Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Dead & Company 2018-06-13, Hartford Xfinity Theatre

     Well I saw my final live show of Dead & Company's "Summer" Tour down in Hartford.  These Wednesday concerts are not the most convenient thing in the world, but I'd see these guys any day of the week.  In order to get south I had to first catch a couple of northbound trains (foreshadowing) and then meet up with my parents to finally drive out the Mass Pike and down to Hartford.  The weather had been threatening to rain leading up to the show (more foreshadowing), and we encountered some squalls on the way there, but the sky was already clearing for good when we got to the lot.  My friend who I see at every Dead show but never catch the name of serendipitously parked right behind us, and we soon met up with our friend Jimmy and his buddy to chat about our expectations and previous shows.

     We hung out at the end of the lot within sight of the train tracks and dirt piles/unofficial restrooms: scenic!  We had gotten lawn seats for this show, after splurging on the last one, and were eager to get in early to get good spots.  So after not too long we packed up our food and beers, and wandered through the easy-going security.  They had not yet opened the lawn, so we lined up and made some friends, realizing that the band was doing a late soundcheck!  We couldn't make most of it out, but heard Don't Ease Me In clearly, which got me excited.  While in line I also got myself headed towards a good state of mind to enjoy the show, and I didn't seem to be the only one with a secret smile starting to form.  They let us up the stairs a little late, but everyone was in such good spirits that we all just ran up the stairs whooping and laughing.  We snagged a great spot with unobstructed lines of sight, and we could also see trains rolling about in the yard next door which is a plus for me.  The clearing sky started to become colored by the sunset, and soon the band came on stage.


First Set

  • Hell in a Bucket
    • Like the last time we saw them here, they opened with a jam that was clearly going to turn into Bucket.
    • My one complaint from the Mansfield tour opener was that John wasn't stepping up to the plate as the lead guitarist, but right off the bat he was showing us that tonight would be different.  In this song, and every song they played tonight, Mayer was at the forefront of the music, making daring choices and taking risks- just like he should be!
    • Sometimes this led to some disagreements between him and Bob, like when John tried to bring the second solo to an end but Bob instead pushed him and Jeff to take it a little farther out.  But these disagreements always led to interesting and masterful improvisation from all members of the band as they got the song back to where it should be.
  • Next Time You See Me
    • Always great to see a Pigpen song thrown into the mix, but otherwise not much to say about this one.
  • Ramble on Rose
    • Dead & Co has been nailing Ramble on Rose since the first show we saw them do in 2015, and they've only gotten better.
    • John and Jeff were on the same mental plane for this whole show, and it led to seamless transitions between their solos.  That's crucial in a song like this where the band really builds the music up to crashing peaks with wide valleys drawn out between them.
    • I made an excursion to what I thought would be bathrooms but turned out to be porta-potties over in the corner of the amphitheater, where the band's tour buses were lined up in front of the train yard with a beautiful sunset in the back.  I danced my way back through the border between the seats and the lawn as Ramble was starting up, encountering increasingly weird scenes in the crowd as I went.  Maybe it was so weird because of certain decisions I made earlier, but this was still a truly weird (and very peaceful) crowd.
  • When I Paint My Masterpiece
    • We had seen Bob do this with Phil earlier in the year, but it was still great to get a full band version.
    • John was playing such delicately beautiful leads behind Bobby's singing, with Jeff swelling on the organ, switching to piano for the solo section.
    • Bobby was singing and playing incredibly this night, and it really showed here.  He was playing a blonde Fender that he started playing last year (I think) for a lot of the show, and while it does have a good sound to it, it was a little thin and didn't cut through the mix on some other songs.  Here it sounded great though!
  • Cumberland Blues
    • Another repeat from last time they played here, but this one was even better.  The band has just matured so much and made this version feel a lot more full-bodied.
    • Like I said up top, John was playing with a ton of confidence and energy, leading to two excellent solos here.  But the real star, of course, was Jeff during his solo.  While Jeff can play anything excellently, Cumberland and Eyes are his two powerhouses.  All you have to do is face him in the right direction, and he will carve the most amazing music you've ever heard out of the thin air.  He's been playing a chunky little baby grand for most of the tour, and it fits his style so well.
  • Black Muddy River
    • They kind of jammed into this one, making me think we were going to get another Bird Song, but they surprised us with what they almost exclusively play as an encore.
    • This song is one of John's best, but his voice seemed a little weak this night.  He had been singing some high harmonies with Bob on Masterpiece, but on his leads he kept his voice a lot lower than normal.  He still sang and played beautifully though, and the song felt as soulful as ever.
  • Don't Ease Me In
    • We had heard them doing a bit of this during soundcheck, but it was still great to see!  Knocked this off my list after far too long.
    • Like Alabama Getaway from two weeks earlier, this arrangement felt more oriented towards John's blues side, less of a jugband rocker.
    • The tempos so far had been excellent, but this one felt a little sluggish, maybe because of the blues shading.  But John and Jeff once again burned through their respective solos, with John's final one bringing the tempo up finally in order to bring it to a big finish.

     The lights came on (kind of) and my dad found his way back to us after taking his own bathroom break right after Cumberland and getting lost.  We hung out with our neighbors for a while and raved about the set so far.  While it hadn't had any big jam vehicles, the playing had an energy that was totally infectious and there were giant smiles everywhere.  The weather continued to hold off and it ended up being a beautiful summer night spent with thousands of new friends.  I spent a good amount of time trying to wrap my head around the size of the venue, which is apparently one of the largest amphitheaters in the country; at first it seems like you're just sitting on a grassy hill looking down at a stage, but then you realize just how far around the hill wraps, and how far the structure of the building extends, and it can get kind of freaky if you're in a freaky state of mind already.  Eventually the lights went back down and we all stood up ready for some more dancing.

