Thursday, September 29, 2016

Potential Phil Setlists 1

     Our good buddy Phil has announced some shows for Halloween at the Capitol Theatre, and I will see you folks there!  He's playing on Friday the 28th, Saturday the 29th, and then Monday on Halloween itself, so my parents and I got tickets to Friday and Saturday.  Friday's lineup is  Larry Campbell, Luther Dickinson, Barry Sless, Jason Crosby, John Molo, Teresa Williams, & Nicki Bluhm.  Saturday will be the same, but without Larry & Teresa, and with Scott Metzger.  I've never seen Barry Sless or Nicki Bluhm live, but I know that they're both great musicians, and Phil likes to play with them, so I'm excited to see what they'll bring to the table!

     I'm sure I'll come up with more as we approach the shows, but here are some initial setlist predictions for both nights.  Feel free to leave your own below in the comments or let me know what you think could be changed on mine!

Night One

Set One

Truckin' >
Pride of Cucamonga >
Easy Wind >
Pride of Cucamonga
Tennessee Jed
Dire Wolf
Bird Song >

Set Two

Shakedown Street >
Cryptical Envelopment >
The Other One >
Mason's Children >
The Other One >
Sing Me Back Home
China Cat Sunflower >
Scarlet Begonias >
Fire On The Mountain

Donr Rap/Encore

Black Muddy River

Night Two

Set One

Mr. Charlie
Ramble on Rose
Deal >
Viola Lee Blues >
Feedback >
Turn on Your Lovelight

Set Two

Playing in the Band >
Eyes of the World >
Playing in the Band >
Terrapin Station >
Dark Star >
St. Stephen >
Morning Dew >
St. Stephen >
Not Fade Away

Donor Rap/Encore

Box of Rain

Monday, September 5, 2016

How Do We Feel About Dead & Company (Now)?

     Well the Summer Tour done come and gone, folks.  Dead & Company played all they’re going to play this summer, and they hit quite a few places across the country while they were at it.  The dust is still settling and it’s probably too early to come to any definitive positions about the band, but let’s talk about it anyway!  Later on in this I’m going to get into some comparisons, but for now let’s just look at the band itself from this most recent tour.  This is kind of a continuation of this post, so maybe you should read that first.

     John Mayer certainly wasn’t shy when playing these songs last Fall, but now he is visibly more confident playing them and playing with the way he plays them.  Oteil, as well, seems to have found his place in the band more than he had last year.  Last year he and John were clearly the new additions to a group that has played together many times, and while they played very well they really stood out at times as being the new ingredients.  On this tour everyone has totally gelled and the band has a coherent and uniquely identifiable sound.  The songs all have new vitality, sometimes because they have new arrangements, but more frequently because the band is so enthusiastic and has ideas about the new places they want to take the songs.

     I think John has gotten even better at listening to the rest of the band too.  Last tour it seemed to me like he stepped on Jeff’s leads somewhat frequently, which I think came from him getting used to the band dynamics and the band still coming into being.  Now it seems fairly obvious that he’s doing just as much listening as he is playing, and that has always been one of the most important things about the Grateful Dead.  My favorite shots of the Grateful Dead are not when Bobby’s jumping in the air or waving his hands about, but rather when the guitarists are huddled together and playing.  Maybe they’re looking at each other, maybe they’re staring at some unspecified point in space, but either way they’re definitely listening to what the others are playing and building off of that to create a musical masterpiece.  John has gone from just paying attention to Bobby to paying attention to the band as a whole.

     While John is the newest member in the band, and the easiest to talk about, let’s not forget anyone else!  Mickey and Billy are playing way better now than they were at Fare Thee Well or on the last tour, and I think that’s due to a couple of reasons.  First, this is the same band as it was last year, as opposed to being one put together for five shows with limited rehearsal, so the added rehearsal time and time on stage has really helped solidify their place in the band.  Second, I think they’re both feeling like they’re back in the saddle again, especially Mickey.  While they have played in a few bands of their own since the last version of The Dead with two drummers, they haven’t been nearly as prolific as Bobby and Phil, so being on tour again must have been a change they had to get used to.  At FTW they seemed a little tentative and not quite as locked together, but at this point all the cobwebs have been shaken off, the the Rhythm Devils are once again a coherent unit.

     Another great change the band has made is the expansion of singing roles.  This tour they swapped vocals on quite a few songs, and some shows would even have different people singing.  “Franklin’s Tower,” for example, was sung just by John in Boston, but in other shows he and Bobby would trade verses.  Also of note were Oteil and Jeff taking more prominent vocal duties, with Oteil even taking a verse in “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad.”  I knew that Oteil sang before he joined this band, but it’s great to see Jeff singing more and more!  While he hasn’t taken any lead vocals of his own (yet), his harmonies are crystal clear and very present in the mix, revealing the voice of an angel!  I think he did sing a little in Furthur, but with two backup singers and three lead singers his voice was always lost in the mix.

     And let us not forget the biggest surprise in the band’s vocal world: Donna!  Ms. Donna Jean Godchaux made several appearances on this tour, and while I think that makes her more of a guest star than a member of the band, I think she was a great addition.  As with all things Dead, a little more rehearsal wouldn’t have killed anyone, but she seemed so happy to be up there and sounded great with the band (when they were all on the same page).  She threw in a few tasteful and enthusiastic screams here and there, but didn’t have any of the off-key shrieking that typically sent people running for the hills back in the day.  I’d love to see her back for future tours, especially if she gets to sing some of her songs; I would kill to see them do “Sunrise!”

     A final note about the band on this tour is that they’ve shown they’re not afraid to alter the songs.  “The Wheel” is a great example of that, with them practically turning it into a mashup with “Stay,” and then turning it into a reggae jam!  “Jack Straw,” “Brown-Eyed Women,” and “Deal” all have new arrangements as well, with new jams and solos thrown in between verses.  They also debuted quite a few “new” songs this tour, including “Passenger” with Donna.  It even had a “new” verse thrown in that’s actually a reworking of an original lyric from when the Dead first wrote the song that got thrown out.

