The Grateful Dead was never an album band — you got to see them live. This film registers the Dead at their peak in October 1974, during the last concerts they played before taking a two-year sabbatical. Since Jerry Garcia died in 1995 this is the closest you can get to understanding what the Dead experience was all about (including the animated six-minute introduction, which sets the mood for the rest of the night).
The series of five concerts took place at San Francisco’s Winterland Arena, and the movie that documented those nights was first shown in 1977. The version you’ll see on April 20 in San Antonio (also showing in at least 540 theaters nationwide) includes never-before-seen Garcia and Bob Weir interviews, and it examines the four main facets of the Dead: the straight-ahead rock ’n’ roll band; the folk/blues/bluegrass/reggae outfit; the psychedelic jam masters; and, of course, the Deadheads, the legion of kids who followed the band from town to town and attended each and every show.
With Garcia and Weir on guitar and vocals, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart (back after a three-year hiatus) on drums, Phil Lesh on bass, Keith Godchaux on keyboards and his then-wife Donna Jean on vocals, the band sounds great on “U.S. Blues,” “One More Saturday Night,” “Casey Jones,” “Playing in the Band,” “Sugar Magnolia,” and other classics, but don’t expect too many full versions — for that, get the must-have five-CD set with the movie’s soundtrack for less than 30 bucks.
The Dead’s sound system, the legendary “Wall of Sound” (nothing to do with Phil Spector) deserves a special mention. The 72-ton structure had 89 300-watt solid-state and three 350-watt vacuum tube amplifiers, which gave them a total of 26,400 watts of audio power (then the world’s largest concert sound system). Because of rising costs, these concerts marked the last time the Wall of Sound was used. But with the Dead it was always about the vibe, not the volume.
The only thing missing is the smell of patchouli and herb. If you decide to enhance the experience by lighting a fatty, watch your butt — this ain’t no Haight-Ashbury.
Dir. Jerry Garcia, Leon Gast; feat. Jerry Garcia, Donna Godchaux, Keith Godchaux, Mickey Hart, Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh. (PG)
One night only at the following theaters:
McCreless Mall, 4100 S New Braunfels
Cielo Vista 18, 2828 Cinema Ridge
Fiesta 16 Theatres, 12631 Vance Jackson
All shows: $12.50, 7:30pm Wed, April 20, (800) 326-3264, fathomevents.com