Second Set

  • Feel Like a Stranger >
    • I had been hoping for one of these from this band ever since they formed, and this one more than lived up to my expectations.  John was still chomping at the bit, and as a result was all over this song in the best of ways.
    • The tempo was still at a surprisingly brisk clip for this band, and during the jam in the middle of the verses everyone was boogying down, with John and Jeff trading licks and riffs back and forth while Bobby and Oteil kept the groove going underneath them.
    • Bobby brought them back down from their stratospheric workings and finished up the lyrics, surprising us by not singing the "it's gonna be a long long crazy night/ silky silky crazy crazy night" lines, even though Jeff and Oteil were still singing the "feel like a stranger" part; weird!
    • The jam was really chugging along, and everything seemed just exactly perfect, but right when Bobby took them into the closing riff sequence, John decided to switch to his silver blues guitar, and then tried to jump back in.  This threw everything into a bit of disarray, and John, Bobby, and Jeff all tried to right the ship's course in order to finish it off right.  When they couldn't get back on the same page, John and Bobby both decided to just say "fuck it," and slammed into the big discordant chord than can only mean one thing...
  • Viola Lee Blues >
    • The final repeat from two years ago, and a welcome addition to tonight's show.  We had actually seen Furthur do this exact pairing to end a set before, and while this one wasn't quite as neat of a transition, it's still a cool combo.
    • John punctuated the song with a stellar descending riff that while a little showy was still very cool.  They do this song very different from Furthur or other Dead bands, in that it's a smoldering blues rocker that really just stays in one key instead of going through traditional blues changes.  This allows John to unleash solo after solo in an almost Hendrix-esque style.
    • After the first two lyrics and some virtuostic guitar, John locked eyes with Jeff and started hammering down on the main riff, which has always sounded to me like...
  • China Cat Sunflower >
    • Now that's a transition!  Maybe not quite JRAD levels of finesse, but an exciting and logical transition that the Dead never did.
    • This is where things got really interesting.  Once again the song was bouncing along and everything seemed fine, but then Bobby tried to give john some inscrutable stage direction in the middle of the solo.  John looked at him to do one thing, Bobby looked away to do another, and Jeff practically leapt over his keyboard to yell "NO!" at them, but it was too late and they were in uncharted and unplanned territory.  While normally this is a recipe for disaster and a certain trainwreck, an amazing thing happened: they fixed it!  John just kept soloing, and I thought maybe they would just shoot right in Rider, but instead they circled around and around until they were all back in the right respective positions, and then they jumped into the final changes of the solo and made it back into the lyrics!  The crowd erupted in cheering, and I was laughing with tears coming down my face. This is what we came for, not for perfect and conservative playing, but for balls-to-the-wall risk-taking adventure with big pay-offs when it all comes together.
  • I Know You Rider >
    • The transition between these two slowed things down and got pretty loose, but they brought it back together for a triumphant iteration of this classic song.  John led the way through Bobby's old transition riff, which felt a bit off, but it helped get the tempo back up.
    • The first solo section was shorter and laid back, but after the final verses they really picked up steam and went around for a bunch of solos.  I thought maybe it stayed there for a little too long, but everyone else was enjoying it, and it led to some truly great licks from John.
    • I don't want to sound like a broken record, but John and Jeff's connection at this show was one of my favorite parts.  It was less call and response, and more akin to the classic Grateful Dead group mind, the two of them finishing each other's solos and suggestions like they're old friends.
  • Man Smart, Woman Smarter >
    • Ok, my only complaint of the show is one that echoes back to the 80's: this song is great, but this placement feels like a bit of a let down.  Some monster jam needs to go into Drums, like Terrapin or Dark Star!!
    • Now that my complaint is out of the way, I can get to how well they played.  Bobby was once again singing at his best, and this is a song I've always loved him on so really everything was pretty great.  For the last time, it is worth pointing out that John and Jeff really pushed the envelope on this one, making it feel bigger and more powerful than it would have in its "rightful" place as a first set song.
    • They finished up the song with a bit of an a capella jam, which seemed a bit out of place, while also feeling exactly right in this context.
  • Drums >
    • I don't know how he did it, but Oteil managed to get out from under his bass and take up positions by some marimba-sounding thing in about two seconds flat.  Billy stayed at his kit for a while while Oteil and Mickey got a groove going on their different sounding percussion instruments of choice.  Mickey even had the Beam bouncing to the rhythm and seemingly the chords of Man Smart, which was fun in a very weird way.
    • A few people sat down, which you would expect, but a lot of people were still up and dancing, including us and a lot of our neighbors.
    • Eventually the rhythms died down and the whole amphitheater and hill turned into sounding boards for Mickey and the Beam.  After a couple of minutes of having our heads rattled, Mickey left the stage and thee was a bit of a full stop between Drums and Space.  I still have a ">" listed because it's tradition.
  • Space >
    • This Space kind of reminded me of the one from Fenway two years ago, in that it was more of an percussionless jam than a traditional Space.  Bobby, John, and Jeff, eventually joined by Oteil, took their time in creating a delicate and beautiful tapestry of music that flowed effortlessly between each player.
    • Eventually the Rhythm Devils returned to their positions, and the jam started to pick up steam.  It built higher and higher into a cacophony, and then they pulled the rug out from under us and thudded back into...
  • Viola Lee Blues >
    • Viola Lee!  In retrospect we all should have seen this coming, but it caught me off guard and put an even bigger smile on my face.
    • Jeff thought they were going to finish the last verse with another big discordant chord, but instead was the only one who did that, fading into the little jam that the rest of the band had going.  He of course made up for this by taking the lead and ending the jam on a beautifully resolved chord, giving way for Bobby to start strumming what was hard to make out at first, but immediately became recognizable as the song I had most been wanting to get this tour.
  • Looks Like Rain >
    • I used to not like this song at all, skipping over it a few times when listening to shows that I felt it dragged down.  But in the last year or so I've totally come around to the other side, and I think this is one of Bobby's best songs.  It's a song of love, guilt, and hurt, and these days feels more like an ode to Barlow than to a recently departed lover.
    • Bobby was on that pretty blonde guitar again, which meant he was a little hard to hear but what did cut through the mix was beautiful.  John's playing was perfect in that he allowed room for Bob to shine, but totally took over on the solo (with Jeff playing around him and keeping the band in time).
    • The song felt more like a pre-hiatus version at first because just Billy was drumming while Mickey tickled the Beam, making it feel even more delicate in that it felt like a safe haven in the middle of unknown space.  Sometimes Mickey got a bit too boisterous on the thunder drums, but all in all this song was a huge highlight of the night for me.  Especially since it hadn't rained at all, or at least not a drop on me!
  • Not Fade Away
    • Jeff and John tried to lead a jam into this, but Bobby and Billy decided to just start right up with the Bo Diddley beat, and anyone who wasn't already standing leap to their feet and got their hands clapping.
    • On paper this wasn't a particularly long NFA, but at the time it felt like they would keep playing forever.  Oteil, who I haven't said enough about I'm now realizing, had spent the whole show playing a lot of melodic and almost lead parts, and really tore it up with John here.  John totally took over here, using the beats the others were laying down as a jungle gym for his leads to climb over and twist around.
  • Encore: Brokedown Palace
    • Semi-controversial opinion here, but I prefer this as an encore to Ripple. Ripple is great, but it's basically just a campfire song, whereas Brokedown (and Attics, while we're talking about American Beauty) has so much more going on.  It's a more complicated song than it seems, and it's just so soulful and beautiful.
    • Bobby and John do a great job sharing the lyrics, and I think the only thing that would make it better is if they gave Oteil a verse too.

     We cheered for more, but the band had given it their all and we couldn't fault them for not playing a double (or triple or quadruple) encore.  We sat our asses down in the rented chairs that the folks in front of us had left behind and waited for the crowd to thin out a bit.  We knew we weren't getting out of that dirt parking lot any time soon, so after we caught our breath and did an initial debriefing about the show, we headed out to the far end of the lot where we were parked, and then cooled our feet some more until the cars that were lined up to leave actually started moving.  We followed them out into the dark and onto the highway, where we had a long, strange trip ahead of us.