     Now it’s time for the hard part of this post: how does this band compare to Furthur?  Maybe we don’t really need to compare them, but the question has been in my head ever since my first Dead & Company show from last year and I think it’s worth asking.  These are the two most recent bands to really take up the Grateful Dead mantle full time, and they have done it in such different ways.  One way to frame the contrast between these bands is to compare it to pre- and post-hiatus versions of the Dead; there is a difference in drummers, but an overlap (though not as big) of musicians between the iterations, and they all play just about the same songs, with some new songs added and old songs put to rest.  It’s not quite as simple as that, but that’s a good way to get started.

     One thing that immediately stands out as a difference between these two bands is their leadership.  While Furthur was always billed as Phil and Bobby’s band, it was really Phil who was in charge.  For better or worse, Phil is a very dominating person, and I think most of the creative decisions made in Furthur were made because Phil wanted them.  The rest of the band surely had a say in what they did, and Bobby must have had more sway than, say, Joe or John, but Phil ultimately was the leader of the band.  In Dead & Company, however, Bobby is undoubtedly the leader.  Again, the rest of the musicians in the band must have a say, especially the drummers, but when you’re watching the band it’s just so clear that Bobby is the leader.

     One thing that Furthur has over Dead & Company is the variety of their setlists.  Now it’s not exactly fair to compare these two bands on this front yet, as Dead & Co is still new, but even at Furthur’s very first concert they showed they were not going to be conservative with the songs they played.  They opened with “Jam > The Other One,” played “Bird Song > Born Cross-Eyed > Let It Grow” in the first set, and did “St. Stephen > The Eleven > Terrapin Station” in the second set.  While Dead & Company has had some great setlists, they’re all pretty formulaic and there are not too many surprising combinations of songs.  Some of this I think must stem from doing “Drums > Space” every single night; I love that segment, but skipping it allowed Furthur to play even more songs and craft their setlists more uniquely.  Furthur also had a lot more cover songs in their repertoire than Dead & Co. (so far), as well as some original songs and Phil and Bobby songs from their respective solo bands.

     When looking at the vocal talents of the bands, it’s a lot harder to draw the line.  Furthur had Sunshine Garcia Becker (no relation) and Jeff Pehrson doing beautiful harmonies and backup vocals, as well as signing from Phil, Bobby, John, and occasionally Jeff Chimenti.  Dead & Company has no backup singers (except for when Donna shows up), but the main members of the band I think are all better vocalists.  I love Phil’s singing, but Oteil is objectively better at it, and Bobby is singing better with Dead & Co than he has in years.  I also really like Kadlecik’s singing, and some songs I think he might be better at, but overall Mayer is a way better singer.  He just so happens to be a professional pop musician, so his career kind of depended on him singing better and in a more accessible style than Garcia.  Like I said earlier in this, Jeff has also been singing a whole lot more with this band than he did with Furthur, so it’s easier to hear him and appreciate his voice.

     While I remember people complaining about some of Furthur’s tempos being too slow (“Truckin’,” “The Other One,” and “The Music Never Stopped” being some examples that come to mind), they played much faster than Dead & Co does.  Some songs like “Caution” and “The Eleven” were actually pretty fast, and “King Solomon’s Marbles” was both fast and complicated!  Dead & Company, while they have found a good sound and groove in their slowed down tempos, plays way too slow on most of their songs.  I don’t necessarily want the coked-up speeds of the 80’s, but I do want the music to get a little frantic now and again.  “Saint of Circumstance,” especially, loses a lot of its appeal and fun when it’s slowed down so much.  I understand that Bobby has a hard enough time remembering lyrics when the songs are at higher speeds, and slowing some of these songs down gives them room to evolve, but we want to dance!  At my first Furthur show, on the way into “Cosmic Charlie” out of “New Speedway Boogie,” I even remember Phil stepping to the mic and saying, “don’t slow down,” to the band.

     The Grateful Dead basically invented the jam band genre, and both Furthur and Dead & Company have carried on the tradition.  Dead & Company, however, has not yet gotten as good at jamming as Furthur.  Sure, they can jam on a particular song for a while without problem, but jamming between songs is always a little iffy with them.  More often they’ll just stop playing one song and start playing the next one, maybe with someone (Bobby) still playing a little in between.  Furthur, on the other hand, totally mastered the art of the transition jam.  Jeff, Joe, and John were so good at just taking off on a totally new jam at the drop of a hat, and Phil and Bobby were always right there with them.  Some of my most profound moments at Dead shows have been during those in between passages, and you just don’t get them from Dead & Company.

     Now it’s time to get a little more specific, and things could get a little personal here, so I just want to clear the air right off the bat and remind you that I love both of these bands and everyone involved in them, so there are no hard feelings.  To compare the bands here, imagine you’re in a version of Boston in another universe where Furthur and Dead & Company are somehow both playing at the same time.  Not only that, but both bands are playing in Boston tonight, Furthur at the Wang Theatre and Dead & Company at the Wilbur Theatre.  The Wang is maybe a little nicer, but let’s say they’re exactly the same quality on the inside, the only difference is the band that’s playing; which band do you see?

     Let’s start with the two carry-overs, Bobby and Jeff.  You’d think there wouldn’t be much to compare here, but Bobby really is playing very differently now.  His guitars sound way better with Dead & Company than they ever did with Furthur, where I always felt like his sound was too shrill, distorted, and piercing, compared to the more melodic and cleaner sounds he’s getting now.  He still makes some of the same sounds, but they still manage to sound better than they used to.  He also has a new guitar that just sounds beautiful, so that helps.  I think he’s singing better now too, and just seems healthier overall.  So for prime Bobby, I would definitely see Dead & Company.

