How the Grateful Dead Changed Concert Sound Forever

wall-of-sound2

If you’re in the Greater Toronto Area this week, traffic is going to be a nightmare. Not just because of the stupid HOV lanes set up for the Pan Am Games, but because U2 plays the Air Canada Centre tonight and tomorrow, followed by the Foo Fighters at the Molson Amphitheatre Wednesday and Thursday. Downtown Toronto is going to be a mess.

But if you do make it to any of these shows–or any concert you may attend in the future, in fact–take a second to give thanks to the people who worked for the Grateful Dead. Their work in the early 70s made a lot of today’s concert sound possible. There’s the story from Motherboard:

It sounds like it was just another band meeting for the Grateful Dead.

Three-fifths of the Dead’s original lineup were holed up in Novato, California, at the band’s practice space in a Pepto-Bismol colored warehouse located behind a pizza shop. Bob Weir, Jerry Garcia, and Phil Lesh, then just in their twenties, were joined by a small circle of gear heads, audiophiles, and psychonauts who’d become instrumental to the band’s growing popularity. It’s unclear who called the meeting, why it was even arranged, or what, if anything, was supposed to come of it.

They brainstormed over “the technical, the musical, and the exploratory,” remembered Rick Turner, an instrument and amplifier designer among the Dead kin gathered that day in Novato. “There were no constraints.”

It was a signal moment in the history of sound that set in motion a years-long work in progress that would culminate in what’s arguably the largest and technologically innovative public address system ever built, and it started not with a bang, but with something of a casual, stoned proposition. This singular work of engineering would come to weigh over 70 tons, comprise dozens and then hundreds of amps, speakers, subwoofers, and tweeters, stand over three-stories tall and stretch nearly 100 feet wide. Its name could only be the Wall of Sound.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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