     I'm sad this is my final live show of the tour, but I'm also incredibly happy that I got to see this band again.  There was a moment during the China > Rider transition where I all of a suddenly stopped dancing and looked around me, and was filled by an overpowering sense of happiness and awe.  Here we all were on a beautiful summer night, dancing, laughing, and hugging, as our favorite band did the thing that really only they can do; just for us!  And that's what it's all about, not just the music but what the music lets us do all together.  I'm a sucker for listening to music alone on headphones, but there's really nothing that lives up to being at a show and engaging in the living organism that is the Dead Head community.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Dead & Company 2018-05-30, Mansfield Xfinity Center

     Summer Tour is finally here!  Dead & Company are starting off with an East Coast leg of the tour, and my parents and I managed to catch the opening show down in Mansfield.  After the last two tours we saw we were very excited for some more excellent music, even if we were expecting a little shakiness after a few months off.  It was the perfect day, sunny in the mid-70's, and when we got to the lot everyone was in great spirits.  Since we are only seeing two shows this tour, we decided to spring for low-tier VIP tickets for this show, which meant we got early entry and crowd-free shopping.  The merch tent didn't really have anything for us, so we didn't take much advantage of the latter, but we enjoyed getting in without a crowd (getting out was another story) and getting great seats right behind and to the left of the soundboard.  The lines of sight were great, but I didn't love the sound in this particular amphitheater; John was occasionally lost in the mix, and the crowd noise kind of echoed in the bowl area.  Though I do have some nitpicks to make, I had an excellent time at this show, so let's get into it!

First Set

  • Shakedown Street (BW)
    • What a great way to start the tour.  To get the elephant in the room out of the way, the tempos have not really sped up at all, and this song has a bit of plod to it.  That said, their slower approach to some of these songs sometimes pays off in big ways, and I think it really works for Shakedown.  It's not danceable in the same way it used to be, but it has a wider groove to it now.
    • Jeff and John lead the band through what sounded a lot like the Mind Left Body Jam for a bit in the middle, with Jeff also throwing in some teases of Feel Like a Stranger and leading them back into the chorus to end the song.  This was the first of a few songs where it seemed that Bobby wanted to jam into the next number, but the rest of the band (except Jeff) couldn't get on his page.
    • While I thought I was a Jeff fanatic, the couple next to us were head over heels about him when we were talking before the show.  This meant we were all pleasantly surprised when Jeff showed us right in the opening number that he was really going to lead the band this show.
  • Alabama Getaway (JM)
    • A debut for the band, and performed pretty well.  Again, slowed down from what it used to be, but it had a cool kind of bluesy feel to it this way that suited John's style nicely.
    • John flubbed a couple of lines, but that's the classic Jerry thing to do in this song, so I don't think anyone held it against him.  Our new friends had heard them do this at soundcheck, so we were ready for it, unlike a lot of surprised people in the crowd.
    • The versions of this I've seen previously turned the last solo into more of an extended jam, so I was kind of surprised when they wrapped this one up so quickly.
  • It's All Over Now (BW)
    • Two debuts in a row!  This has a very new arrangement that I really dig, even if dancing to it is a little confusing at first.  The changes aren't where you think they should be, but then you get used to it.
    • This is a great example of what's so weird about this band: while the show so far had been really fun and already had some hot moments, the last two songs felt a little shaky in places.  But here the band was doing a new arrangement of a song they hadn't played in years, and the whole group was nailing it!  The drummers in particular snapped to attention for this one, making the band feel so much tighter than it normally does.  They broke it down in the middle of the song, with everyone getting their own little solo, including the drummers.
    • Bobby switched to a red guitar that people are telling me is a Gretsch for most of the rest of the set, and I think I have a new favorite guitar of his.  I've always loved the sound of his green D'Angelico, but this one sounded even better to my ears.  He also seemed to be having more fun using this guitar.
  • Brown-Eyed Women (JM)
    • This one felt a little stiff to me, with the drummers almost losing the beat at a couple of points.
    • The solos here were fantastic though, with Jeff once again leading the charge.  John took some great leads with Jeff hot on his heels in the traditional solo spot, but in the second solo section that they've opened it was Jeff City, baby!
  • Tennessee Jed (BW)
    • I was so glad to get this one crossed off my Dead & Company list.  This song takesgreat advantage of the sweet groove that the band can find when they take their time.  Bob slipped up on one verse, but that's still par for the course, and he more than made up for it with his playing.
    • One great thing about this song, and really the whole show, is that Oteil was so high in the mix, and playing so well.  During the very first Dead & Company tour back in 2015 he was very upfront in the mix, but in all the tours since then he's played a more ambient and supporting role.  But here he was really playing more of a lead bass, and in a very different way from Phil.
    • The jam at the end of this song is of course where it's at.  The band starts out by laying the foundation for the building they're constructing, and then using that foundation to reach for the sky.  That might sound like nonsense, but I can't really describe this song's jam in any other way; they build a musical house slowly, and bring it all crashing down to the ground at the very end.
  • Bird Song > (BW & JM)
    • This one started out very weird, with everyone doing a bit of feedback while Mickey got the Beam rumbling.  Bob and John split the lyrics like they usually do, with things getting either a little loose or sloppy, depending on who you ask and how you feel about the band.  I'm kind of in the middle, but I think overall the song was great, once again with Jeff leading the jam.
    • At the time I really felt like John either wasn't turned up enough or we wasn't playing assertively enough.  But listening back to it now it seems like they were really going for a more laid back and ethereal sound, as opposed to an extended guitar solo.
    • Bobby's Gretsch was sounding really great, but he switched back to his regular strat for the rest of the set.
  • Loose Lucy > (BW)
    • All of a sudden Jeff and Bobby switched the key and rhythm, and it was Loose Lucy!  There are a lot of nay-sayers about this particular sandwich, and I can see how they might see it as a jarring pairing.  But I think Lucy is a great song, and I love that the band is trying new things and surprising pairings.  They definitely need to work on their inter-song jamming (always a weak point with this band), but they have the right idea.
    • This sounded like it could have used a little more rehearsal, but Bobby did a great job singing it like always, and to belabor the point even further, Jeff really carried the band through all the changes.
  • Bird Song (BW & JM)
    • The transition into this song's jam was a nicely drawn out jam on Loose Lucy's chorus, kind of like what Bobby did with Phil back in March, but when they tried to come back into the lyrics there were a lot of crossed signals.  One thing about this band, though, is that they've learned how to avoid a total trainwreck, and even if things do go off the rails they are quick to correct it.
    • Mickey got back on the beam after the first vocal reprise, and instead of finishing the final verse they all just kind of drifted off into space.

     Bobby told us they'd be right back, and I couldn't believe how right he was.  It was about 30 minutes of intermission, which barely left enough time for me to get to the bathroom and back.  The bathroom I found was quite the labyrinth, and by the time I made my way out of it I heard the band starting up the next set!  I ran/danced back to my seat in time for the second verse, and we were off on another adventure.

