bands. The Dead was playing their music, but the leader of the orchestra would yell “Attack!” They’re not improvisers, particularly, the guys in the orchestra, but they were coached to attack the Grateful Dead musically. And they did, with their tympanis, their blasts of drums and horns and cacophony. The Grateful Dead were playing, doing one of their improvs, that loping boogie beat that Lesh and the drummers would be playing, the thing was just rolling along, and Jerry would be soloing. Then for a second there, the orchestra would sort of drown it out, and then the orchestra would stop and [the Dead] would sort of emerge out of the clouds of the attack, still doing their thing. It was pretty funny. The Grateful Dead never blinked. They just kept playing. [Laughs] It was really really funny and great.
    Another strange thing about the show: The very opening act was a John Cage piece. You’re in whatever state you’re in when you go see the Grateful Dead in 1970… The way this piece went was, there were violinists and they walked out into the theater and they played their part as they walked through your aisle. You would have to stand up and let them pass. They went right through every aisle in the place, playing their violins. It was incredible, but the best part, of course was the Dead.
    It was a great-sounding place, so the Dead sounded great in there. Everybody walked out saying that that was just completely insane, that the orchestra had topped themselves by acting completely nuts."


  9. I was there. I was a student at UB and also worked for the promoter and went to the airport to pickup members of the band. I remember Jerry Garcia was a nice guy--Pigpen was grouchy and drank alot.

  10. I remember being there, but that's about all, same with the stones at the 'new' stadium.