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!
Like Jazz? Check out the 8-minute trailer for my documentary JAZZ NIGHTS: A CONFIDENTIAL JOURNEY. It’s showing exclusively at my Indiegogo campaign to raise the funds to complete the film. Production is done and now we need help to bring the film to fruition. Even if you have no interest at all in contributing, check out the trailer and maybe read a bit about the film. And, most importantly, pass on the link to others via Facebook or email, Twitter, whatever. We just want to get the word out there to reach folks who might be interested. It’s a project of love for myself and the musicians.
Jazz and the men and women who make it have always found themselves on the forefront of cultural turbulence. In many ways, this is part of the DNA of jazz. The documentary JAZZ NIGHTS: A CONFIDENTIAL JOURNEY chronicles a fleeting and almost completely unknown moment in time involving a group of L.A.’s top jazz musicians who congregated in alternating configurations every Sunday night at a legally ambiguous members-only, back-room hash bar.
Once a week, these expert musicians formed a circle, a coterie of non-verbal, intuitive communication. There were no pre-determined set lists, no rehearsals. Attendance was through word-of-mouth only. No advertising.
These musical nights at L.A. Confidential in Los Angeles poignantly echoed the Prohibition Era speakeasies of the 1920s as well as the ’50s underground jazz clubs of Harlem and Greenwich Village. The LACon experiment reflected a society caught in a quagmire of differing opinions and laws, this time surrounding the legalization of marijuana, which is currently considered medically legal in the state of California, while simultaneously remaining illegal under federal law.
In addition to the music and setting, these cutting-edge musicians explore, via in-depth interviews, their lives, influences, backstories, upbringings, inspirations, and cultural affiliations. The result is an evocative tapestry of live music, thoughts and memories, and a snapshot of a moment in time amidst an ever-evolving American landscape.
This is truly appalling. It seems each and every year, film critics lose all perspective on films and filmmaking. If anyone out there believes GRAVITY to be a well-written film that reveals anything beyond the most one-dimensional and least introspective narrative created for the sole purpose of offering an audience what is essentially an overlong roller-coaster ride, then you’ve probably spent far too much time watching bad film after bad film for something like GRAVITY to even be considered for an award outside of special effects.
And maybe that’s exactly what’s happened. Critics have to see SO many films — most of them not particularly daring or good — that when they sit down to watch something that even moderately engages them, they jump out of their seat with unabashed excitement and toss awards at it. And maybe the same is true for the average audience member who doesn’t even know films made outside of the Hollywood system exist.
But that excuse doesn’t keep these annual abominations from being any less embarrassing. Anyone who has followed my posts for any length of time knows that I get my knickers all in a knot come this time of year since it is as traditional as Thanksgiving and Christmas that awards and accolades be given to at least one film that simply has little-to-nothing of value to offer. At least by my personal standards. Which I realize are not necessarily anyone else’s standards. But I’m exhausted standing by and watching daring, introspective and genuinely creative films take a backseat to movies that barely scratch the surface of the human experience, no less minimize it to a series of predictable plot points and sanitized stereotypes.
GRAVITY, while quite possibly being a great thrill ride (I, to be honest, got bored after a time), offers nothing else to a movie-goer who desires an experience that extends beyond the closing credits. Now don’t misunderstand, I definitely believe there is value in escapist cinema. Not every film need challenge us to the very core of our beings… But when we award a film Best Picture Of The Year, what exactly are we saying? Are we honoring the craft of filmmaking, of storytelling, of cinema? Or are we just saying, “Yeah, that was fun.”? Because GRAVITY’s technical achievements hide an overwhelming lack of story or character. One friend wittily commented that he recommended taking Dramamine before seeing GRAVITY just for the dialogue alone! So clearly I’m not the first or only person to point out the wretchedness of this film’s script. And yet the Los Angeles Film Critics Association bestow their highest honor on this poorly written thrill ride and effects extravaganza.