Second Set

  • Scarlet Begonias > (BW)
    • I've been hoping for a surprising transition from Scarlet, but it's impossible for me to complain about getting another Scarlet > Fire, especially after the one I saw at the Boston Garden last Fall.
    • Bobby was on his green D'Angelico for the entire second set, so my dad and I were thrilled at times it didn't seem do do what he wanted but overall it sounded so great.
    • They really rocked the solo for everything it's worth, going around again and again, John was looking just pleased as punch to be doing this again.  The outro jam was also masterfully crafted, with John stepping up to the plate much more than he had been in the first set.  He and Jeff had a lot of musical conversation going between them for this whole set, and with Bobby and Oteil propelling them forward they made the exciting, if a little hiccupy, transition into Fire.
  • Fire on the Mountain > (OB)
    • Oteil has really made this song his own when he sings it, and the crowd erupts every time.  I really think he should be singing more Garcia songs, because there are plenty that aren't really in either Bobby or John's ranges.  He also plays it in a way very much his own, a lot jazzier than Phil's approach.
    • John does a really good job of playing the required riffs that keep the song together without just copying Jerry's famous leads.  Sometimes when he plays something new it kind of throws the band and/or the crowd off, but once again I think it's important for these guys to try new things, even if they don't always work out perfectly.
    • Instead of doing the regular Scarlet ending, or even doing the hard ending they did for their first couple tours, they instead just falter out, until John starts them back up into Althea.
  • Althea (JM)
    • While I would argue this song really belongs in the first set, this is a classic case of a first set song being given extra teeth when put in the second set.  Always a great set-piece for soloing from John and Jeff, here in the second set it felt like it had extra oomph.
    • Even on his D'Angelico I don't understand some of the noises Bob insists on making during Althea, but I'll let it slide...get it?
    • The solo section right before the "there are things" bridge is where the song really took off.  John had been taking all the solos so far with everyone else doing their regular rhythm stuff, but all of a sudden Jeff caught fire and John started burning up with him.  They were perfectly synchronized, both of them taking staggered leads at the same time that tied together and around each other, and bringing the band into a smooth and powerful transition into the bridge.
  • Estimated Prophet > (BW)
    • The solo section in this was pretty hot, with some big leads being pumped out, but the rest of the song felt a bit static, like they didn't know where to take the outro jam.
    • I did like that after spacing out the first verses like he's been doing for years, Bobby then did the second verses all together like the Grateful Dead originally did.  And even if it was a little static, the band was still pretty tight for this weird song in 7/4 time.
  • The Other One Jam >
    • Right when I was starting to think Estimated wasn't going anywhere, Bobby shifted into this familiar rhythm and things kicked back into gear, if only for a little bit on this theme.
    • They did this in 7/4 time as well, just like the last Furthur show I saw at Bethel Woods.  John seemed a little slow to pick up on it, but the rest of the band really started churning.  Oteil was looking at Bobby as if wondering whether he should do the run into the song proper, but then Bob took a sharp left turn- a little too sharp, as it left the rest of the band reeling, but eventually everyone caught onto where he was going.
  • Eyes of the World > (BW)
    • While Estimated may not have done it for me, this Eyes was fantastic, maybe the best one I've seen the band do, but it's too early to say for sure.
    • As if John had felt my complaints about him not taking charge, during his solo he really stepped up.  I've mentioned before how Garcia-esque he is on this song, in that he doesn't really solo but instead just lets the song flow from his fingers, but now he was doing so with just a little more authority than in the past.
    • Ok, last time I'll rave about Jeff in this review.  We and our neighbors and knew as soon as Eyes started that Jeff was going to get to do a solo, and as we expected it was the highlight of the night.  He was very methodical in building it up, and the band patiently let him take his time.  As he brought the music higher and higher the rest of the band started to chime in, until once again he and John were locked together in dual solos, creating a heady, jazzy blend of music that had us dancing and crying.
    • Oteil took his customary solo as well, and this was definitely the best version of it I've seen.  With sparse accompaniment from Jeff and the drummers, he channeled music from another plane of existence, playing power chords and arpeggios in quick and brilliant succession before the rest of the band jumped in and brought the song to a close.
  • Drums >
    • The drummers seem to have a lot less drums in their playpen this tour, with neither the big thunder drums nor the big electronic ones appearing behind them (maybe they're hidden).
    • Mickey immediately got working on the Beam, joined by Oteil who did some very cool feedback against it on a different bass than he normally plays.  Billy drummed along to the pulsing and droning rhythms that those two Pranksters were putting out, with Micky running from drums, to sound effect pad, and back the Beam whenever he felt he could put something new into the mix.  Jeff was also present on his synthesizer for most of Drums.
  • Space >
    • Billy took off for a short bit while Mickey kept the Beam roaring and the rest of the band came out to noodle a bit.  Soon it went from a loud and chaotic maelstrom to being more delicate, with John teasing something that I just can't place.
    • Bobby was playing a different white guitar that I also can't place, and I think he first started using it for Space and beyond this past Winter.  Soon he slowed things down a little and counted everyone off and I knew I was about to cross another song off my Dead & Company list.
  • Stella Blue (BW)
    • I had only seen one version of this from Furthur 6 years ago, so this was a real treat for me.  While I bet John or Oteil would sing this beautifully,  this is one Garcia tune that I think Bobby does a fantastic job on.  His odd timing works very well when the band has rehearsed it, and it sounded like they had because once again they were very tight.
    • Bob's white guitar was sounding great on this one, with him getting some really beautifully spooky sounds out of it.  John's guitar work was delicate up until he needed to solo, when he really made that thing cry.  Once again he played the song in a way Garcia never would, yet still totally worked.
    • The outro jam was just exactly perfect, with the whole band really focusing on and playing off each other, peaking triumphantly again and again.
  • Touch of Grey (BW & JM)
    • This was a surprising transition, and got everyone up and dancing a bit.  For whatever reason this band has trouble getting this song to really kick, but this was probably one of their better versions at it.  And even jaded and picky Deadheads can't help but sing along with the final chorus.

     The band surprised us by coming out and taking a bow immediately, and leaving the stage.  Surely there must be an encore, right??  But the lights turned on and an army of men in hardhats rushed the stage and started tearing everything down.  Some of us were in shock, but then the magic word started circulating in the crowd: "curfew!"  That was a bit of a bummer, but it had still been a pretty long concert, and a pretty front-heavy second set to boot.  We hung out in our seats for a while with our new friends, figuring we weren't going to get anywhere soon, and we needed to meet up with a friend we were driving home.  The crowd situation was truly apocalyptic getting out of the venue, let alone getting out of the parking lot, but we were in no rush, and I live just around the corner so I was going to get home in no time either way.

     All in all this definitely wasn't the best Dead show I've seen, but it was a hell of a lot of fun.  I was able to go into this one with little to no stress or expectations, and therefore there was nothing to be disappointed about; I had just seen a Dead show, how good!  So what if some parts were a bit sloppy and John didn't always do exactly what I wanted, everyone still had so much fun and the band did play some truly spectacular music.  Writing this now after watching the webcast of the next show in Camden, NJ, it looks like whatever shakiness I saw was just from it being the tour opener.  We are seeing them again in two weeks, and that show is bound to be fantastic!  So until then, let me know what shows you're seeing, and how you feel about the tour so far.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Songs I'm *Still* Missing

     A while back I posted a list of songs that I had never seen any Dead band perform.  Since then I've seen some excellent shows and crossed a lot of these off, but there are still a few hanging in there.  With the "Summer" Tour about to start, I thought it would be good to update the list.  Some of you may question the legitimacy of this as "content," but if you've been keeping up with John Mayer, you should know that the notion of content is already under attack.  These are mostly songs that are not too far fetched to expect, but since I've gotten a "What's Become of the Baby" and a "Rosemary" in the last three years, maybe I should count some weirder ones...