     We’ve already mentioned Jeff’s singing, which is better and more prominent than it was with Furthur, but I think his playing in Furthur was better than what he puts out with Dead & Company.  He’s still the best keyboardist around, at least for Dead bands (sorry, Benevento and Barraco), and I don’t think he’s playing any worse; in fact, after seeing him with Golden Gate Wingmen, he’s probably better than ever.  But in Furthur he had a much more prominent role in the band.  While Dead & Company might be “more Grateful Dead” in that the lead guitar takes 90% of the solos (more on that in a bit), that means that Jeff doesn’t get as many leads or as much of the spotlight as he did in Furthur.  He and Joe Russo were arguably as fundamental to Furthur’s sound as Bobby and Phil were, and that psychic link hasn’t quite translated to Dead & Company.  With one drummer the music can change at the drop of a hat, but with two drummers you need to plan things out in advance a little more, and that just doesn’t leave room for the rhythmic deconstruction that Jeff and Joe would engage in.  So Jeff is still playing incredibly, but if you want more Chimenti for your buck, you would have to see Furthur.

     Since I already brought up the drummers, let’s compare the three of them.  This is where is starts getting tricky, and the most like the ‘74-’76 comparisons between the bands.  Nothing compares to the Rhythm Devils when they’re hitting their stride, but the thing is, and this is no secret, they aren’t always in that sweet spot.  I think in Dead & Company they typically do play very well with only some minor rough spots, but the old comparison to two shoes in a dryer is sometimes still applicable, and there have been a few trainwrecks in both tours.  The fact is they’re just a bit older, and drumming takes more out of you than playing guitar, so it only makes sense that sometimes they would lose their groove a little more.  Mickey is also more of an auxiliary percussionist than a regular drummer at this point, which can be good, but means the drums don’t quite explode the way they used to.  Joe Russo, however, explodes at a constant rate, and is possibly the best drummer there is.  He’s not very showy, and he doesn’t take twenty minute drum excursions (unfortunately), but he is the most driving, precise, and expansive drummer I know of.  He can switch between time signatures without hesitation, and can turn on a musical dime whenever the music demands it.  And this isn’t to say Furthur never screwed up or had miscommunications, but I think they never had a true trainwreck.  Whenever a mistake would happen or a transition got flubbed, they could just jam out of it and try again, which i something you just can’t do as easily with two drummers.

     Like comparing pre- and post-hiatus versions of the band, it’s weird comparing the drumming of one drummer to that of two.  There are things that the two drummers can build up to that one drummer just can’t compare to, and songs like “Tennessee Jed” and “Ramble On Rose” are probably performed better by Dead & Company because of that.  With one drummer, though, the music becomes a lot more streamlined, and it frees the band up to play with more dynamics.  Something like “Dark Star,” “The Other One,” or “Eyes of the World” becomes a lot more elastic, as there are fewer musicians to agree or disagree on the tempo and time signature.  While it’s true that the Dead’s flirtations with time signatures in the first place came mostly from the addition of Mickey to the band as the second drummer, that was fifty years ago and the drummers are a lot more conservative about the songs they play and the tempos they’re played at.  Furthur really dove back into the older catalogue, and played fast, tricky songs like “The Eleven” and “King Solomon’s Marbles” like they wrote them, thanks in no small part to Joe’s incredible drumming.  As close of a call as it is, I would have to go see Joe with Furthur over Billy and Mickey with Dead & Company.

     This one isn’t as close, and it’s nothing personal, but I can say without hesitation that I would rather see Phil then Oteil.  I’ve sung Oteil’s praises ever since I saw him perform with Hot Tuna for Jorma’s 70th birthday celebration, and I was thrilled when they announced him as the bass player for Dead & Company.  Not only that, but once I actually saw him with the band I realized he was playing even better than I had expected him to, and is a perfect match for the band.  He sings well, he plays a very different kind of bass than Phil that still manages to fit the Dead sound, and he is a constant picture of a happy musician.  That all having been said, Phil Lesh is still Phil Lesh.  He’s the Phillest.  Phil-er-up.  Only love can Phil.  If you really need more justification for why Phil lesh is the best possible bass player for the Grateful Dead, then I don’t understand you, please explain yourself in the comments below.

     Now we get to the part of this comparison that I feel most conflicted about: John vs John.  In some ways this isn’t quite fair, because Kadlecik has been playing the Dead’s music for at least twenty years now (according to his Wikipedia page), whereas Mayer just got on the bus in the last few years.  Now for some, his history in Dead cover bands, especially as a founding member of Dark Star Orchestra, is actually a strike against Kadlecik.  He’s what people think of when they think of Fake Jerry’s.  In reality, though, his playing style is very much his own.  I think he’s one of the best guitarists in the Dead world because he has such an intuitive understanding of the music, and he knows when he needs to play the Jerry line to pull the song together, but really adds his own unique sound.  Of course Mayer absolutely adds his own sound to the music as well, and because he comes from such a different musical world than Kadlecik that perhaps has a more profound effect on the music.  Mayer also can play the Jerry line when it’s appropriate, but to me it sometimes seems a little forced when he does it, like he’s intentionally playing a riff over the song, instead of the that riff coming from the song naturally.  I felt that way about some of Trey’s playing at Fare Thee Well too, that sometimes it felt more like a rehearsed trick than an organic part of the music.

     So Kadlecik definitely feels more like a natural fit to the music in some ways, but in others Mayer seems more like a Grateful Dead guitarist.  Kadlecik just doesn’t have the same dominating stage presence that Jerry had (allegedly, obviously I wasn’t there), but Mayer sure does.  It’s not that he’s flashy or flamboyant, but that everyone on stage and in the crowd has their eyes and ears on him at all times.  When he goes in for a solo, everyone stands back and gives him all the room he needs, and he always comes up with great results; he’s more of a soloist than a jammer.  That’s why you got more Jeff solos in Furthur and fewer in Dead & Company, which is a lot more like classic Grateful Dead: Mayer is just going to solo over everything.  That approach works great for songs like “Loser,” Brown-Eyed Women,” and “Eyes of the World,” but when it comes to something like “Bird Song” or “Dark Star,” it feels again like Mayer is struggling to fit the pieces of the puzzle together instead of playing the music as a whole.