And speaking of effects, I still think the effects in Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY capture a sense of outer (and inner) space more poignantly and effectively than GRAVITY managed with all its 21st century technology. There is not a single image or sequence in Cuarón’s vision and choice of compositions that hold so much as an ounce of the insight and (yes, I’m gonna say it) gravity that a single frame of Kubrick’s opus did. And that film was made 45 years ago! Yes, I know, I’ve been told we’re not supposed to compare a fun film like GRAVITY to a masterpiece like 2001, but then I must return to my original inquiry and ask what, then, are we celebrating here exactly? George Clooney playing a dashing rogue in space? I often enjoy Clooney as an actor. He’s charming and likable and smart. But in GRAVITY, he is a constant reminder that we are nowhere near outer space; we have our feet firmly grounded in a soundstage with a PR machine inches away and at the ready. There’s not a single moment when the actor, director or writers allowed this character to be even subtly human. They all seem to be far more interested in his star-power and charm than they are in the situation this character finds himself in.
Now I could go on and on about why I believe GRAVITY is a poor film whose effects and 3D experience loosely veil its vast emptiness, but the film itself doesn’t actually deserve any more time than I’ve already given it. But it’s critics and audiences who have allowed themselves to believe they are getting something rich, something wonderful, that I take vehement issue with.
Sadly, film critics these days (of the “professional” variety) are largely made up of folks from other areas of a newspaper or magazine that have been moved over to the Film Section and found themselves suddenly being asked to present themselves as film critics. There are so few out there writing who have any real knowledge of cinema or the language and history of film. They are often no more than a collection of people who maybe like movies, but they are NOT in a position to be intelligently critical of film. And in pretending to be, they diminish the artform itself by publicly celebrating its most mediocre entries en masse. And that, to put it in the simplest terms possible, makes me sad.
After writing this post, I went back to the theaters to see GRAVITY in 3D as I had only seen it in 2D at the time of this writing. If you would like to read my thoughts comparing the two experiences of the film, please go here: GRAVITY: 2D vs 3D.
I suppose there has always been rude people at live shows. Any concert I’ve ever been to has had talkers. You know, those folks who seem to be only peripherally aware that someone is on stage making music and that there are people actually engaged in listening (or trying to listen, as the case may be). And of course, the louder the music, the louder the chatter.
But it used to be that a few dagger stares or a handful of friendly requests of “Shhh” or “Could you please keep it down?” would more or less do the trick. Sometimes, getting up and moving to another location within the venue would be a viable solution. But nowadays, these talkers seem to have become a larger percentage of the audience. And recently, some on-stage artists have had to be very vocal about their frustration. And rightfully so. I applaud these musicians and my heart breaks for their frustration. As my heart breaks for all those in attendance whose experience was negatively impacted by those whose conversations were more important to them than honoring and respecting the musicians they supposedly paid some pretty steep prices to see (but obviously not listen to).
A few years back, I was at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles seeing the band Furthur and the woman next to me was talking up a storm. I mean full-blown, in-depth conversation. FAR louder than the music. And no matter how many people would kindly ask her and her friends to keep it down, she couldn’t control herself for more than one or two minutes before the top-of-her-lungs chatter began again. When I finally asked her outright “Why?” she replied “Sometimes this music is just better as background” to which I suggested that maybe it would make better background in her living room and not at the Greek Theatre where the rest of us are actually trying to listen and be engaged. She laughed, as if I’d been joking, and wen’t back to being her apparently oblivious –or just plain rude– self.
This past year, seeing the same band at the same venue, the gentlemen sitting next to me were engaged in a full-blown conversation for almost the entire duration of the band’s 3 hour-plus concert. They’d look up periodically at the band if the music got loud enough (loud enough to interrupt their conversation, that is), but they quickly returned to their very important socializing, completely unaware of all the people whose experiences they were sabotaging.
These people appear to have no sense of what the group dynamic is. Or the power of music. And since it’s not against the law to talk at such venues (though it seems new rules are starting to – thankfully- be put in place at some smaller houses), more and more people seem to be doing it.
