Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Down In Front

The past looked like shit. The present is a hyper-designed nightmare of weaponized professionalism, but the past looked like shit. It was slapped together; “good enough” was good enough for the past. You could see all the seams, several of which were fraying before your eyes. See how there’s no chairs or aisles or sub-divisions within the crowd? That’s called general admission. It kills people. Not always, and not often, but it kills people. The past was more flammable.

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This is 11/27/70, which was the day after Thanksgiving that year. The Dead played on the 23rd in New York City, and then this show on the 27th. Did they fly back to the Bay, or did they eat their turdrugken in Manhattan? (Turdrugken is a chicken stuffed into drugs stuffed into a turkey.) The venue was called The Syndrome, because in 1970, you could name a venue “The Syndrome” and people would respond to that by saying “Groovy” and “Far out,” instead of “That’s a terrible fucking name. Are we in a hack novel about the Sixties? Don’t name it that.”

The Syndrome used to be called the Chicago Coliseum when the Blackhawks played there in the 20’s. In 1904, Teddy Roosevelt accepted the Republican Party’s nomination when they held their convention here; TR accepted the Bull Moose Party’s nod here, too, in 1912. Didn’t work out as well. There was roller derby during the Depression, and then the Chicago Packers laid in a hardwood floor and put up some hoops. They would change their name to the Chicago Zephyrs shortly before moving to Baltimore and becoming the Bullets, then heading a few miles south to D.C. where they are today the Washington Wizards. (Fun philosophy question: is it still the same team? Discuss.)

Out of date and lacking any sports teams to support it, the Coliseum turned to a life of crime; worse, it started presenting long-hair bands. The owners renamed the dump The Syndrome and booked acts throughout the 60’s. (Did they think the kids would be fooled by the dopey hippie name? That they would overlook the fact that the joint was less a building and more a building-shaped pile of material? I can smell the urine through the photo.)

Anyway, the Dead played there only once, on the Friday after Thanksgiving in 1970. They brought the New Riders with them, as was their wont in 1970. There’s no tape.

Three months later, 6,000 fans crammed into the arena to watch the simulcast of the Ali/Frazier fight. The projector broke. Riots broke out, and the fight fans damn near tore that old building down. The ensuing insurance inspection turned up so many fire code violations that even a bribe couldn’t fix it, and may I remind you that this was Chicago. Takes quite a bit to be beyond a bribe in that city, but the Coliseum was not longer financially feasible as a performance space. Japanese Buddhists own it now, and they do Japanese Buddhist things there. There is most likely no roller derby at all.

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Check out JT Leroy looking back at the camera.

6 Comments

  1. I saw the Doors, Zappa, Cream and Blind Faith with Delaney & Bonnie at the Coliseum. It was a total dump and felt like a firetrap, but it seemed appropriate for those times.

  2. An amazing photo. From the Smithsonian collection, right?

    I attempted to grapple with The Syndrome when I wrote about the canceled Grateful Dead show on Mar 19 ’71. I didn’t come up with too much, but fortunately the Comment Thread turned out to be quite illuminating.

    http://lostlivedead.blogspot.com/2009/11/march-19-1971-syndrome-chicago-il.html

    • Thoughts On The Dead

      October 8, 2017 at 2:49 am

      This is one of the cool shots from that Smithsonian collection. I’m gonna write it up this week I think.

  3. doonesbury thanks for the wkrp in cincinnati link, i remember when that show was broadcast it was just after the tragedy it was a powerful show at the time. i do believe it mentioned the who concert on the original broadcast, it probably got edited for reruns. wkrp has never come out on dvd (or maybe now it has) because i heard it was too hard to get clearance for all the music on the show. great that they are on youtube now.
    that episode was a tour de force for mr. carlson, what a blast from the past.

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