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.
You can read my post on the first night here.
It’s an odd experience feeling disappointment around something so very special and important in my life. Some have shared my experience and interpretation, others have their own and it varies wildly. No experience is wrong.
I’ve been accused by some in the past few days of judging too harshly and being overly vocal about it. Maybe that’s true, but it seems more to me like there’s this unspoken notion that it’s clear heresy to express disappointment surrounding this occasion, to criticize any element of it. In essence, to have my own experience and voice it. It feels like going to see the Grateful Dead in 1994 and 1995 and commenting on Garcia’s playing and health. To me, something was clearly going on. It seemed like he was using again, in very ill health and the music suffered greatly. When I remarked on it at the time, there were those that suggested I was just being negative. But there’s nothing more I would have rather been doing than celebrating Garcia and this music and the band that I love. Perhaps for those who had just hopped on the bus at that time and had little previous experience to compare to, 1995 was a stellar year in Grateful Dead history and Garcia was in top form. But history has shown us that was not the case. There are very few out there now who would deny the difference, the change, the obvious.
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.
I sometimes forget just how many amazing and high-energy Grateful Dead shows I managed to see. I missed seeing the Dead in the mid-70’s and as a result missed my favorite era for them live (I started seeing them in ’79), so sometimes I forget that I DID manage to see some truly amazing shows while the band was still active and vibrant.
The later 80’s into the 90’s had some spectacular moments, but something was always missing for me from that period. Partially it was the huge crowds that gathered after the popularity of TOUCH OF GREY. Gone were the smaller venues and the sense of community. The “scene” had simply gotten too big and oftentimes felt like the beast had grown wild and out of control. And I think that effected the band. We all know from his own words that Jerry preferred the smaller venues to the big crowds. He never managed to fully shed his stage fright. Which is probably why Jerry Garcia Band shows always felt more relaxed, more like home. And then there was Jerry’s physical health, drug addiction, etc. It took its toll and, though he came out of it for a short time and new life was injected into the band around the Spring of 1990, enough damage had already been done and Garcia’s decent into ill health persevered.
All this is to say that sometimes I revisit shows that I attended, either via audio-only or by the grace of online magicians and gift-givers like Youtube’s Voodoonola, and am instantly reminded of just how lucky I was. The Fall of ’83 was the first full tour I ever did with the Dead. 11 shows from Richmond, VA to Syracuse, NY. In fact, I remember that my friend Gary and I didn’t have tickets for the Richmond show and managed to get on the guest list in exchange for tightening bolts in one of the Dead’s equipment trucks. It was a time when the barrier between band, crew and audience was still small. They were accesible. That experience opened a new door for us and placed us one-step closer to the Dead’s inner-circle (for which I must thank Gary. He was my generous tether to that side of the experience). A great place to be when that barrier started to rise.
The fall of ’83 was an amazing time in my life. I had just started college (majoring in Grateful Dead touring, it would seem) and that glorious tour, with new friends at my side, saw the return of ST. STEPHEN. That long-desired breakout (the song hadn’t been played since early ’79) infused the entire journey with a vibrancy that is still discussed to this day.
The show shown here took place on the evening of October 18, 1983. It was the show just after one of my favorite concert memories: Lake Placid, NY, 10/17/83, a show that really encapsulated that sense of community. Placid was an out-of-the-way show and therefore didn’t attract the usual band of semi-tour heads. It was for locals and the committed only and by the second set, everyone in the balcony had joined hands and were revolving in a fully enraptured circle as the boys played THE WHEEL. Pure magic.
Re-watching this video from the first set (where’s the second!!??) at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, ME. was such a treat. It reminded me just how much these guys could rock. There’s a fierceness to the playing that wasn’t always there, but when it was, you usually knew it from the second the band hit the stage. And oftentimes it was dependent on Jerry and whether or not he was feeling particularly inspired. Well, he certainly was on this night and every song featured here (despite it not being one of my favorite set-lists) is like gasoline on fire. Garcia is just tearing at his guitar with a glorious confidence and energy that is more than a little palpable on this recording. It’s a kind of energy and musicianship that Garcia never fully attained again after his diabetic coma in 1986. Not that he didn’t play spectacularly after his recovery, but there was a subtle edge missing, a particular fluidity that had been growing over the years that was lost, had fallen just out of grasp, by the bump in the road that became one of several before-and-after markers in the last third of the Dead’s musical journey (another being the untimely death of keyboardist Brent Mydland in July of 1990).