Bob Weir, one of the founding members of the Grateful Dead, was playing a solo acoustic set at his own Sweetwater Music Hall in Northern California recently when he felt impelled to end his set in mid-song when audience members refused to stop talking during his performance. Despite his vocal efforts to gain some respect and silence the offending ticket-holders, Weir finally chose to give up and walk off stage. And I don’t blame him. When he returned later in the evening backed by his band, the chatter continued, eliciting pleas of “Shut the Fuck up!” from this now completely frustrated and insulted bandleader.
Several years ago, performer Jeff Tweedy stopped his show in mid-set to confront the audience. He asked them outright what they needed. Was he doing something wrong? Was there something else he should be doing to gain their attention and respect?
Is this a reflection of something bigger? Has it indeed gotten worse, or has it always been this bad? Should venues implement a no-talking rule (at least within reason)? I know at the Hollywood Bowl, ushers will ask attendees to please refrain from talking if they are disturbing other patrons during a concert of the Philharmonic. So why not during all other concerts? Is other music somehow less important? Or is it just our perception of appropriate behavior in conjunction with certain styles of music? Perhaps, we need to ask these ushers to step in and quiet these disrespectful or apathetic talkers down. Or perhaps there should be a special “talking section” where folks can hear the music, but engage in conversation at the same time without disturbing the rest of the audience. We certainly don’t put up with talking in a movie theater. We understand that it destroys the experience of engaging with the film. The same is true for engaging with music. And perhaps more musicians ought to step up and ask the audience to be quiet. Despite the fact that, as in Weir’s case, it seems to not initially make a difference. But perhaps it’s the first step in changing the public awareness and expectations surrounding musical events. Instead of allowing those loud few to set the rules of conduct, why don’t musicians and audiences alike take back the live musical experience and demand a certain mode of conduct which is appropriate for such events. Like I said, we already implement this in movie theaters (though talkers do find their way in there and are, often, eventually silenced by an outraged crowd). We also do it in libraries. We set the rules of appropriate conduct. We do it at the symphony, which often takes place in many of the same venues as other types of concerts. And at the opera. So why not all concerts?
If only I could steal the voices of these folks –just temporarily– like Ursula in THE LITTLE MERMAID… I promise to give them back the moment the show’s over.
I first saw this post-Grateful Dead musical incarnation last year at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. They were here for one night only, but it was enough to convince me that this band had something going on that no other post-Jerry Garcia line-up had even come close to. Having already been a fan of lead guitarist John Kadlecik’s playing from his 12 years with Dark Star Orchestra, I was curious how he would mix with another band, no less one containing two of the Grateful Dead’s original members! Well, suffice it to say, he fit like a glove and the show I was treated to blew my mind. Songs I never dared imagine I’d hear live were suddenly pouring through the PA loud and clear and TIGHT! Something the Grateful Dead rarely managed in their final decade.
I’ve spent the last year since that show listening to a lot of Furthur on Archive.org and following their shows online with a somewhat religious fervor. I’ve also watched numerous homemade Youtube vids of their live performances to get an even deeper sense of their live venue-to-venue vibe. One of the standout realizations is that this past year has allowed Kadlecik to step up in a way he hadn’t been before; there had been a sense of “holding back,” whether real or imagined, that made me root for Kadlecik to find his new place in this band and embrace it. And it, him. And so, at last, he seems to have done just that.
This year, Furthur delighted us with a two-night run that was simply incredible. The first night was my personal favorite. There was something magical in the air and the band seemed to ride that wave. A wonderful convergence of events came together to make the night extra special. I had been lucky enough to get front row center seats. Now this is a bit misleading as there is a standing-room-only pit in front of the stage and we were right behind that; the first row of actual seats. Sadly, the pit isn’t actually a pit, so it’s not sunken, which means there were many a head (Head?) to peer over to see the band clearly. But we were close and deeply absorbed in the space.
I was also lucky enough to be treated to a VIP pass which allowed my friend and I to indulge in some nice munchies before, during (intermission) and after the show. Free drinks, warm coffee, and a chance to say howdy to the band and other Furthur family members, both new and old.