     When it comes to singing, though, there’s no contest.  I do really like Kadlecik’s voice, and there are some Dead songs he might sing better than Mayer from a stylistic perspective, but Mayer’s voice is liquid gold.  I thought it was a little too poppy at first, but I think he’s made it fit with these beautiful songs so well.  He’s great on everything from Jerry ballads to rockers, from Pig Pen blues to the majesty of Terrapin.  And when he’s singing, it’s harder for him to make those silly faces, so it’s a double win!

     But get down to brass tacks, which John is the better guitar player?  We could equivocate all day about the different factors, differences in taste, and backgrounds, but forget all that.  Which one would get me to go to their hypothetical show in Boston?  I think that John Mayer is the better guitar player from a technical standpoint; he’s a virtuoso.  But I would rather see Furthur with John Kadlecik.  I love the ways that he plays Grateful Dead songs, and the musical blesh that he had with that band.  I acknowledge all the bias that I have because it’s the first Dead band I saw and fell in love with, but that’s just how it is.  If this last tour was any indication, Dead & Company is only getting better, so maybe my answer will change as time goes on, but I think Furthur was a better band than Dead & Company currently is.  They were a tighter musical unit, they were more adventurous, and I think they were better at connecting to the Old Powers that these bands all draw from.

     Like I said earlier, it’s kind of like comparing the band before and after ‘75, and that’s because it’s hard to say which band is “more” Grateful Dead.  I think Mayer brings a big presence to the band that has been missing since Jerry died, but Furthur captures the spirit of a younger Grateful Dead.  Dead & Company sometimes feels to me like what would have happened if the Grateful Dead had never stopped touring, but that’s not entirely a good thing.  Part of what killed Jerry and created divisions in the band was the constant burden of touring, and playing the same formulaic sets every night.  Furthur, on the other hand, felt like a return to the early days of the band, when they were still exploring the new territory they had created for themselves, before they really knew what a Grateful Dead concert was or would become.

     So there it all is, folks.  There is of course so much more that could be talked about, and I encourage you all to do so in the comments below.  I started this as just a short review of the Dead & Company tour, but it ended up turning into a great catharsis for the conflict I’ve been feeling between these bands, and I hope it was elucidating for the rest of you in some way.  Of course, there is no real right or wrong here (maaannnn); both bands are great for different reasons, and really we’re all lucky to live in a time with so much incredible music in the Grateful Dead world.  If you want to stay updated on when more posts are coming out, you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @21stCenturyDead, or just keep checking back here!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Golden Gate Wingmen - Brighton Music Hall - 2016-08-13

    The Dead & Company tour may be over, but there’s still plenty of Grateful Dead music being played!  This past Saturday my parents and I went back to the Brighton Music Hall to see John Kadlecik, but in a different band.  This was the Golden Gate Wingmen, who we saw in the same place last summer, and it is made up of John, Jeff Chimenti, Jay Lane on drums, and Reed Mathis on bass.  They play a lot of non-Dead songs, but can be put in the same category as JRAD; if you’re the kind of person who puts labels on things, mannnn.

    The show wasn’t quite sold out, but there was still a lot of people in the dance hall, and I think Jeff Chimenti might be more responsible for that than anyone else.  The other musicians are obviously big draws themselves, all having played in various band including ones with Grateful Dead members, but Jeff has been in the most Dead bands and is the least divisive among fans.  I actually ran into John and Jeff in the smoking area out back (and I didn’t pass out of freak out at them), and after a bit someone asked Jeff, “What’s it like playing with John Mayer, did you finally dose him?,” at which point Kadlecik kind of rolled his eyes and went inside and Jeff shrugged the question off.  Maybe John has some hard feelings about there being a new guitar-John on the Dead scene, but I think probably not.
    The show got a bit of a late start, but we were all ready to dance all night, so we weren’t bothered!  We were dead center, just a couple people back from the stage, so we had great view and sound.  For whatever reason, there’s a soundboard of the show available here, which is awesome!