But on this evening in 1983, all was moving steadily forward. Yes, there was foreshadowing of things to come, to be sure, but the future was still unknown to us and there was every reason for optimism and celebration. So that’s exactly what we did.
Once again, the quality of the video featured below is not the best and the audio is a decent (but not stellar) audience recording. Nonetheless, it is worth every second. And yes, as is their way, the set has its share of vocal flubs and wrong chords, but for anyone who knew and understood this band and what they were striving for and oftentimes attaining, the warts were part of the journey and truly the only way to get there. And on this night, they got there.
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.
I’ve written about these guys before, and there’s a good chance I’ll continue to write about them every time I see them. When Jerry Garcia, lead guitarist and singer for the Grateful Dead, died, I had to come to terms with the reality that a very particular experience–a very deep, spiritual, and life-affirming experience for me–had suddenly come to an end. For those who never tapped into what the Grateful Dead were doing probably think those “kooky Dead-Heads” and their strange devotion to that “hippie” band was a lot of drug-induced bull. Well, for those who were genuinely present, it was anything but. It was, in fact, one of the great experiences of a lifetime. What a strange thing to say about a rock band. I mean, surely other bands have devoted followers without all this hyperbole. Yes, they do. But the Grateful Dead were doing something different. They were on the edge, taking musical risks rarely seen in the world of popular music. They were always chasing that elusive magic, that moment of pure joy and unadulterated connection to the universe that left both audience and band awe-struck. This was, for many of us, our church, our sanctuary; it is where we gathered to get close to “God”. As a self-proclaimed atheist, this is a word I’ve always avoided as it usually conjures up images of a conscious being, a decision-maker. I never personally bought into that tale of the universe. But for me, what the Grateful Dead were doing was more in sync with my vision of what was out there: something beyond my comprehension. Not an individual, not a single consciousness, but a pure and inexplicable energy. We are part of something massive, strange, beautiful, terrifying, emotional, vast… The human brain, the human consciousness, is incapable of boiling it down to words. For me, and many like me, that’s what the Grateful Dead tapped into. It has nothing to do with following any member of the band or granting guru-like status to the players; they are just a piece of the puzzle, no more or less than we, the audience, are a part of that same puzzle. They were, through daring and unparalleled musicianship, “channeling” something far greater than themselves. And for whatever reason, Jerry Garcia, through the strings of his guitar and the fingers that played them, spoke to millions with a “voice” that seemed to encompass the whole of the universe. And when that light went out, so did our connection to that other world.
The remaining members of the “Dead” still knew that magic and never stopped risking and searching for that connection. And from time to time, they tapped into a version of it. But it was never the same. A link in the chain had been broken. And so I spent years listening to tapes and CDs of live shows, closing my eyes and re-capturing those moments to the best of my ability. But it wasn’t the same as stepping into the halls of an arena or the orchestra section of a grand old theater and letting that magic wash over you like the technicolor dreamcoat itself. No, one had to be there, part of the moment itself, a player, a piece of the puzzle.
I grew used to the idea that I would never attain those moments again in my life. At least not in the same way. And while it did leave a hole, I was grateful for having lived in a time when that experience was accessible to me. And to have seen the Grateful Dead before they started to fall apart, before the drugs and bad health of Garcia took such a hold that he would never return to us as he had once been. And all this before he died.
A couple of years ago I was convinced by an acquaintance to go see what I believed a mere Grateful Dead “cover band” called Dark Star Orchestra. What I found was something I hadn’t expected. These guys were not only recreating specific Dead shows, they were seeming to actually channel that energy I had been missing. At first I wanted to deny it, wanted to believe only the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia could do that. But I was wrong. These guys are as well. Throughout my 46 years on this planet and many, many live concerts under my belt, only two bands have ever achieved this in my presence. The Grateful Dead and Dark Star Orchestra.