Outside, it was a somewhat brisk Southern California evening. It had been pouring rain all day and most folks I know were more than a little worried that we’d be drenched and wind-swept as the band played. After all, the tickets did say Rain Or Shine. But just hours before show time, the skies cleared as if the storm had purposefully moved through in order to clean the smoggy L.A. air for our welcomed visitors. The sun went down, the moon and stars came out, and the band took the stage for a first set that turned out to be wonderfully Europe ’72-centric. Perhaps, as this is the home of Rhino (keepers of the Grateful Dead musical archive), the band were honoring the recent release of a very successful and grandiose box-set of the entire Europe 1972 tour. Or maybe it was just in the clean air. Whatever it was, the music was soaring and heartfelt. One song after another with nary a stray tune to break the spell. MUSIC NEVER STOPPED was a nice opener, but the boys were still warming up. BERTHA got the momentum going, but it was CUMBERLAND BLUES that finally kicked into gear. This band was on fire and the temperature never dropped. The NEW SPEEDWAY BOOGIE set-closer left me immediately hungry for more.
My friend Andy, who accompanied me, had never had the privilege of seeing Furthur before (nor had he ever seen the Dead, but I’d dragged him to a couple of DSO shows which he really dug). He seemed to genuinely respond to the music and I was glad he was getting to see the band on one of its better nights (given my disappointment with a recent DSO show we had attended).
Set 2 opened with SAILOR->SAINT and I knew from the tightness of playing that we were in for a great ride. And what a ride it was. Any night that gives us the full TERRAPIN SUITE is a night worth remembering. And this one was beautiful, powerful and engrossing. I was worried for a moment when they slipped into DAYS BETWEEN, but Bobby delivered it with an ease and sensitivity I’d not heard him bring to this tune previously. Bobby’s singing has been a mixed bag for me with Furthur. He’s taken to speaking many of the words instead of singing them and his newfound “style” doesn’t always seem to be in sync with the lyrical nature of some of the tunes. Particularly the Jerry tunes. I don’t know if Bobby’s approach is due to age and a voice finally failing, or whether it’s just a creative choice. Or both. But Bobby’s vocal contributions are rather inconsistent. But on this particular night, he was exactly where he needed to be. More melodic and articulate than he’s been of late. Phil’s singing, on the other hand, has grown in leaps and bounds to be, oddly enough for a man in his early 70’s, better than it’s ever been. Phil’s EYES OF THE WORLD was spectacular. He’s really overcome what for many years had seemed like an impossible task: singing in tune and with style and purpose. Mr. Lesh has overcome any obstacles between himself and his voice and it is now a treat to hear him sing and own these songs. And to watch this man smile all night long… What a joy.
It occurred to me on that first night as I watched Phil and Bobby, that I’d been seeing these two men play live music for 32 years. They were young men when I first saw them. Now they are in their final decades. But there they are, all smiles and confidence and making truly incredible music. There is a genuine love and pride I feel watching these two old “friends” do what they love and do it so well. And I feel extremely lucky to be still participating in those events and moments. We are on borrowed time here and we all know it. And I think many are realizing that Furthur is a VERY special band; the combination of the right musicians coming together to create something incredibly unique and powerful. As if lightning has struck twice. No, this band has no Jerry Garcia (who in my mind ranks up there with Coltrane and Davis and Parker), but they do have something rare that has taken Phil and Bobby a long time to find again, something many of us believed would never happen. Thank the universe it has.
And this is all possible in no small part thanks to the mind-blowing contributions of Jeff Chimenti on keyboards, Joe Russo on drums and Sunshine Becker and Jeff Pehrson on backup vocals. Chimenti’s craftsmanship, technique and style is incredibly moving. He is, without question, my favorite keyboardist ever to share a stage with Phil and Bobby. And that includes Keith Godcheaux, who was my favorite keyboard player to share the stage with the Grateful Dead. Chimenti’s heart and soul is in his playing. I can’t get enough of it.