First Set
  • Nobody Told Me
    • We had seen John do this a few months ago with his JK Band, but we could already tell that this show was going to be a lot better.
    • John really sings and plays Lennon songs so well, and the rest of the band was already playing like mad men.  Reed Mathis plays bass like no one else, feeling more than comfortable just sitting on two notes for a whole song, but liable to slip into an incredible lead at any point.  Besides his regular bass playing, he also has a filter that makes his bass play two octaves at once, so he sounds like an electric guitar and a bass playing together, which is mind blowing.
    • Jay Lane, of Furthur, Ratdog, and Primus fame, was playing way better than I remember him playing last year, augmenting the rhythms and timings of all the songs they played, but staying right with the other musicians.  It’s a very Furthur-esque way of playing, which makes sense with three members of that band.
  • Brown-Eyed Woman
    • Another one we had just seen John do, but this was again worlds apart from that version.
    • This one was played so ferociously, with John, Jeff, and Reed exchanging the most blistering solos, while Jay played with and deconstructed the beat below them.
    • I always think of the 11/11/11 Furthur performance of this song as the gold standard, and I think this one might actually have been better, but it’s truly hard to say.
    • They took a small tuning break and make some Yellow Submarine jokes.
  • Seen Love
    • Three in a row that John played last time he was in Brighton, but three in a row that were better performances!
    • This song mostly has an undulating reggae-esque feel, but this band took the jams way out there.  They got into some truly deep space, getting close to a kind of “King Solomon’s Marbles” feel, then ditching that for some pure, jammy goodness.
    • I don’t want to get too into this now because I already have a post in the works somewhat devoted to this very topic, but John K can get to those formless spaces so much easier than certain other guitarists in the Dead world.
  • Just Like a Woman
    • Reed asked how we were all doing, and got a much bigger thrill out of our response than he expected, so asked if we could do it again.  I hadn’t seen him out in the smoking area, but he was definitely in some kind of State of Mind.
    • Reed’s first vocal lead of the night, with John singing all the other songs.  Reed has such a beautiful voice, very folksy while also sounding a bit like alternative rock.
    • He and Jay were the main forces behind the heavy syncopation that was present in a lot of these songs, and John and Jeff never lost a beat, playing their solos over the breakdowns and coming back to the regular rhythm all together.
    • Jeff got a literal solo in this song when Reed told the rest of the band to cut out and shushed the crowd, leading into a breathtaking lead from John.
  • Lazy River Road
    • Not my favorite Dead song, but I like it a lot better than plenty of others, and it gave the band room for more mellow, harmonic solos.
    • This is also a great song for John’s voice, which is not the most refined voice, but is still very nice and emotive.
  • Givin’ Me The Business
    • This is from the album that John made with Melvin Seals (of the JGB), American Spring, and besides the chorus being a serious case of questionable phrasing (givin’ me the business, in my own backyard) it’s a great song.
    • It’s got a harder vibe to it, kind of like a mix between “After Midnight” and “Me & My Uncle.”
    • They rocked through the jam section with everyone, including Jay, getting solos, before briefly rocketing into unknown, feedbacky territory.
  • Loser
    • One of the highlights of the show, and like with “Brown-Eyed Women,” it passed the 11/11/11 test.
    • A great intro jam to this one, with Reed and John teasing the main riff, but taking their time actually getting into the song, sometimes getting close to a “Spanish Jam” feeling.
    • Reed repeated the “cup of cold coffee” verse, but acknowledged it by singing “I told ya twice.”
    • The solo to this “Loser” has got to be one of the best pieces of music there is, it’s just so heart wrenching and haunting, while also being a perfect platform for blistering rock and roll.
  • Feel Like Dynamite
    • Super funky, this one got everyone dancing!
    • Again, this band is so good on just turning on a dime and going of on a jam that’s almost totally divorced from the song they were playing.  It’s different from how Furthur did it in that this is a lot more democratic, whereas Bobby and Phil (mostly Phil) were always the chief deciding factors in what direction a song or jam would take.  These guys have the classic non-leader vibe going on, with each of them stepping up to lead the band only when it was right, and no clash of egos at all.

    They closed out the set with big smiles and loud cheers from us.  They were all found in the smoking area during break, but not a lot of us stayed out there as the rain and thunder started to roll in.  During the first set, Jeff had removed the top of his Rhodes piano and had been repairing it while he was playing it, which is impressive!  He had some feedback issues with it, but folded up some pieces of paper and fiddled around with a needle or something, and soon had it in working order.  He had that Rhodes and an organ, neither of which I think we’ve seen him play, and both sounded great.  Not only that, but Jeff was the real hero of the show, playing those instruments like no one else in the world can.  You could even say he showed us his power...

    A short setbreak, I think mostly because of the rain outside driving everyone in.  There was then a good amount of smoking and vaping going on in the venue, which no one complained about.  The Cool Mom next to me kept telling her teenage son he should feel free to start smoking and he pretended not to know who she was.  The band came back out on stage with illegal smiles, and we were off into the second set!
Second Set (* w/ Todd Stoops)
  • She Belongs to Me
    • Another great Dylan song, this time sung (very well) by John.
    • The Dead killed this one when they played it, even later in Jerry’s life, but this one was a version for the ages too.  A lot peppier than when the Dead did it.
    • Reed’s been working on a project called Electric Beethoven, which is basically a reworking of Beethoven’s classics in a 21st Century Acid Rock kind of way, and some of his solos in the second set had a more classical and elemental feel to them than other leads he played.
    • Jeff’s Rhodes had some feedback issues at the beginning of this set, but he got that baby working again.  Some banter from the band while they fixed it, Jeff complaining that it’s always his fault...
  • Golden Wings
    • I’m kind of embarrassed I didn’t recognize this song when they played it; it’s got (kind of) the name of the band in it!
    • More great vocals from John here, and some great “wooshing” noises from Jay on his microphone…
    • Once again, they took a relatively simple jam and took it out back and beat it with a  tire iron until it told them all of its secrets.
    • Reed started hinting at, and then full on playing, the “Estimated Prophet” rhythm, and they were about to really commit to it when they all kind of had a chat, then went back into “Join Together.”  The reason why would soon be clear…
    • John switched on his MIDI filter and started playing what sounded exactly like a grand piano, and it went great with Jeff’s Rhodes.  Again, hints of what was to come.
  • Dark Star >
    • Another one you could have called it “Jam > Dark Star,” but we all know how I feel about that.  John and Reed kind of gave the song away (or intentionally hinted at it) on the intro jam, and I totally called that shit.
    • A really heavy “Dark Star,” with a relentless jam on the way in.  Reed went from complicated multi-octave leads to the most minimalist bass playing he did all night, just thumping away on the downbeats while John and Jeff screeched into the stratosphere and Jay pummeled his drum kit.
    • They finally did the opening “Dark Star” riff, toyed with the main theme for a bit, dove into the first verse, and then drifted back into space.
  • Join Together >
    • I didn’t realize this was a The Who song, I always just categorized it as another generic classic rock radio song that wasn’t actually written by anyone.
    • This song has a triumphant, victorious feel to it that John really does well.
    • Not surprisingly, they jammed this song out a lot more than The Who ever did.
    • No one plays the organ quite like Jeff Chimenti, he’s truly a master of the art.  I could listen to him play that thing all day everyday, and never get bored.
  • Dark Star * >
    • They went into a serious meltdown jam on the way back into this song, then suddenly snapped together to do the final verse.
    • John sang both verses of the song, and he did it great, but I was hoping they trade the verses and Jeff and Reed would each get one.
    • John got on his MuTron and started womping about, until they finally decided it was time to play “Estimated.”
    • On the way there, a roadie brought another bench out and put it next to Jeff, then Todd Stoops came out on stage!
  • Estimated Prophet * >
    • They must have promised Todd they wouldn’t do this one without him, and he was indeed a great addition.  He had impressed us back with the JK Band, but he really stepped up his playing for this band.  He and Jeff really blended well together, and Jeff of course has experience playing with other keyboardists in Dead bands.
    • We had hoped Reed would sing this one, and he exceeded our expectations.  His drawn-out voice is perfect for the “Estimated” character and his lonely insistence that he knows the way.
    • Reed and Jay really funked this one up with their telepathic syncopations.
    • The outro jam started to build up from the uncertain dissonance they had reached to a brighter climax, and we all knew where they were headed...
  • Eyes of the World * >
    • This had been at the top of my list for songs I wanted to see the band do this time, so I was of course thrilled, especially once John took off on a stellar intro lead once they had established the song’s beat.
    • Jeff and Todd both got solos that they shared with John in the body of the song.  John also threw in some of what sounded like teases at TLC’s “Waterfalls,” which was fun and unexpected!
    • Todd did some singing, which didn’t mesh too well with the rest of the band to my ears, but definitely not the worst singing I’ve heard from a Dead band.
    • As with pretty much everything these guys played, this was a lot faster than the Dead & Company versions we had heard lately.
    • They kind of broke down to just drums and a mellow jam while welcoming Todd back off the stage, then built the jam back up and made the surprising transition to...
  • Touch of Grey
    • After this song Jay was raving about how they gave it a ska rhythm, and he was really excited about it!  It didn’t make the biggest difference to the song, but it did make it stand out from other versions I’ve seen, and was a nice touch (ha).

