Monday, December 4, 2017

12/4/73: a little sound and fury

I have been listening to bits of this, a show that's known for (if anything) being the runt of the last leg of the fall '73 tour: 12/4/73 at the Cincinnati Gardens, a shorter show due to the band's lateness and apparently some big dust-up with the local promoters.  Strangely, part of it was released as a bonus disc with the November 73 Winterland box set.  It's not as bad as some reviews indicate, although it's not particularly great.  Abbreviated playing time notwithstanding, Phil seems particularly ornery and really takes it out on his bass (not always bad thing, necessarily), and, as gamely as Garcia tries to soldier through, the rest of the band seems distracted or out of sorts.  The musical standout is a big Eyes of the World that, unusually, wanders out of bounds and into a Phil-led meltdown that's cut from the same cloth as the 12/2 Playing in the Band and the 12/6 Dark Star.   You may have seen this less-than-impressed contemporary review floating around online (thanks gratefulseconds):

Cincinnati Enquirer, 12/6/73

Well.  To be fair, I wouldn't be too enthusiastic about a show either if I had to spend over two hours watching the crew assemble the PA beforehand (on a Tuesday night, no less), but “lots of sound and fury, little else”?  Yow.  How exactly did the manage to be late coming from Boston with a full travel day (12/3) between shows?  Is it a coincidence that the first Boston show a few days prior (11/30) was also delayed and extremely late in getting started?  What was going on with the promoters, who apparently both Bob and/or Phil were griping about onstage (according to some eyewitness reviews)?  5000 people in a place that held 12,500?  Yikes.

What gave me a smile, though, was this glowing piece by the same reporter about a Neil Young concert from earlier that same year (quoted from here -- I'm not finding the original Cincinnati Enquirer piece anywhere easily online)
You couldn't possibly have squeezed one more person into Cincinnati Gardens Wednesday night [Feb 14, 1973]. Not after slightly more than 12,500 had already traffic jammed their way down Seymour Avenue to pack the hall. All that for Neil Young, one of rock's superstars and Linda Ronstadt, who isn't quite a superstar, but ought to be. Ronstadt opened the show with what had to be one of the most thrilling performances in Gardens' history. Such a fantastic, beautiful performer. People may have been their primarily for Neil Young, but Ronstadt gave all the 12,500 their money's worth. And then Neil Young gave them more than their money's worth. Appearing behind a bank of amplifiers and a row of lights (it took three semis and a 22 foot van to get it all there. The van was equipped with a 32 track recording studio and a closed circuit TV system on which the concert was taped). Young began with some of his acoustical stuff, just him and his guitar. It was received madly. Wildly. Lovingly. Young kept his voice quiet, almost folksie and painted a very peaceful picture. With a slight twang, maybe even a slightly nasal quality, he came off quite relaxed. And then came the rock and roll. Neil Young's rock and roll is a carefully blended mixture of country sounds, folk sounds and soft rock sounds. His work comes off very controlled and sophisticated. It's hard to say just how beautiful he was, so thoroughly professional, so completely competent. It's easy to say that in over five years of concert going (that's a lot of concerts), his show was one of the best. Very easy to say it.  - Jim Knippenberg, Cincinnati Enquirer, Feb 15, 1973.

My dorkdom is nowhere near as fine-tuned for Neil Young as it is for the Dead, but I do know that this show is from the middle of Young's three-month tour behind the hit Harvest album when he started breaking down from the ravages of booze, drugs, money squabbles, fame, expectations, pressure, and all that.  The live album from this tour, Time Fades Away, was later nearly disowned by Young (quotes galore here or here), who refused to reissue it for over 40 years.  I love this whole “dark” period of Young's, but I'm not sure by what metric you would call it very controlled and sophisticated, thoroughly professional, or completely competent.  To each his own, of course.  Funny that Knippenberg didn't seem to notice all of the new songs Young was playing that apparently delighted very few in the crowd.  Young did also play some of his hits, at least.

Anyways, apropos of playing time (see last post), another thing strikes me.  12/4/73 is just over two hours of music and seems short only when compared with, um, other Dead shows.  12/2 Boston is about 3 hours 10 min, 12/6 Cleveland is just over 3 hours 20 min, 12/8 Duke is nearly 3 hours 40 min.  There's a low quality aud tape of this Neil Young 2/14/73 Cincinnati Gardens show out there (got mine here, if you really want it).  It's missing a couple of songs from from the electric set, but what's on tape isn't even 70 minutes long -- so figure maybe 90 minutes or so for his whole show, plus another hour maybe for Linda Ronstadt's opening set?  Jeez, even starting 2 1/2 hours late, the Dead still played for over two hours, not counting a (hopefully short) setbreak.  Can’t win ‘em all, I guess.


  1. Jim Knippenberg had reviewed the Dead for the Cincinnati Enquirer before - in November '68 and April '70:

    He also wrote another article praising them in 1970, which I'll post sometime.
    Anyway, considering he'd seen the Dead at their energetic peak in '68 & '70, it's no wonder he found them a snooze in '73. Happened to other reviewers too!

  2. True. I was less surprised that he didn't like the Dead show, and more surprised that he was so struck with how sophisticated and professional that '73-era Neil Young, of all people, sounded. To each his own, I suppose.