Monday, September 16, 2013

Oh, You Never Saw the Dead?

     So I went into a local pita joint here in Ithaca the other day that I had noticed had a sign with a dancing bear that said "Dead Head Parking Only."  I have a similar sign (but with a Stealie), and appreciate any business that openly admits their roots, so was excited to try it out.  When I walked in I jokingly asked if they had a discounts for other Dead Heads, which they did - but with one caveat.  You had to have seen the Grateful Dead, not a post-Jerry manifestation of them.  While I obviously didn't hold it against them and enjoyed the food anyway, that attitude is surely one of the main hurdles that my generation of Dead Heads has to deal with.

     Trust me, if I had any say in the matter, I would go back to the sixties and catch all the great artists between then and now, especially the Dead.  However, my last test of a time machine didn't go too well, and I'm not anticipating another test anytime soon, so I'm stuck going forward in time with the rest of you.  Not that there isn't any great music nowadays, within and outside of the Dead world; bands like Rubblebucket Orchestra, Furthur, Dark Star Orchestra, and the Big Mean Sound Machine (a local "sweat funk" band) have all given me the best musical experiences of my life.  However, and most Dead Heads will agree with this, the Grateful Dead have that certain magic to them that no other band seems to master.  As my friend and I often say, "they play with the old powers."

     Furthur, more than any other Dead-related band I've seen or heard (or any other music for that matter), can certainly capture that magic for me.  Whether it's at an outdoor show like the Gathering of the Vibes, in a hockey rink in central New York, or a theater in Boston, Furthur can grab the music from the air, walls, and people in attendance to transport/transform everyone.  While DSO usually puts on a great show, whether they're doing a cover of a particular concert or one of their original sets, they don't seem to have access to that same magic.  The Dead, and Furthur, when they're having a good night have something metaphysical to their sound, as if what you're experiencing in their music are the same forces and patterns that are at work behind the laws of physics throughout the cosmos.  The same forces that create supernovas and black holes are the same forces propelling "Dark Star" and "The Other One," and even "Big River" or "Ramble on Rose," to a certain extent!

     But I'm getting off topic.  What I'm really trying to get at is the answer to the question, "who are the Dead (and why don't they follow me everywhere I go)?"  When I first started seeing Furthur I drove my dad crazy by insisting that I had seen the Dead, but I think that statement is still true, or at the very least close enough.  Phil and Bobby both saw the progression of the Dead from the beginning to Jerry's death (not the end!), and have obviously been crucial in the evolution of the music.  I think having them in the same band is a huge factor in Furthur's ability to play that magical music, and having the other incredible members of the band give it a unique sound.  While they don't sound like the Grateful Dead most of the time, the Dead of the 80's or 90's sounded nothing like the Dead of the 60's; it isn't about sounding the same, it's about playing with the same spirit.  So does that make other iterations of Dead bands 'The Dead?"

     I can't really answer that for The Other Ones, The Dead (from the 2000's), or the Rhythm Devils, because I have unfortunately not seen any of them.  I've heard some recordings, but not enough to really make that call.  I think that any band with any member of the GD will certainly have at least some of that magic, but there's no guarantee that they can achieve lift-off.  I think Phil & Friends can capture it pretty consistently, but different line-ups alter the chemistry in obviously different ways, so there's still no guarantee that you will get a glimpse of the Grateful Dead monster at work behind the players.  Furthur, however, is pretty consistent, partly, again, because they have those two old guys, but the whole band also seems to be very much in the spirit of the Dead.  As a result, I feel more than comfortable calling these guys the Dead, and I think that much of what I experience at a show is a legitimate off-shoot of a GD concert.

     So what do you think?  Am I talking myself into believing a fairy tale?  Is the Mickey Hart Band the real Dead?

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