Beat It on Down the Line
Mexicali Blues
So Many Roads
Looks Like Rain
Easy Wind
Promised Land
El Paso
Big RR Blues
Lost Sailor
Saint of Circumstance
Built to Last
West LA Fadeaway
Good Lovin'
Stagger Lee
Don't Ease Me In
If I Had the World to Give
My Brother Esau
New Potato Caboose (Phil is my only hope)
Johnny B. Goode
Lazy Lightning (I got a "Supplication" with Furthur)
Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again
Might as Well
Hard to Handle
Two Souls in Communion
Smokestack Lightning

These ones below are ones I've gotten from other Dead bands, but would love to finally see Dead & Company do:

Bertha
Tennessee Jed
Feel Like a Stranger
Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks)
Stella Blue
Dupree's Diamond Blues
Black-Throated Wind
Turn on Your Lovelight
New Minglewood Blues
Supplication
Liberty

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Dead & Co "Summer" Tour 2018

     In one week (almost a full month before the first day of summer) Dead and Company will be starting their Summer Tour, so I thought it would be good to check in on the band's progress.  Since I last wrote about them they have done two trips to Mexico, and Summer and Fall tours in 2017, so they have had some real time to grow.  The Fall Tour was cut short by John Mayer's appendix trying to explode, but they finished it up this past February after their more recent Mexico run.

     These last two tours saw them breaking out some surprising songs like "Corrina," "Easy Answers," and a sleeper favorite of mine, "If I Had the World to Give," this one sung by Oteil.  My parents and I saw them at both Fenway shows this past summer, and then at two shows at the Boston Garden and one at the Hartford Civic Center in the Fall.  All five shows were absolutely incredible, with some really unique twists.  At Fenway they did "Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Estimated Prophet > Eyes of the World > Drums > Space > Eyes of the World" the first night, and the next night did an acoustic "Friend of the Devil > Dark Star (1st verse) > Ripple" to close the first set, reprising "Dark Star" out of "Space."

     The Fall Boston shows also saw some cool twists, with the first "Corrina" played the second night, as well as a beautiful "Comes a Time," followed by the longest "Playing in the Band" they had done yet (18+ minutes, only beaten by the Mexico performance by a minute or so).  I had never gotten a reprise of "Playin'," so you might be able to hear me bellowing "where's my fucking reprise?!" on audience tapes before the encore...where they went into the reprise after "Brokedown Palace," with John doing the Donna scream!  The first Boston night was fairly standard as far as song selection goes, with the exception of "Milestones" in the second set.  They followed that up with an excellent "Whaf Rat > The Wheel," echoing the classic "Wheel > Wharf Rat" from the old Garden 40 years previously.  The Hartford show was also fantastic, one of the best shows I've ever seen, with Jeff leading the way in many songs including the band's first ever "Spanish Jam."

     The Fall Tour might have been the strongest tour they've done yet, and the tail end of it in February carried that strength into the new year.  They not only debuted even more songs than they already had in the Summer, but they took songs like "Estimated Prophet," "Dark Star," and "Playing in the Band" (NYC, Philly, and Boston, respectively) to far out soundscapes that they had not previously reached.  Some songs like "The Other One" and "Terrapin" could still use some development to break them out of their usual molds, but most songs have a very mature feel right now.  The band isn't playing Fenway this year, instead doing just one show in Mansfield as the tour opener.  We sprung for VIP (but the lowest tier) tickets for that show, and lawn seats for Hartford in June.  In the interest of looking forward to more evolution from the band, here are some potential setlists I've made that include some songs I still haven't seen them do live, but mostly focused on a coherent structure.  I've switched around some of the singing roles to what I think they should be, and also added in some songs they haven't done yet, so they're not entirely realistic.  Feel free to criticize and leave your own; I know some look on this practice as kind of pointless, but I think it's fun to try to capture the create a show in your head with good flow between the songs.

2018-05-30 Mansfield, MA

First Set
Promised Land (BW)
West LA Fadeaway (BW)
Stagger Lee (JM)
Beat it on Down the Line (BW)
Easy Wind (JM)
If I Had the World to Give (OB)
Bertha (JM)

Second Set
Lost Sailor > (BW)
Saint of Circumstance > (BW)
He's Gone > (BW & JM)
Caution > (JM)
Drums >
Space >
Not Fade Away > (ALL)
Stella Blue > (BW)
Good Lovin' (BW)

Encore: Attics of My Life (OB)

OR...

First Set
Bertha > (JM)
Greatest Story Ever Told (BW)
High Time (JM &OB)
New Minglewood Blues (BW)
Row Jimmy (JM)
It Must Have Been the Roses (OB)
Dancing in the Streets (ALL)

Second Set
Music Never Stopped > (BW)
Eyes of the World > (OB)
He's Gone > (JM & BW)
The Other One > (BW)
Drums >
Space >
The Other One > (BW)
Wharf Rat > (JM)
Music Never Stopped (BW)

Encore: Hard to Handle (JM)


2018-06-13 Hartford, CT

First Set
Feel Like a Stranger (BW)
Tennessee Jed (BW)
Big Railroad Blues (JM)
Looks Like Rain (BW)
Here Comes Sunshine (JM)
Lazy Lightning > (BW)
Supplication (BW)

Second Set
Playing in the Band > (BW)
Scarlet Begonias > (BW)
Eyes of the World > (OB)
Terrapin Station > (JM & BW)
Drums >
Space >
Comes a Time > (OB)
Playing in the Band (BW)

Encore: Uncle John's Band (ALL)


My dad also came up with a couple, So I've included those here.  If you have problems with them, take them up with him, not me!

2018-05-30 Mansfield, Ma

First Set
Jack Straw
Brown-Eyed Women
Cassidy
Cream Puff War
Beat it on Down the Line
Dark Star (acoustic) >
Weather Report Suite

Second Set
Playing in the Band >
Drums >
Space >
The Other One >
Caution (Do Not Step on Tracks) >
New Potato Caboose >
Feedback >
Playing in the Band

Encore: Midnight Hour


2018-06-13 Hartford, CT

First Set
Promised Land
Mississippi Half-Step
Big Bad Blues (Furthur original)
They Love Each Other
Loser
Lazy Lightning >
Supplication

Second Set
Jam >
Truckin' >
Jam >
Morning Dew
Eyes of the World >
Drums >
Space >
Dark Star >
Stella Blue >
Uncle John's Band

Encore: Music Never Stopped

Monday, May 7, 2018

Dave's Picks 26 & Bonus Disc (1971-11-17 & 1971-12-14)

     Ladies and gentlemen, he's done it again.  Our fearless archivist David Lemieux has delivered the second Dave's Picks of the year, and along with the bonus disc it is almost two compelte concerts.  The main Pick is from November 17, 1971, with part of December 14, 1971 as the third disc and bonus disc.  While the setlists of these shows are fairly similar, the November show is of course missing Pigpen, so you get to hear some variation in the songs that are duplicated.  While the November show has some occasional fuzziness in it that must stem from the oringal recording or the live performance itself, the sound is of excellent quality overall thanks to another stellar effort by Jeffrey Norman.  I had never heard these shows before, so it's great to not only have some new music to explore, but to be able to experince it in the best possible quality.