Joe Russo on drums is not only a powerhouse of a drummer, but his musical instincts and skill make this band. Without him, there would be no Furthur, plain and simple. His pulse and momentum, his singular rhythmic voice, infuse every moment. And Sunshine B and Jeff P add that much-needed layer of beauty to the songs. Songs which cry out for -songs which demand– the lilting, melodic tones of their combined harmonies and their profound and passionate interpretations.
And even though I’ve already sang his praises, Kadlecik has overcome any doubts Dead Heads may have had by proving that he is not a Jerry-clone, but an inspired, supremely talented guitar player who has taken the influence of Garcia’s style and turned it into his own rich voice with unique phrasings and a sincere emotional resonance that is pure John K. His ability to live in the music is staggering. We are all very lucky that the path he is on has led him here.
Due to a strict curfew, the first night’s show was cut short and set two ended with an abrupt climax to GOIN’ DOWN THE ROAD FEELING BAD (throwing John K for a moment). NOT FADE AWAY had been the prearranged set closer, but the band never got there. A quick donor rap by Phil was followed by an energetic, but highly truncated JOHNNY B. GOODE (which also threw John K for a moment. Maybe Phil and Bobby need to communicate with him a tad better. Under the circumstances, I thought John adapted with surprising grace and creativity. You had to really pay attention to realize something was off at all). And no customary stage bow. But this was all good and done with an immense sense of humor, which just adds to the vibe of a celebration more than a “show.”
The second night was dedicated to the late Steve Jobs. This was not revealed, however, until the end of the first set. I’m glad it was as I had been feeling a lack of cohesion to the set list. The first night felt like a very particular vision, there was almost a story being told. This first set on night two lacked that. Until Phil announced its inspiration and then it all made sense; it all fell into place. Pink Floyd’s TIME was the first set highlight for me, as I imagine it was for many. Ethereal and energized, the set really kicked in for me at this point and the follower, DEATH DON’T HAVE NO MERCY (one of my all-time faves), cinched it. I had chills and Bobby, again, brought a rare level of perfection to his vocal approach. This was followed by RIPPLE which is seen by many as the quintessential Grateful Dead song. It can’t be sung without conjuring up Jerry and all things lost to us. All the while filling us with a serene warmth that is known for instigating those irrepressible smiles that so often go hand-in-hand with the music of the Grateful Dead.
The second set was just a stellar set list. I still preferred the energy of the first night more (it’s a very personal thing, quite subjective), but no one could complain about the choice of songs or how they were played on this night. THE WHEEL and UNCLE JOHN’S BAND, THE OTHER ONE into ST. STEPHEN… So much fierce energy, so much joy… I had a distracted moment during the second set where I chose to head down to the pit during MOUNTAIN SONG to meet a friend (and grab another VIP pass). I usually like to keep all distractions to a minimum and allow the music to take me away. As much as I tried to stay focused and involved, this little excursion took me out of the music for a short time. I got to watch I KNOW YOU RIDER from the pit, then traveled back to my section B seats and the dear friends who I had the honor of sharing this show with. Being close to the stage is never a substitute for being with good folk.
There were a few songs that were on the pre-arranged set list for this night that got cut at the last minute. SUNSHINE DAYDREAM was initially planned to follow RIPPLE, but Phil seemed to recognize the perfection of ending the set right there and made it so. Set two was supposed to open with CRYPTICAL ENVELOPMENT (one of my favorite pieces ever!), but that was cut. Why? Who knows. Perhaps awareness of curfew time-constraints, or maybe being too nail-on-the-head for a Steve Jobs-dedicated show (“You know he had to die…”). No matter. The band more than made up for what we didn’t get with what we did get! The band left us with the melodic and harmonious intonations of ATTICS OF MY LIFE buoyant in our hearts and minds.