  • Liberty
    • One of my favorite nineties songs from the Dead, so glad to get it!  John sings it so well, too.

    Well that’s the show!  I highly recommend you all go out and see this band if you get the chance.  They’re all excellent musicians, and the music is of the highest quality, but there’s none of the pressure or angst that can come with bigger concerts in bigger venues.  Like JRAD, these guys have taken the Grateful Dead catalogue and tradition and stood them on their heads while simultaneously still honoring them.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Dave's Picks 19 (1970-01-23 & 24)

     Once again Dave Lemieux has deemed another show (and a half) worthy of being Picked.  He's got a great track record so far, and Dave's Picks 19 continues his winning streak.  It is from the band's trip to Hawaii in January of 1970, and features two of TC's final shows.  The show on the 23rd is one I've had for a few years that I fell in love with at first listen, but haven't heard in a while, so it's great to have it in (mostly) pristine quality, mastered once again by Jeffrey Norman.  The 24th was one I was less familiar with, which of course is always more exciting for an official release.  In Dave's Seaside Chat he points out that they are missing most of this show, but what they do have is great, so it makes sense to fill out DaP 19 with this third disc.

     This is the third Dave's Picks from this era, with DaP 6 featuring shows from December of 1969 and February of 1970, and DaP 10 featuring another show from December 1969.  While I think Dave should maybe branch out a little more, I haven't been disappointed by any of his releases yet, so I trust all of his choices at this point.  This one isn't necessarily the best of the series, with some songs feeling pretty standard, as opposed to other Picks where every song is a standout version.  That having been said, the highlights of this show make it more than worth listening to, so it all equals out.  So let's dive in, and feel free to leave your own opinions in the comment section below!

A terrapin riding a surfboard near a mountainous tropical island, with the sun on the horizon

