Sunday, February 18, 2018

Anthem of the Sun - The Grateful Dead

By the end of summer '67, The Dead traveled south to L.A. to begin work on Anthem of the Sun. By this time, the effects of Sgt. Pepper had legitimized rock 'n' roll as a serious art form. The Grateful Dead wanted to see how far they could push it. Despite its merits, The Dead fell flat earlier that year with their highly anticipated debut album. The album's cover art was psychedelic all right, but nothing else on the album qualified. "The next one certainly won't be like that in any way," Garcia said.

The pressure was indeed mounting. Frisco had produced a pair of heady psychedelic masterpieces: the Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow (AM10), of which Garcia played a heavy hand, and Country Joe and the Fish's Electric Music for the Mind and Body. Determined to capture the essence of their psychedelic concerts, the band returned to the studio with David Hassinger, who produced their first album, though Hassinger quit not long after. "They didn’t know what the hell they were looking for," the star producer grumbled. Hassinger and Warner Bros. thought the band was "just jerking off" in the studio.

Bringing in Dan Healy as the producer, a long time Dead associate, put the gears in motion.
Instead of making a straight-ahead studio work, they decided to mix studio and live recordings into a collage that would sprawl across both sides of the album. "Phil and I performed the mix as if it were an electronic music composition," Garcia recalled, and no one from there on out would question the band’s psychedelic credentials or their star bound status after Anthem. “We mixed it for the hallucinations,” Garcia said. The Hindi-inspired album cover art, done by band pal Bill Walker, became famous in its own right.

This was the catalyst for the Grateful Dead I loved: acid-drenched, spontaneous, crazed & loopy (oh, to have been a part of the Acid Tests!). The Dead, in 1967, either gave the best concert you had ever heard (or the worst) and Anthem of the Sun caught that concert magic. Anthem provides the essence of the psychedelic Grateful Dead when they were really cooking. On "That's It for the Other One" you get that rolling thunder with Garcia, Weir and Lesh twining around each other while bouncing atop Hart & Kreutzmann's pounding rythmns, which, after a side trip of psychedelic sound effects leads into the more melodic and lilting "New Potato Caboonse"  and "Born Cross-Eyed," with the long, looping trademark Garcia lead weaving in and over and around and under Weir and Lesh. (That’s the longest, run-on-iest sentence I’ve ever written, so I'm leaving it.)

Side Two brings us the humorous and bluesy "Alligator" with some driving jamming riffs trading off between Garcia and Weir and the traditional concert windup dance and Pigpen rave-off. The Grateful Dead were a different band while Ron "Pigpen" McKernan was alive. Cruder, bluesy, nutty and ferociously alive. When they were "ON" they could blow anybody else playing in those days off the stage (maybe not Hendrix). Anthem of the Sun and a couple thousand bootlegs are as close as you can get to that experience.