October 5 & 6, 2011 at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles were two nights of bliss I will keep with me forever. Much of my life has been happily consumed with the music of the Grateful Dead and I am ecstatic to be able to continue to experience this music in a live setting, re-imagined, rediscovered by the men who originally created it, taken to new heights. Furthur is not the Grateful Dead. And they don’t seem to be attempting to recreate that. They are their own band, with a unique sound. A jazzier outgrowth of the Jerry Garcia variety of Grateful Dead-influenced experiences. And that is exactly what was needed to allow these musicians to be their own band, and not some fancy cover band that could never live up to their glory days. Furthur is currently immersed in and embracing their own glory days. And I am thrilled to be alive to share it.
Here is the entire TERRAPIN STATION SUITE from the first night for your listening and viewing pleasure:
This has nothing to do with the talent or skill of Dark Star Orchestra. I have never seen them not play well. But I am learning something about myself that I must face: I’m simply not fond of the Grateful Dead’s set lists or sound post 1984. In fact, I would go as far as to say that, where DSO is concerned, I don’t need to see them recreate any shows post 1979. But Dark Star Orchestra doesn’t play for me and me alone, they do what they do. Which is recreate Grateful Dead concerts from the band’s many eras.
And this is where I have to be honest with myself. The Grateful Dead were never the same band for me after keyboardist Keith Godchaux left and Brent Mydland stepped in to take his place. Brent was a supremely talented musician. No one who knows anything about music could deny this. However, his style of playing, singing and songwriting was so vastly different from the Grateful Dead I fell in love with that I was never fully able to embrace his contribution. Ironically, I never had the opportunity to see Keith perform with the Grateful Dead. My first show was in September of 1979 shortly after Brent joined the band. But I had been listening to the Grateful Dead for many, many years before I had the opportunity to see them live. And in those early days of Brent, he was a bit more subdued. But within a couple of years, his playing became busy and forceful to the point where almost all the quiet spaces within the music were filled. For me, it was a sound deluge that diminished the delicacy I had come to love and expect from the Grateful Dead. The jazz-influence that Keith advanced in the band –his sense of when to step up and when to step back– was lost with Brent’s enthusiastic contribution. It wasn’t wrong, just different. And, for my personal taste, less preferable.
Now understand, ever since the beginning of the Grateful Dead, they were a band capable of vast depths of sound; they could be as quiet as a single soft breath or as loud and complex as a city under siege. But it was the contrast between these two spaces that made the adventure of seeing and listening to the Grateful Dead a genuine journey. Brent diluted this contrast for me. The cacophony became more consistent, more the norm. And, as will happen with the addition of any new sound, any new influence, it effected how the other band members approached the music.
Then there were the songs that Brent wrote. Simply put, Brent’s skills as a songwriter were not in sync with what attracted me so intensely to the Grateful Dead. I know that Brent was profoundly disheartened to see so many people choosing his songs as their bathroom break or an opportunity to visit concessions, but he never seemed to consider that his style of songwriting was not the kind of music that attracted many Dead Heads to the Dead; Brent’s songs were more direct in their storytelling, less ethereal and poetic. They were also seeped in a pop-ballad style that seemed to defy the Grateful Dead’s deeper exploratory nature. Yes, the Grateful Dead were a reflection of all types of American music, but I suppose the part of Americana that influenced Brent never appealed to me and, as talented as he was, I never found a way into his music. It simply did not move me. In fact, it did quite the opposite. For me, it stopped the show in its tracks.
Later audiences seemed to embrace Brent’s songwriting. In many ways, it was more in sync with what drew these later crowds to the Grateful Dead. Pop songs like TOUCH OF GREY and WHEN PUSH COMES TO SHOVE or FOOLISH HEART, all Garcia/Hunter originals, were appealing to a generation that preferred “ditties” over depth. I rarely enjoyed these songs and, like Brent’s musical preferences, they stopped the show for me.
Last night’s Dark Star Orchestra show at the El Rey in Los Angeles was filled with these show-stoppers. And, as if pre-planned, the audience seemed to be made up of far more frat-boys (of varying ages) as well as men who clearly spend an inordinate amount of time at the gym pumping iron. This evening would find them with their trendy-clad girlfriends by their sides. It was like DSO were playing 24-Hour Fitness.