Last weekend, DSO performed at the Music Box at the Henry Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles. I brought along with me a friend who had never seen the Dead, but had always enjoyed their music, though never “tapped in”, as they say. There was no way for me to know if the band was gonna tap into that magic this night or not, but I wasn’t gonna miss it if they were.
The Dead had many eras and many sounds. And every Dead Head has his or her favorite. Mine are the Keith and Donna years, 1972-1979. For me, the Dead were at their tightest, most jazziest. It is the sound I initially fell in love with and the era I return to as often as humanly possible through collected live recordings. But my own experience of seeing the Dead live began in the fall of 1979, just after Keith and Donna left the band. I never saw them perform. I was too late by mere months!
Enter DSO. recreating shows from different eras, down to a specific date and venue, I was given a chance to experience these shows, not when they happened or exactly how they happened, but in some strange sort of modern time-travel. And yet, not. You see, while DSO recreates the set list and “feel”, they are also NOT the Grateful Dead. They are an astounding group of musicians exhibiting a level of supreme musicianship rarely seen today. Whatever the Dead tapped into, DSO has managed, through their sheer love of the Dead and their joint musical talents, to open that door themselves and be the recipients of whatever the universe has in store. The church has opened once again.
On this night, DSO took us back to the Beacon Theatre in New York on June 14, 1976. This was an amazing time for the Dead. They’d just returned from a year and a half touring hiatus and had just released what I consider their greatest studio effort, BLUES FOR ALLAH. For me, this set list was as if you had asked me what songs I would want to see live and in what order. But, of course, the set list is only one part of what makes the show. It’s the playing that brings the night alive. And on this night, the band brought us to places rarely seen, to heights rarely reached, to an inner world so rarely glimpsed. I was transported. I was elated. I was both time-traveling and out of time. I was both in 1976 and 2009. For the band this night was not the Grateful Dead, but Dark Star Orchestra. And what was taking place was happening through them. And through all of us who were there.
And like anyone who knows a Dead show knows, the audience and experience can differ greatly from night to night, venue to venue, era to era. But the Music Box this night felt of its own time. Twirling bodies, like snakes of beauty, mesmerizing and mesmerized. The only hint of where I was came during the beginning of the second set when a man and what I could only describe as his evening’s “escort” stood in front of my friend and I. The man was completely outside the music. He spoke to his “companion” loudly and about things that had nothing to do with the events around him. She, for her part, never responded, but stood there in her too-high heels nursing what looked like a martini. I don’t believe she spoke english or understood a word he was saying. Nor do I think she cared. The man would search his iPhone from time to time, pointing out interesting and fascinating factuals that he had found somewhere in his little cyber world. The woman would smile and turn away, as if quietly seeking the nearest exit as she planned her escape. Periodically, the man would stop chatting and realize he was at a concert. He’d stick two fingers in his mouth and let out a screeching and painful whistle, disturbing both the music and all those around him. He was, of course, oblivious to the dirty looks he was receiving. He was too busy “doing what you do” at a concert. Whistling, screaming, talking. Anything but listening to the music. It reminded me of what the Dead audience had become in later years, when I slowed down and saw only the occasional show. Luckily for those of us near this “couple”, they quickly grew bored with the whole scene and were gone by the second song in. Perhaps through that exit the woman had been quietly seeking.
The rest of the night was pure bliss. Easily one of the best concert-going experiences I’ve ever had. And one I shall never forget. My GOD, where did this band come from?
Suffice it to say, the DSO and Dead virgin who accompanied me that night was, quite simply, “blown-away.” He couldn’t stop thinking or talking about it for days.
Before moving onto the next night’s concert in San Diego, I’ll jot down the set list from this L.A. show for those who share my love of such things:
Cold Rain and Snow
Brown Eyed Women
Might As Well
Playing in the Band
Samson & Delilah
The Music Never Stopped
Dancing In the Streets->
Help On The Way->
Around & Around
DSO Extra Encore:
Exquisite! From start to finish.
Now for the Wave House in San Diego. Like the Grateful Dead, DSO are also capable of delivering shows that are far less appealing to me than others. This was one of those nights. I should say, however, that the playing was always tight and energized. But the combination of set list and venue added up to a let-down for this particular viewer.