     These are both pretty long shows, so instead of the song-by-song bullet points I'll tackle this one just by dealing with the songs that jump out at me the most in paragraph form in order to save space.  Some songs are just exactly typical of the era so it's hard to find anything substantial to say about them, but just because I skip over it doesn't mean it's worth skipping when listening; in fact, never skip anything Dave recommends, he knows what he's doing.  The track listings are a little switched from how they were performed so they could fit neatly onto the four discs (and also for obscure copyright reasons), so I will discuss them in the order they were presented.

Dave's Picks 26
1971-11-17
Truckin', Sugaree, Beat It On Down The Line, Tennessee Jed, El Paso, Big Railroad Blues, Jack Straw, Deal, Playing In The Band, Cumberland Blues, Me And Bobby McGee, You Win Again, Mexicali Blues, Casey Jones, One More Saturday Night, Ramble On Rose, Cryptical Envelopement > Drums > The Other One > Me & My Uncle > The Other One > Wharf Rat, Not Fade Away > Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad > Not Fade Away

1971-12-14
Truckin', Sugaree, Mr. Charlie, Beat it on Down the Line, Loser, Next Time You See Me, El Paso, Big Railroad Blues, Me & My Uncle, Run Rudolph Run, Big Boss Man, You Win Again, Not Fade Away > Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad > Not Fade Away

Dave's Picks 2018 Bonus Disc
1971-12-14
Jack Straw, Tennessee Jed, Black Peter, Playing in the Band, Casey Jones, Mexicali Blues, Cryptical Envelopment > Drums > The Other One > Wharf Rat, Sugar Magnolia

     DaP 26 starts off with rip-roaring verion of "Truckin'"just to let us know that the band isn't fooling around here.  My immeditate thought was "where is Keith??," but as the song goes on you can hear him a little bit in the background.  I was worried that the whole release would be light on Keith (like Dick's Picks 2), but after a rushed false start to "Sugaree," and some technical work, Keith comes more to the forefront in the mix.  While "Truckin'" doesn't have the far-reaching outro jam that would appear in the song the following year, this allows them to really nail the rock 'n roll essence of the song's core.

     By the time "El Paso" rolls around, Keith is loud and bold, already showing that this would be a song where he would shine for the rest of his tenure with the band.  One thing that's amazing about these Fall '71 shows is that Keith, who later would be known for being shy and reclusive, is so enthusiastic and upfront with his playing.  He isn't afraid to play wrong notes (a few of which might be on this release, depending how you listen and define "wrong"), so he just plays what feels right, and that's the best kind of playing to do in a band like the Grateful Dead!

     Jerry's singing and playing as magnificently as you would expect for the early 70's, but has a few vocal slips.  While that doesn't necessarily mean that something might have been slipped into his drink, it also doesn't not mean that, and some of the playing and banter is indicitive of a more electric mindset thatn the average human has.  Songs that later seem kind of rote like "Deal" feel so vibrant in this show.  And of course "Playing in the Band" had started to grow its teeth since Keith joined the band, and Jerry just goes wild all over it.  While it hasn't reached the formless chaos/order dichotomy that would define it the next year and for the rest of the band's career, this "Playing" still hits some seriously psychedelic notes.

     The sound starts to get a little rough around the edges with "Casey Jones" and "Saturday Night," but you can still hear everything fine.  Then there's a little time jump back to "Ramble on Rose."  While this song really took off post-hiatus when they started to stretch out the solo section, I really love these early versions.  It's a little more up-tempo and has a more aggressive edge to it than the more laid-back versions that came later.  Also there are two solo sections in it instead of just the one, which is always nice!  This is another song where Keith's playing is bold and exciting, you can practically hear Jerry smiling while Keith backs up his vocals with that chunky piano he had in the Fall of '71.

     While everything up to this point has been great, the real meat of this release is "Cryptical Envelopement > Drums > The Other One > Me & My Uncle > The Other One > Wharf Rat, Not Fade Away > Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad > Not Fade Away."  It's always fun to hear a late "Cryptical" like this, and while it's good you can hear why they dropped it; it just didn't fit with the aesthetic they were cultivating anymore.  While the very best "Drums" were probably from when we had two drummers, I have always loved these solo Billy ones.  He was such a creative musician and I love hearing him when he's free to let loose on his own.  He settles into the "Other One" beat after not too long, and Phil comes thundering in - head for the hills!  Once again Keith exuberantly, but now everyone is right up there with him, propelling the song into unknown realms.  Suddenly Phil takes a left turn and drops them into a slow, bluesy kind of space, but Jerry stays mostly on course by sticking close to the "Other One" theme.  They touch on the "Feelin' Groovy Jam" briefly before diving towards the first verse.

     After the verse they dissovle and slow down a bit, then ease their way into "Me & My Uncle."  This feels kind of middle of the road for the era (meaning it's still great) and if you heard just this track you would never know it was in the middle of a meltdown sandwich.  Instead of slamming back into "The Other One," they kind of ooze into it, picking up steam as they go.  At a few points Jerry is definitely hinting at or even trying to start "Sitting on Top of the World," but the rest of the band never takes the bait.  Instead they just keep the the song boiling over, with some beautiful interplay between Keith, Bob, and Phil while Jerry skates across their foundation.  They come to the last verse, and instead of going back to "Cryptical," they go to what was already becoming the traditional follow up to "The Other One," "Wharf Rat."  While not as stately and crystalline as the post-hiatus versions, this one has a beautiful crispness to it, with Jerry's younger, healthier voice making it sound a bit folkier.

     '71 was quite the year for "NFA > GDTRFB > NFA," and that only became more true once Keith joined the band.  Most versions of this suite are a little short on the "Not Fade Away," but on this one they rock it out for everything it's worth.  Jerry throws a couple of teases into the fray, with "Shortnin' Bread" and "Lovelight" shining through briefly, but then they drift into a groove that isn't quite any song or jam, just pure virtuosity at its best.  From there they slip easily into "Goin' Down the Road," where Jerry forgets some verses but keeps playing like an angel.  They take their time going back into "Not Fade Away," with teases of "Cold Rain & Snow" and possibly "China Cat Sunflower" drifting back and forth, until they jump back into that same Bo Diddley beat.

     We jump forward about a month now to December, with a setlist that looks very similar to the first two discs, but Pigpen has returned and the band is already sounding a lot closer to their Europe '72 sound.  Pig gets a lot of flack for his organ playing, but by this point in his career I think he's perfectly fine. While that's not a ringing endorsement, he was still better at the organ than Keith ever was, and he can obviously blow the house down with his singing.  Not only that, but the combination of new songs and songs revived from the bands early days ("Mr. Charlie," "Next Time You See Me," etc.) really showed how much the band had evolved with Pig, and you can't help but wonder how much more they would have matured if Pig had stuck around.