In effect, the show recreated was from May 9, 1987 and the audience matched the era. Eek. This was a time when the Grateful Dead were slowly being pushed out of their favorite venues due to uncontrollable crowds. The scene was turning, and not for the better. TOUCH OF GREY ushered in a whole new audience that changed the vibe forever.
Now, one good thing about DSO recreating these later shows is that DSO is, invariably, a far tighter band than the Grateful Dead were at this point in their development (or devolution, as many would refer to it). So the playing last night was solid. Tight.
But I’ve discovered (or more aptly, am ready to admit) that the allure of DSO for me is in seeing those earlier shows. Opening with SUGAR MAGNOLIA-> SUGAREE was very welcome. And even ME AND MY UNCLE-> MEXICALI BLUES was fun and well-played and still in keeping with the oldies but goodies theme I so love. But then suddenly, I’m plunged into WHEN PUSH COMES TO SHOVE, a song I never understood the appeal of. For me, it was not reflective of Garcia’s musical strengths. If this were the music of the Grateful Dead from the get-go, I never would have been attracted to them. This was followed by the (IMHO) dreadful Brent tune TONS OF STEEL. Try as I did, I was not able to shed the sinking feeling building in my gut. I was no longer “in” the music as I had been for those first two songs. Then BROTHER ESAU followed. While a far better song than the two previous, it’s still something I have a hard time getting excited about. This trifecta left me feeling disappointed and “outside” the show.
Luckily, the TENNESSEE JED and LET IT GROW brought me back up, though never to the level where I had started. There was something in my gut, expectations foiled, that I could not shake. Truth be told, as soon as I walked into the El Rey and saw that the guitars and drums were set up for a show most-likely from the 80’s or 90’s, my heart sank a bit. But there was an extra mic set up which gave me hope that this would possibly be an original setlist and not a show from my least favorite era (as it suggested the inclusion of the fabulous Lisa Mackey in the Donna Godchaux role). Alas, the extra mic was removed and my hopes dashed.
The second set started off with more dismay. TOUCH OF GREY. I could live a long, happy life and never hear this song again. It’s a fun little ditty (there’s that word again), but it’s a sad replacement for the possibilities of second set openers the Grateful Dead were accustomed to treating us to. This was followed by LOOKS LIKE RAIN. Never one of my favorites, it was at least an older tune, but one usually reserved for first sets, not second. Again, given what second sets often had to offer, this felt distressing. I was, at this point, thoroughly removed from the show and could have actually walked out and called it a night.
Now I don’t want anyone to misunderstand my statements here. Dark Star Orchestra played these songs, each and every one of them, with energy and conviction. As I said before, in many ways better than the Grateful Dead themselves had in 1987. The disappointment I was feeling began and ended with me. No one else. It’s my personal taste and desire. It’s what I want to get out of the experience of seeing DSO that was unfulfilled. DSO was just doing what DSO does. And, try as I might to counter it, so was I.
The HE’S GONE-> JAM was very well played, particularly the long OTHER ONE TEASE JAM which started to lure me back in. DRUMS->SPACE were customary and enjoyable, but the sinking feeling in my gut had already settled too deeply. The rest of the show was filled with songs I truly love. All of them soared with energy. And at times I was moderately transported, but that feeling in my gut that had settled there never left. It remained like a shroud over even the best moments. I was aware of trying to get rid of it, to let it go and enjoy being there, listening to live music again. But my attempt ultimately failed. I could not transcend the moment.
All of this is made even worse by the fact that I’ve been reliving the Grateful Dead’s Europe ’72 tour in its entirety thanks to the recent release of the entire tour on CD. This is widely considered the Grateful Dead’s best tour ever. And I wouldn’t argue that. So much so that the set list from ’87 just seems downright lazy by comparison. A friend of mine also in attendance pointed out that DSO could have played any show from ’65 through the first half of ’79 and you wouldn’t hear a single song that would disappoint. The same can’t be said for any show post.