January 23, 1970
  • China Cat Sunflower >
    • A great early version of this pairing of songs, possibly the best from this era.
    • It's an unusual song to open with, but the band jumps right in and are immediately on the same wavelength (maybe a bad pun about surfing?).
    • As well all know, this was a transitional period for the band.  They were working on Workingman's Dead and their new countrified sound while still playing a lot of Primal Dead music.  They still had that raw, thriving sound, but were getting better at mellowing into slower grooves and playing more basic songs.  This "China > Rider" is a perfect example of their transitioning sound totally working; if you think about it, "China > Rider" as a pairing is kind of symbolic of this mix of pure psychedelia moving into a sprawling country sentimentality.
    • Bobby's solo on the way out of "China Cat" isn't as fully developed as it would get as the first half of the seventies progressed, but it's still excellent.  This is one of the best things about these early releases, you can hear what start as little hints or teases at ideas that eventually turn into full on staples of these classic songs.
  • I Know You Rider
    • While I prefer these seventies versions of this song, one benefit to the eighties and nineties ones is they went through the solo sections more times, giving the song room to build and build.  This one, like most others until after the hiatus, feels a little strangled.  The band is playing so well and with so much energy that it just doesn't seem natural for the solos to be so short-lived.
    • I loved TC in DaP 10, and I think he's just as good here, if a little softer in the mix.  His playing is part of what makes this particular point in the band's transition so interesting, he acts as a tether to the psychedelic spaces they were reaching the year before, while simultaneously helping the band develop the new direction they were moving in.
    • Phil does a descending vocal line on the final verse that catches me off guard each time I listened to it, but I really love it.
  • Black Peter
    •  Unlike the later sixties versions of this song, here in 1970 it is already in its final form.  It still sounds kind of raw, and of course it feels different with different keyboardists, but it has all of the recognizable parts that are found in the song for the rest of its lifespan.
    • Besides the raw sound I mentioned, you wouldn't know that this was a relatively new song in this band's repertoire from the way they play it.  The whole band knows where the changes and twists are, and there are no hiccups or hesitations.
  • Yellow Dog Story
    • Jerry broke his string and had to fix it, on account of he broke it, so Bobby took this as an opportunity to tell a story.
    • One of the better takes of this particular joke, featuring some Pig Pen interjections and pig noises.
    • Besides the joke, there's some good old banter from Bobby and Pig about drummers and bearded clowns.
  • Hard to Handle
    • Pig kind of jumbles some of the lyrics like he did for most 1969 takes of this song, but he's so authentic about it, how can we really criticize him?
    • Unlike those 1969 versions, they jam the hell out of this one, starting to get towards the peak performances of the song that they reached in Summer of 1971.  This version is a little further out than the later versions, again due to the lingering psychedelia of the sixties.  In 1971 the jam became a little more structured in the way it developed, whereas this one kind of tumbles and boils over according to its own whims.  One could even say it's more choogly...
    • Bobby, Jerry, and Phil really drive this performance, with Bobby providing a platform for the other two to leap off of.  Again, TC is pretty low in the mix on this one, but he has some good fills of his own, and the drummers don't miss a beat.
  • Mama Tried
    • Classic lyrical amnesia from Bobby, because that's what we signed up for.
    • Very laid back country music here, as opposed to more hyped (coked) up, rocking versions of this from the rest of the band's career.  I like both versions for different reasons, but at this very moment the country version is winning out.
  • Casey Jones
    • There is about a minute of "Casey Jones" before the tape cuts.
    • This is disappointing, but not the end of the world, I'm just not sure why Dave would pick an incomplete show for a Dave's Picks release.  The songs that aren't missing are great, and it's definitely a show worth listening to, but Dave puts such an emphasis on releasing entire shows in this series that it seems like an odd choice.
  • Dire Wolf
    • Talk about laid back, this is as mellow as the show gets.
    • This is actually quite a bit different from the versions we would hear for the rest of the band's career, unlike "Black Peter."  With two drummers, Pig Pen on claves, and TC's ghostly organ, this early version really stands out as a beautiful alternative.  Maybe a little more dire, if you will (you don't have to).
  • Good Lovin'
    • If it weren't for "Lovelight," this would maybe be the best Pig Pen song on DaP 19.
    • I think the best versions of this song are the spacier and more precise ones from the Europe '72 Tour, but earlier ones like this are a lot more powerful and driving, and there's something to be said for psychedelia that spills over the lines.
    • They do the drum break that's typical of "Good Lovin'"s from this era, and once again the drummers are locked perfectly together.  As this year progressed they got a lot looser, but here they are still tightly in sync.
    • Jerry jumps back into the song and finds his place right in the the middle of the groove the drummers created, then Phil and the rest join in and the song starts to shift and evolve.  They shift back and forth from mellow grooves, to frantic peaks, to anxious psychedelic corners that Jerry and Phil shove the song into, while the drummers thunder along to the beat.
  • That's It For The Other One >
    • No time to catch your breath, because this is probably the highlight of DaP19.  They do the whole suite, and it's just about as perfect as it gets.
    •  They glide through "Crytpical" into another great drum break, with a little bit of feedback peaking through the cracks from the guitarists.
    • The drummers reach a climax, then shift down into the "Other One" rhythm and Phil comes thundering in, nailing his intro run.
    • As you might know, "The Other One" is my favorite Dead song, or at least in the top 5, and this version is an excellent demonstration of why that is.  Sure, it doesn't reach the same distant universes that Keith and the band would later reach, but they take what would otherwise seem like a simple riff on just a chord or two, and turn it into Dragon Music.  The band is telepathically linked with one another, and they just let the Old Powers flow through them while they chase the music and each other across the shifting and swirling time signatures.
    • They fly through the first verse and launch into a space that's a little farther out than the song got in 1969, but not quite get as far out as it would get later in the decade.  They return to the theme and thrash it about and explore all of its possibilities.  Jerry plays his classic riff that signals they're coming the end of the song, they mellow back into the rhythm, and shift into the second verse, transitioning smoothly into the "Cryptical Reprise."
    • They mellow into the easy lope of the outro jam, with Jerry getting some country-esque roynks out of his guitar.  They slowly build the song up, let it drift away, and build it up again, until they let it drift away one last time, and Phil slides them into...
  • Dark Star >
    • No complaints about that transition at all!
    • According to the info I have, this is the last "Dark Star" with TC as a full-time member in the band (he did sit-in with them at least one time in April of '71).
    • A pretty mellow start to the song leading up to the first verse, mostly staying on the theme.
    • Once they finish the riff after the verse, though, Bobby and Phil lead the way into a dissonant, dissipating space.  Most "Dark Star"s from this era did this kind of thing, dissolving into a very loud silence punctuated by bursts and blips of feedback, organ runs, and gong splashes, and this one is particularly good.