     There's also an unlabelled "Stars and Stripes Forever" in here, which is an underrated tuning diddy if you ask me.  Speaking of underrated songs, I have always wondered why "You Win Again" was dropped from the rotation.  It's such a great little blues number that could have really grown some teeth, and this one has Jerry calling out Keith when he throws the second solo to him, and Keith nails that sucker!The main release winds up with another great "NFA > GDTRFB > NFA," this time with Phil leading them into some deep space before resolving into "GDTRFB."  This one also features Bob and Pig raving back and forth during the "NFA" reprise, which I've always loved.  Then it's onto the Bonus Disc, which as Dave explained in his Basement Chat had to be only Dead originals for copyright reasons.  There are some more repeats here, but again the songs all sound so different with Pig added back in.  He doesn't really have much to do in the embryonic meltdown of another early "Playing," but it's great to hear his contributions to "Tennessee Jed" and "Black Peter." 

     The bonus disc wraps up with another mind-blowing "Other One" vehicle.  Where the one from the main release was filled with thematic jams and sandwiched around another song, this one is instead an intense trip headlong down the psychedelic stairs.  They stay on the main theme of the song for most of it, sometimes slipping into more abstract and dark spaces before jumping back into the groove.  The Pig and Keith duo on keys gives it a Europe '72 kind of vibe, especially in the further reaches of the song; once again, Keith doesn't even hesitate when the floor of the song drops out from under him, he just takes it in a new direction.  They execute a nice shift into "Wharf Rat," and come to s brief full stop before starting into "Sugar Magnolia," the jamming segue still a little ways off.  They would keep this transition going for the next few years, replacing "Cryptical" with "Truckin'" or "He's Gone."

     Well that wraps up another excellent Dave's Picks!  Maybe some day I'll do a ranking of them in order, but that seems like a hassle.  Either way, this is definitely one of the best and I can't wait to listen to it again...in fact I think I will right now.  As always, leave any questions, objections, etc. below, and stay tuned for Dead & Company hype.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Take You to the Leader of the Band

     With just about a month before Dead & Company's "Summer" Tour, I thought I'd put forward an idea that I don't think is too controversial, and I'll be shocked if anyone disagrees with me.  While I often describe Dead & Co as Bobby's band, and while Mayer is obviously the lead guitarist and the main soloist, neither of them are truly the leaders of the band.  The true leader of the band, and perhaps the most powerful man in the Dead world, is Jeff Chimenti.

     Jeff got introduced to the Dead world when he joined Ratdog in 1997, and has played in every iteration of the Dead since 2002, at first being partnered up with Rob Barraco, but they soon realized (and I'm editorializing here) that he could do the job of two keyboardists and then some.  Not only has he played in the main Dead bands and the individual members' own solo projects, but he even has his own group Golden Gate Wingmen with some other Dead alums.  At this point he has played just about every song in the Dead's canon, including rarities like "What's Become of the Baby," "Rosemary," and "Blues for Allah."  While Phil has traditionally been the driving force behind reviving old songs and plays a much larger section of the repertoire than Dead & Company, I think that Chimenti at this point knows the music better than any other living person, and is truly the heir apparent to the Dead's legacy.

     While he doesn't get that many actual leads in Dead & Company, Jeff is really the one that keeps the music going.  In a band like Furthur where the band as a whole seemed more familiar and confident with the songs he could step out and play outside of the songs' traditional confines, but with Dead & Co he instead functions as the backbone of the band.  He provides a solid structure and outline for how the song progresses, especially in songs that are newer to them.  Their most recent tour in Fall of 2017 saw them break out a number of songs, and ones like "Greatest Story Ever Told" or "Spanish Jam" were incredibly Jeff heavy.  Some of these are songs that the drummers and Bobby have been playing for over fifty years, but with "Spanish Jam" especially Jeff was absolutely the driving force keeping everyone on track.  And when even his best efforts don't keep the drummers or Mayer in line, he can slip into whatever erroneous groove they've created and steer the train back onto the right tracks.

     Not only has Jeff mastered the piano, rhodes, organ, and synthesizer, but he is also a good singer.  Now this is a spot where he definitely has to concede to Mayer and Oteil that they are better, but the fact that he can not only play anything with keys on it but he can also provide harmonies and back-up vocals puts him at the top of the list of the Dead's keyboardists.  Brent was great on the organ and synth, and sang some great songs really well, but I always thought that his palette was too electronic in a cheesy 80's kind of way (don't even get me started on Vince's 90's sounds).  His early electric piano sounds almost empty to me, and his mid-80's MIDI sounds really kill my buzz.  In '81 and '82, and then from like '87-'90, he had a slightly more full-bodied sounding keyboard, with the later years actually having some good MIDI tones.  He was of course a master of the organ himself, and Chimenti often plays his same organ.  But I think that Jeff has the advantage of 50+ years of hindsight to look back on the music and really get a feel for what songs are better for which type of keyboard, and I think is overall more versatile.

     Keith has of course always been the piano player, with his grand piano from '71-'77 being the best sounding keys to ever be played with the Grateful Dead.  While comparing his piano skills to Jeff's is really more of a difference in taste than a comparison of skill, I will say that Jeff is way more confident and up front with his playing, whereas Keith was pathologically shy and froze up during some of his solos.  Keith was great at creating a tapestry behind the band that they could play off of, feeding into and off of Jerry and creating shimmering patterns in the music.  But it is no secret that Keith's playing and enthusiasm tapered off severely in the late 70's, resulting in several trainwrecks and, even worse, boring moments in the music; at least with a trainwreck there's a difference in musical opinion and some excitement.  He also allegedly resisted the band's efforts to get him to branch out into synthesizers and electronic tones, and while a purist might defend that decision, and while I disparaged some of Brent's tones, I think that Keith basically forced himself out of the band by being a stick in the mud.  I think when they took away his real piano and stuck him with a tiny little electronic thing he really deflated, and you can hear that in the music.

     Some people prefer Bruce Hornsby's piano to Keith's, which I think is nonsense, but so is a lot of what I think.  He is definitely a great pianist, can sing very well, and can play accordion, which is a bonus.  He definitely did enjoy playing with the Dead, and was in The Other Ones before Chimenti was, but I think he just can't...swing as well as Jeff.  He did love to play "Dark Star," and of course played very well with Jeff at Fare Thee Well, but he just feels to straight to me.  It would be cool to see him and Mayer play together, they both have pop sensibilities, and could play a neat ten-minute "Dark Star."  But for that classic "tear down the universe down" vibe, I just don't think Hornsby can provide all the time, whereas Jeff needs just the slightest provocation for him to get into total metaphysical music that transports your mind.