The only criticism I have of DSO as a band is that, now with the inclusion of Jeff Mattson -who I must say is an amazing guitarist and about the best replacement for former lead-guitarist John Kadlecik that one could imagine– this incarnation of the band seems intent on bringing every song to its highest peak. And they’re damn good at doing it. But there’s something almost “manufactured” in their doing so. As if subtlety and nuance were not quite as important as blowing minds. It happened so much that it ceased to be special and started to feel too easy. It didn’t feel organic. It wasn’t the music playing the band. This felt pre-planned in some way. Now that may not be accurate to what was actually taking place for the musicians, but it was my experience. Sometimes making a song “explode” is not the best thing for the soul of the music. But I’m just an audience member and probably one of the few who didn’t walk out of the El Rey last night satisfied. It is my personal cross to bear, I suppose. Again, it’s what I want that is not always in sync with what DSO is offering. That is no fault of theirs. That’s all on me and I take full responsibility for it.
I wish in the future I could know whether DSO were going to play a show from an era I want to travel back in time and experience, or whether they’re recreating an era I need not revisit. That would help me decide whether or not I need attend, to avoid disappointment or embrace that which I love and yearn for. But such things are not the way of the world. So I must take my chances, make my decisions. Perhaps I’ll just see DSO every other year and hope for the best.
Say what you want about Steven Speilberg, but he is fast becoming a firm and vocal voice against the re-writing of film history. So much so that he has not shied away from some very vocal jabs against old pal George Lucas who has recently come under fire once again for his incessant altering of his Star Wars franchise to the point that there is a fan campaign to boycott the upcoming Blu-ray release of these films.
At a recent screening of a new digital restoration of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK at Los Angeles’ Hero Complex, Spielberg commented on filmmakers who alter their films, thus erasing their historical context:
“Speaking for myself, I tried this once and I learned to regret it. Not because of fan outrage, but simply because I was a little disappointed in myself. I got very kind of overly sensitive to some of the criticism E.T. had gotten from parent groups when it was first released in ’82. Having to do with Elliot saying penis breath or the guns with the CIA. And also there were some rough around the edges close-ups of E.T. that I had always thought if technology ever evolves to the point where I can do some facial enhancements with E.T. I would like to. So I did an E.T. pass for the third release of the movie and it was okay for a while then I realized that what I had done was I had robbed people who loved E.T. of their memories of E.T. My only contrition that I could possibly do because I feel bad about that, the only contrition that I really performed was when E.T. came out on DVD for the first time. I told Universal, we’re going to do this or we’re not going to put E.T. on DVD. You have to put two movies in the box and one movie will be the 1982 version and the other will be the digitally enhanced version. What I’d like to ask is this. We’ll do a little poll here. I know we’re coming out with the Blu-ray of E.T. If I came out with just one E.T. on Blu-ray, the 1982 one, would anybody object to that? [Audience shouts ‘No!’] Ok, so be it.”
But friends and colleagues must be careful of just how “critical” they are of their pals. Spielberg also added:
“Let me put it this way, George does what he does because there’s only one George Lucas, and thank god for that. He’s the greatest person I’ve ever worked with as a filmmaker collaborator and he’s a conceptual genius. He puts together these amazing stories and he’s great at what he does. My feeling is that he can do anything he wants with his movies because they’re his movies and we wouldn’t have been raised with Star Wars or Indiana Jones had it not been for George.”
But luckily, Spielberg’s point has been made and it is a most welcome response to Lucas’ continued alterations and his open disdain for the people who are fighting for the very things he himself once stood before Congress and campaigned so vigorously for (see my post HERE). Let’s hope more filmmakers take the same stand Spielberg has. Which, in supporting the importance of film and its history, automatically sheds a light on just how selfish and misguided George Lucas has become. Perhaps one day, Lucas himself will come to understand and respect the wishes of those of us who care about preserving film and cultural history and remember that there was a time when he was one of us. Let’s hope that Mr. Spielberg is, in perfect Dickens fashion, the first of many ghosts to haunt Mr. Lucas.