I finally caught up with Dead & Company live. It was at the Forum in Los Angeles for two nights closing out 2015. I’ve been watching and listening to the band’s entire tour online and have been incredibly impressed with the energy and communication happening up on that stage.
My experience of being there was pretty great, over all. AND it made me really miss Jerry Garcia. What I love about John Mayer’s contribution to this music is his profoundly contagious joy. This is a musician clearly having the time of his life and that spills out onto every member of the band and flows endlessly from there thru the audience. It’s an incredible thing to witness.
What makes the experience different for me from a Grateful Dead concert is Mayer’s lack of Garcia’s emotional depths. I don’t mean that as a slight against Mayer in any way. He is an extraordinary musician and has transformed this music into a whole new realm that is personal for him and allows the other musicians the incredible opportunity to re-explore this music in yet another context. One they are clearly relishing! And so is the audience! And so am I!
For anyone who read my most recent posts, you know I was not a fan of the music-making that took place in Santa Clara, CA. at the Fare Thee Well Grateful Dead celebration. To clarify, my intent is not to diminish the experience of those who were there or those who genuinely loved the music. So much goes into a concert experience and these particular concerts are so very emotionally charged. I’ve not talked to one single person who was in attendance in either Santa Clara or Chicago who did not remark on the amazing energy that was present in both stadiums. Through the roof. The outpouring of love must have been tremendous. That experience in itself transcends the quality of the music-making, no question. The sheer celebration and flood of emotional and spiritual experiences. The sheer importance of this music in our lives, this bond we share through it, the journeys we’ve taken both internally and externally, the absolute life-affirming nature of the entire Grateful Dead experience.
Let me begin by saying I love these guys. I’ve been a hardcore DeadHead since 1975. It was a joy to see Phil Lesh smiling and having so much fun up there on stage for the first night of the 5-night Fare Thee Well 50th celebration of the Grateful Dead with the “core-four” remaining members of the band plus guests.
For many of us, there is no Grateful Dead without Jerry Garcia. But the songs themselves and Garcia’s legacy seem to be (and hopefully are) undying; The spirit of the band, the essence of the music and all that it has inspired. And the band certainly tried to capture that spirit with what might well be the most ballsy setlist imaginable for a first night gig of this long-anticipated reunion. It was a DeadHead dream come true in terms of song choices. Not a single post-1970 tune was played. The jams were long and casual. Incredible rarities like Cream Puff War and What’s Become of The Baby were played, as well as one of the most beloved trifectas of all time, Dark Star-> St. Stephen-> The Eleven (with the William Tell bridge!!!). On the surface, this looks amazing. Unfortunately in my opinion, the quality of musicianship on display could not match the clear and loving intent of all involved.
I post the below article written by Stewart Sallo in the Boulder Weekly titled LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, NOT THE GRATEFUL DEAD not because I agree with it, but to represent part of the experience Dead-Heads are having. This article is far more cynical than I am. I would prefer to believe the remaining members of the Grateful Dead had the best of intentions here in trying to satisfy the many needs involved. And I think it turned out to be a far greater beast than any of them anticipated.
Perhaps that’s naive, I dunno. I can certainly see it as an opportunity to both celebrate the Grateful Dead’s 50 years AND make some money. This is, after all, one of the ways in which these guys earn their living. And they’ve hit retirement age now. They still play music, but they no longer tour and they rarely cut albums. So yes, this was also a chance to make some money. I hold no grudge with that. Artists should be paid and paid well. It’s just unfortunate that this event has also created much heartache and disappointment for many.
We all knew that the remaining members of the Grateful Dead were probably going to do SOMETHING to celebrate the 50 year mark. I was curious and a little uncertain about how I felt at the idea of celebrating the Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary 20 years after Jerry Garcia’s death. Since that epic loss, the Grateful Dead‘s remaining members have played both together and separately, but never under the moniker “Grateful Dead.” And appropriately so, in my opinion. Jerry Garcia wasn’t just a guitarist, he was one of the main reasons the Grateful Dead sound and energy existed at all.
It’s always been a challenge for me explain to non-Dead Heads what the Grateful Dead experience is for me. It’s been such a lifelong love, has moved and changed me in so many ways, opened me up to things I never knew existed. It enhanced and strengthened my desire and ability for exploration, both externally and internally. And it showed me the power of music when it reaches beyond the limitations of studio recordings, but incorporates live improvisation and a desire to both channel and express emotion.