     As a sort of counter-point, I was not always on the Chimenti Bus.  In fact the complaint I left my first Furthur show with was that the keyboardist didn't seem to know the songs!  Looking back, I see now that I was naive, and just hadn't been exposed to any live Dead before.  I also hadn't really gotten into jazz yet, despite playing jazz trumpet in high school, and Jeff has a lot of jazz stylings in his music.  He'll play chords that are just a little dissonant, and I originally thought that was because he was just playing the wrong chord, but now know that he's just thinking outside the box, which is what this music is all about.

     Like I said up top, I don't expect this to be a controversial opinion, but I'm curious to see if any of you disagree or have anything to add, so feel free to leave a comment below.  I think that Dead & Company is a great band, but the only way for them to reach their full potential is to let Jeff get out there!  He's done a great job keeping the foundation of the songs strong, but by now hopefully the members of the band are all confident enough that Jeff can play more leads and stretch the music in new directions without losing anyone along the way.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Ghost Light (Spooky) 2018-04-14, Thunder Road

     This past Saturday we went to see the latest jamband supergroup to hit the scene, Ghostlight, with Tommy Hamilton (guitar/vocals), Holly Bowling (keys/vocals), Raina Mullen (guitar/vocals), Scotty Zwang (drums/vocals), and Steve Lyons (bass/vocals).  They were playing at this new place in Somerville called Thunder Road, where we saw previously Midnight North (with a much smaller crowd).  It's a funky little place with a big bar, tv, and tables upstairs, and a smaller bar and pool table downstairs.  The stage is this tiny little thing that makes even a small band like this one seem pretty cramped, but the sounds and lines of sight are very good.

     We have of course seen Tommy with JRAD a bunch of times, but had only seen Holly online solo or playing with the likes of Phil Lesh.  Raina is from Tommy's other band (American Babies,) but the other two were totally new to us.  We got there early to eat, and more importantly to get a good spot over against the wall where there were coat hooks and a ledge for drinks.  We made friends with Joe, who was sitting next to us and was at Midnight North as well, and a taper who showed up (Craig?  Sorry if you're reading this, I can't remember your name) who had recorded them in Bridgeport the previous night and promised us we were in for a real treat.  While I haven't been able to find "Craig"'s recording, this just posted when I started writing, and is listed as and sounds like a Matrix recording, which is great!
https://archive.org/details/gl2018-04-14.matrix

     To get my one complaint out of the way, which really is a petty complaint, if you're going to advertise a show as starting at 8, you should at least be on stage by 9.  We got to watch the Bruins kicking ass in the playoffs while we waited though, and once the band came on stage the night only got better.

Set 1
Jam > Lead Weight > Tangled Up in Blue > * If You Want It (title unconfirmed) > Lead Weight
Set 2
Epic Battle Between Light & Dark > Untitled (D Riff), Isosceles > Greatest Story Ever Told %**, Boy > Epic Battle Between Light & Dark, 100 Years Ago > Untitled (D Riff)
Encore
Old Time Religion ***
* w/ Lead Weight & Isosceles teases
** w/ untitled (D Riff) teases
*** w/ Greatest Story tease
% Ghost Light Debut (Grateful Dead)
     I won't do a song for song recap for this, and part of the reason for that is also one of the reasons I loved this show so much.  With the obvious exceptions of "Tangled Up in Blue" and "Greatest Story," these were all songs that I, and much of the crowd, was totally unfamiliar with.  At straight-forward Dead shows, and even JRAD, the whole crowd knows the songs so well the you can tell when you're hearing a good or bad version of the song, or you notice if the band does something with a song that usually isn't done.  Here though, everyone was figuring out the music as it happened, which really allowed us to get lost in the magic of the moment and dance our asses off.
     "Lead Weight" was one of (two of, technically) my favorite songs of the night, and I was immediately impressed with Raina Mullen's playing and singing.  I was expecting her to be a third lead player, but she played a very solid rhythm guitar instead, leaving the leads to Tommy and Holly.  While Holly did some directing and coordinating of her own, it seemed that Tommy was the leader of the band, which was a cool change of pace from JRAD where Joe is obviously in charge.  "Tangled Up in Blue" really had people dancing and singing along, and then they took a hard left turn into deep space and cosmic improvisation.  I couldn't believe it when they came back into the song, it felt like we had travelled to a different galaxy completely where a structured song was a ridiculous notion.
     I know I said I wouldn't a song-by-song review, by "If You Want It" was another highlight for me and I would be remiss to skip over it.  This is an original song that is surprisingly well matured already, and the crowd picked up on a great place for a call-and-response "woo!" in the chorus, which had the band beaming.  Here's a crowd of people hearing a song for the first time, and not only are they dancing to it and having a great time, they're paying enough attention to help craft the music with the band!
     It was a short break, but it gave the sold out house plenty of time to go smoke, get another drink, and hit the bathrooms.  Soon the lights went down (they were never very bright to begin with) and the band came back on, and already people were cheering for them to play all night.  They opened with a song I didn't recognize, but is apparently an American Babies original.  "Untitled (D Riff)" was another of my absolute favorites at this show, so I was glad to have it reprised like my other favorite!  Obviously everyone went wild when they slipped "Greatest Story" in, with Raina and Tommy belting it out along with everyone else in the room.  They jammed on the theme of the song for a bit, and then took it into totally unknown regions, extrapolating off of a single riff that Tommy just would not let go of.

     A lot of songs they played were vaguely reminiscent of Dead songs (or maybe I was just projecting).  The song "Boy" that they played next it sounded a lot like "Morning Dew."  Maybe Tommy will see this and tell me I'm crazy, but I swear that he and I locked eyes when this one was starting up, and I gave him a "no" of surprise and hope and cocked my head, to which he also cocked his head and winked; obviously it wasn't "Dew," but the similarities to it allowed for some great solo work.  Tommy was at his liquid-silver-best this night, just letting the music flow from his guitar unadulterated by ego or mistakes.  Holly totally lived up to and surpassed our expectations for seeing her live; we have really only seen snippets of her playing in bands, most of what we knew being her playing acoustic piano solo.  To see her really let loose on synth, rhodes, organ, and more on top of her regular piano, and to even sing, was jaw-dropping.  She and Tommy truly are two of the most vibrant musicians in the scene today, and the back and forth that they had going created some of the most intricate musical shapes I have ever experienced.  It had the dense, jazzy quality that something like Phil Lesh's Q can create, but the pure fun and wildness of a JRAD show, all contained in the totally unique package of Ghost Light!
     I haven't said enough about Steve and Scotty, who are fundamental parts of this great band.  Scotty did a great job of keeping the beat in interesting ways, playing some nice fills and showing off some cool frills without going up his own ass like some jamband drummer seem to.  Steve was excellent, mostly laying down a groove for the rest of the band, but at other times almost playing leads while steering the band in their deep space explorations.  They both sang some great backing harmonies too.
     They closed the show with a traditional song that whoever the original artist(s) may have been would have been blown away by and sent us all home beaming.  I highly recommend seeing this band if their tour is coming remotely near you, but if you miss out on them this time around, Tommy made it sound like they'll be sticking around and doing some more tours, which I am all for!  It's great to have a new band with new material, especially when it's a jamband that's writing songs as good as these.