Let’s start with the venue. The Wave House is an outdoor, beach front mini-Disneyland for surfers. It is a combination of manufactured surfer waves and bars disguised as tiki huts. And the clientele for this particular venue are, of course, surfers and frat boys. And the drug of choice here is alcohol, which is available about every ten feet.
The stage is a tiny little thing set high above the audience. It seems to have been placed there as an afterthought. There is maybe forty feet of audience room before you reach the tiki hut bars and the non-stop conversations that take place there. It reminded me of the outdoor “concerts” one would see on Jay Leno’s The Tonight Show; a stage thrown together in the alley between two sound stages equipped with an artificially enthusiastic studio audience. As one friend said to me, “The crowd is perfect for the setting. It’s the band that’s out of place.” And so they were. It was almost as if anyone trying to listen to the music was simply getting in the way of someone else’s drunken conversation. It was an audience of alcohol-soaked dudes and high-heeled women in what I’ve come to call “pseudo-jazzy, upscale Macy’s” attire, with the occasional Dead Head thrown in here and there for good measure. It was an odd mix, to say the least.
It should be stated here that DSO will sometimes opt to play an original set list of Dead and Jerry Garcia Band tunes instead of recreating an actual show. This was one of those nights. Often, this is a joy because so many different eras are represented. But on this night, it seemed as if the band were, consciously or unconsciously, catering their song choices to the venue and crowd. Ditties, pop songs, blues tunes. Songs once performed by the late Brent Mydland were scattered throughout the evening. Never my favorites and always a bit of an anti-climax for this particular Dead Head. But those songs seemed to be the crowd’s favorites and, perhaps, the only songs to get their attention. No, this night felt a bit like time-traveling to those later Dead years, post TOUCH OF GREY (which actually opened the second set this night), when the crowds had become unruly, out of touch, not sure why they were there. And the combination of songs somehow lacked that wondrous sense of journey as well. With some exceptions. The SCARLET BEGONIAS first set closer was like a surge of new breath which filled me with hope for the set to come. But the second set began much as the first; a series of danceable, likable, isolated songs that never quite swept me away, despite being expertly played. I needed something more to lift me up and carry me away from the confines of the Wave House. And that finally came with the delivery of a rousing EYES OF THE WORLD-> DRUMS-> SPACE-> ST. STEPHEN that really took off. But following that, I felt the show lost some momentum again, though the level of professional musicianship never waned. They were all good songs in their own right, to be sure, but perhaps the pull of the previous night was too strong as the blissful haze of 1976 and the memories of the welcoming crowd at the Music Box still flowed strongly in my veins. It seems I just couldn’t make the adjustment. This new venue was so distracting and inhospitable that it served only to remind me why I had stopped going to so many Dead shows toward the end of their career. What I had witnessed at the Music Box in Los Angeles reminded me why I had been a part of this incredible scene in the first place. The Wave House in San Diego reminded me of what the scene had sadly degenerated into.
Let’s take a look at the original set list for that night:
Hey Pocky Way->
All Over Now
They Love Each Other
West LA Fadeaway
Tom Thumb Blues
You Ain’t Women Enough
Touch of Grey
Maybe You Know
It Takes a Lot To Laugh
Box of Rain
Eyes of the World->
Black Muddy River->
How Sweet it is
Looking at it now, it doesn’t seem so bad. And truth be told, if the Grateful Dead had played this same set list as tightly and as energetically as DSO did this night, I probably would have been stunned, amazed and ridiculously gleeful. But for so many reasons stated above, this night was a constant struggle for me. But I assure you, that won’t stand in the way of my going back to see DSO whenever they come to town again because these guys still carry the flame. And not a simulation of the flame, mind you, but the real deal. The very flame itself. They are, without question, the greatest improvisational jam-band touring today. I will, however, have to opt out of the next show at San Diego’s Wave House. It is a place I clearly do not belong and have no desire to revisit. It is not the experience I am looking for. So I will let those that it appeals to enjoy its charms. I’ll stay a little north and soak in Hollywood and Los Angeles’s Music Box and El Rey Theatres. And the magic that consistently takes place there. And I will be grateful.