    • Phil is the first to start to really crack through the sonic barrier, and the feedback builds until it subtly turns into a jam.  It's not quite the "Feelin' Groovy" jam, but it's similar, kind of like a mix between that and the "Beautiful Jam" from the 1971-02-18 "Dark Star," and Bobby is playing some of his best guitar here.  He's truly leading the way through new musical territory in a way that no one else can.
    • They march triumphantly back into something recognizable as "Dark Star" and shift into position for the closing lyrics.  They nail the outro, as well as the intro to...
  • St. Stephen >
    • A very punchy "St. Stephen," but also very tight.  There are maybe some (more) cracks in the different instruments' tuning showing, but what can we really expect from early Dead?
    • Not too much to distinguish this St. Stephen from other versions of it from this era, but that doesn't mean it's lacking at all.  It's very high energy, and there's no confusion over lyrics or parts.
    • They get to the jam after "one man gathers what another man spills," and really hit a peak in their playing, and then instead of finishing "St. Stephen" they take a sudden left turn into "Lovelight!"
  • Turn on Your Lovelight
    • Despite what some people, and even their typically sane alter egos, might say, there is nothing wrong with a 38 minute "Lovelight."  Sure, Pig Pen has a lot of "wait a minute"s and "tighten up now"s, but throughout it all the Grateful Dead is playing its collective hearts out.
    • Seriously, this song gives Jerry almost as much freedom as "Dark Star."  He can follow the main song and play straight rock or blues, or he can take it into outer space and dance among the stars, and the rest of the band will follow him, until Pig Pen decides to tell us all about it.
    • Some interloper comes on stage at one point and Pig Pen tries to get a back and forth going with the guy, but he's too shy, too high, or both, and just yells for a bit and then leaves.
    • Pig Pen and the boys bring the song up to a raving climax and close out the first night of the Hawaii trip.
 January 24, 1970
  • Cumberland Blues
    • Another song that is better when it's a bit longer, but a great version of it nonetheless.
    • This is still played ferociously, and is another song made more noticeably unique by TC's contributions.
    • The singing in this show is a bit rougher in general, I think, but it's not the worst I've heard these guys sing.
  • Cold Rain & Snow
    • An early slow version of this song, compared to the hyper versions from their earlier days.  I like both versions, but the slower way of playing lasted until the end of the band, and is more iconic.  It also gives them more room to build the song up, sand the solo doesn't feel as rushed.
    • Again, some tuning issues from both singers and players, but undeniable energy and tightness in the playing.  "A" for effort, right?
  • Me & My Uncle
    • Another fun one with TC, feels a little like a cartoon Western.
    • Jerry's solo has a real bite to it, and the drummers create a relentless beat behind the song. 
    • This time Bobby broke a string, and they take a small break to fix it.
  • I'm a King Bee
    •  A lot of people overlook this when talking about Pig Pen, and I think that's a real shame.  It's a great slow-burner of a song, giving Pig plenty of space to blow his harp and sing his blues while the band slides under him.
    • Not to mention Jerry's blues solos combined with that Primal Dead sharpness to his sound.
    • I forgot how much I loved the dynamic those two had when trading leads.  When I think of Jerry I think of 50 years of Guitar Hero stardom, but at this point in 1970 he had only really been a big name for a couple of years, and those years started with him following Pig, who was the original leader.  You can hear how much those two love and respect one another in their playing.
  • Mason's Children
    • Dave Lemieux said this is possibly the best "Mason's Children," and he might be right.  I think  I like the first one from DaP 6 better, but Dave didn't oversell this one.
    • They come the closest to getting all of the lyrics right that I've heard from pre-1995, and the song feels faster and more complete than it did in earlier versions.
    • Phil clearly loved this song from its birth, and you have to wonder from the amount he plays it now if he brought it up at band meetings from 1970 on to bring the song back into rotation.  Just imagine a '74 version on the Wall of Sound with Keith!
    • They really stretch out the second jam of the song, with Jerry ripping off some stellar leads.
  • Black Peter
    • Not too different from the previous night's version, but Jerry's solo is a little more biting, like in "Me & My Uncle."
    • The outro jam is a little more lively and expansive too, with Jerry taking the song to different heights before bringing it back down to a close.
  • Good Lovin'
    • Unlike the previous night's version, when Billy and Mickey think it's their turn to shine Jerry and Phil immediately launch into a big jam, and the drummers can only follow along.
    •  This one isn't quite as driving as the night before, but has a little more funk to it.  Jerry and the rest of the band are focused more on finding new riffs to explore and settling into a groove than shooting off into outer space.
    • This one also has a cut in it, but thankfully it's at the very end of the song, so we get to hear the real meat of the jam.
  • Feedback >
    • Dave hypothesized that these next two tracks came after "Alligator > Caution," but no one can say for sure until the complete recording surfaces.
    • A very melodic "Feedback," helped out by TC's presence.
  • And We Bid You Goodnight
    • I think Jerry throws in a few extra verses on this one, but I haven't actually heard one of these in a while and I'm not going to do the research to find out.
    • Surprisingly, after some of the iffy vocals from the rest of this release, I really like this.  It's not the best version, or even particularly in tune, but they still manage to sound good together.  They know what their voices can and can't do, and try to craft the song in a way that works within those limitations.
    • They finish the song and the crowd keeps clapping, so Jerry delivers the cosmic message "that's your groove, take it with ya," which I'm sure some Hawaiians are still thinking about and clapping along too.
  • Dancing in the Streets
    • 1970 was arguably the best year for this song.  The earlier versions from 1967 are of course even more primal, and the "disco" versions from the later seventies had more funk to them, but ones like this are grade-A Grateful Dead.
    • Besides having the combined power and fury of two drummers, they take the jam from straight rock and roll and turn it into a marching dance through the clouds.  They really make it a much more spacey song than it was in any of its other iterations.
    • It's another case of Jerry and Phil not necessarily singing in tune while they do their backup vocals, but I just love that touch to these versions of the song!  Someone, I think Pig Pen, even picks up a tambourine, which usually is kind of hokey, but really brings the feeling of this song together: a pop song, performed while dancing on the edge of a black hole.
    • Seriously, how can they make such a simple pop song sound so metaphysically profound??
    • Jerry's guitar is like liquid silver dropping from the sun while Phil catches his leads before they hit the ground the drummers have created, and Bobby and TC shepherd the silver back up to the sun for Jerry to send back down.
    • They break through peak after peak in a series of musical climaxes, and eventually rock right back into the song itself and bring the night to an epic close.

     Well that's Dave's Picks 19!  All in all it's not the best Dave's Picks, but it definitely has some of the best songs Dave has released yet.  "That's It For The Other One" and "Dancing In The Streets" are Hall of Fame material, and we get some golden Pig Pen numbers.  Dave said DaP 20 is one they've been working on for a while, and that should be out in November, so it's a long wait for the fourth of the year!  I'll have a review of that once it comes out, and should have a review up shortly of Golden Gate Wingmen's show in Brighton on 2016-08-13, so stay tuned!