It should be noted, for those interested, that DSO lead guitarist John Kadlecik is currently touring with Grateful Dead members Bob Weir and Phil Lesh in what they are calling Furthur.
While it’s no secret that I’m a bit underwhelmed with the post-Jerry Garcia Dead’s sound, I think many folks who weren’t big fans of the band before might actually, ironically, prefer this current incarnation. Guitarist Warren Haynes’ sound is certainly more “familiar” sounding to the masses as his playing is a tad more “straight-forward” than Jerry’s was. Jerry spoke from his soul and the music took you there. It was different from anything else out there. And that’s what made it so damn one-of-a-kind. But it was an acquired taste and often took folks a bit of time to hear what was going on there (to the untrained ear it can sometimes sound a bit harsh, or so I’ve been told), but once tapped in, it was the centerpiece of joy and inspiration. It was NOT, however, great background music (unless you were singing along) as it demanded your attention. It’s possible that I just need more time to tap into Warren. Though something tells me that’s not the case. But I’ll be listening nonetheless.
When the Grateful Dead introduced TOUCH OF GREY to the world, it signaled the beginning of the end of an era. Legions of new “fans” stormed the scene expecting a band that played amusing little ditties like GREY (a fun song, absolutely, but not really the kind of thing the Grateful Dead were known for). Suddenly, the tight little community was inundated with concert-goers more concerned with the drug-scene than with the music. People were getting too high, too drunk, and oftentimes violent. Before we knew it, the Grateful Dead was banned from playing many of its long-standing favorite venues! The scene never fully recovered, IMHO.
I’m curious to see what this newfangled Dead will choose to play for the masses on the David Letterman show tonight. Will they pick some great, weird oldie that will shock and amaze? Or will they decide to play something a bit more… “mainstream”? We’ll see. No doubt, either way, a few more folks will climb on board the bus as a result.
Dead.net posted a History of the Grateful Dead on David Letterman. It’s a fun journey back in time. I saw all of these shows when they originally aired. Enjoy!
History of the Grateful Dead on David Letterman
The members of the Grateful Dead, mostly Jerry and Bobby, have a long relationship with David Letterman going back to 1982. The two guitarists first appeared on Letterman on 4/13/82, during the Grateful Dead’s Spring tour, on a night off between shows at Nassau Coliseum and the Glens Falls Civic Center. On this episode, they played two acoustic songs, Deep Elem Blues and Monkey & The Engineer, with Jerry and Bobby revealing terrific senses of humour in describing the origins of the moniker Dead Heads. Classic stuff. Bobby had a bit of a cold, and his voice was a bit off, but they played these acoustic tunes very well.
The next visit to Letterman was on 9/17/87 on the night off during a five night stand at Madison Square Garden, at which they played Bob Dylan’s When I Paint My Masterpiecewith the Letterman house band backing them. While talking with Dave, they discussed their new video So Far, the shows at MSG, and the success of In The Dark. Bobby then did one of the oddest things these guys have ever done on TV, he attempted to lift Jerry via a parlour trick, with Dave and Biff helping out. The sight of an unwitting Jerry, in a nice coat, sitting as the crew tries to lift Jerry with two fingers is one of the most hilarious images of the band I’ve ever seen. Just the way Dave looked at the camera and said “we’re going to lift Jerry” had us all cracking up. I’d been at the two previous shows at the Garden, and they were playing very well and, obviously, having loads of fun.
In 1989, during a five night run at the Brendan Byrne Arena at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, Bobby and Jerry once again visit Dave, on 10/13/89, this time playing Second That Emotion with Paul’s band once again backing them up. Also very cool during this appearance was during the commercial breaks, they played along with the band on the music the leads in and out of the commercial breaks, including Good Lovin’, Mighty Quinn and Hideaway, amongst a few other things.
In 2003, The Dead appeared on Letterman with that version of the band, featuring Bobby, Phil, Mickey and Bill, as well as Jeff Chimenti and Rob Barraco on keyboards, Jimmy Herring on lead guitar, and Joan Osborne on vocals. They played a rocking version of Casey Jones.
Bobby and Jerry also appeared separately on Letterman, the former playing The Winners with Rob Wasserman in 1991, and the latter playing Friend of the Devil with David Grisman in 1993.