Thursday, April 28, 2016

Met at a Dead Show 1

     This week's supplemental post, if you couldn't tell, is the first installment in a series called "Met at a Dead Show."  Like you, I run into a wide variety of people at the Dead shows I go to, and some are more memorable than others.  If any of you have met this person, or have your own stories to share, put them in the comments below or tweet them to me @21stCenturyDead .

The Numbers Guy
      No surprise, but my friend Ricky and I ran into this guy at a numerically significant show, the 11/11/11 Furthur concert in Syracuse.  During intermission we were going through the normal hour-long-freak-out that always happens when one set ends and the next has not yet begun.  We were milling about the aisles waiting for a friend to come back from that far off land of toilets and coffee stands, when a guy who somehow looked more freaked out than we were sidled up to us.  He was of the Earth Tone Baggy Clothes Tribe and had a large cap with more pins than hat showing.  He locked eyes with the two of us and launched into a long-winded rant that i have tried to faithfully recreate below:

     "Hey man, I was born in '85.  That was twenty five years ago.  When I was eleven I first heard the Dead, and that was one year after Jerry died.  Eleven is two ones next to each other, and now it's almost eleven years after that.  If you take eighty five and divide it by eleven, you get seven and seven's my lucky number.  But now eleven's my lucky number.  And today's eleven eleven eleven and they're going to do the eleven for seven minutes and Phil's almost eighty five.  Look at my hat."

     After staring at the guy for maybe seven or eleven minutes he realized that Rick and I were clearly not mathematically inclined, and he went off to find a another victim.

So that's my short story, share yours below!  This Sunday I'll be sharing my thoughts on Joe Russo's Almost Dead, so prepare your thoughts for that!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Jam > Space > Jam

Hey everybody, thanks for tuning back in!  This week I’m going back to something I brought up in a recent post: when is it appropriate to list a “Jam” in a setlist?  The Dead are of course known for having long, jammed-out music, but how many of those jams should be separated from the songs they come out of or go into?  Perhaps there is no single answer in any of the cases below, but it’s definitely something that a lot of us have very strong opinions about.  Also, I’m coming at this mostly from the angle of keeping track listings on a CD or other modern device; when it comes to just a written setlist it’s typically better to have more notations, so in some of these cases I think it would actually be good to have certain jams separated from the other songs.  For examples of this, see some of the annotated setlists from Joe Russo’s Almost Dead...oh jeez, I’m going to have to do a post on them too, aren’t I?

    The most recent instance of this debate I found myself in was at my latest Phil show.  I mentioned this briefly in the post about said show, but it’s up for debate what they actually opened with.  To my ears, they opened with “Dark Star,” but it could also be said that they opened “Jam > Dark Star.”  The same thing happened with the “Dark Star” I saw before this show at Halloween (also with Phil), where they went from a dead stop (ha) into a jam, and that jam materialized into “Dark Star.”  My argument for why both of these instances should just be called “Dark Star” and not “Jam > Dark Star” is that “Dark Star,” as a song, inherently includes several jams.

    The same is true for songs like “The Other One,” “Bird Song,” and “Playing in the Band.”  All of these songs do have themes and solidified parts, but the majority of each song is instrumental.  I use “theme” as a more or less technical term borrowed from jazz, where the theme is kind of like the equivalent of a chorus -- a familiar part of the song that returns at various points and identifies the song.  But jams also have their own themes, whether it be a one-time-jam or a recurring jam.  I think most of us are familiar with this idea, even if we don’t realize it; it’s the same reason you know that they’re starting “The Other One” or going into “Eyes” before they’ve actually done the song-proper.  If every differently themed jam in a song was listed, then you would have something like: “Dark Star > Jam 1 > Jam 2 > Jam 3 > Jam 4, etc. > Dark Star,” which for the purposes of labeling is a huge headache.  The whole point of songs like these is to be vehicles for sonic exploration, which is obviously going to take the music in different directions, but they will typically return to the song they came from.  So instead of calling it “The Other One > Jam > The Other One,” it should just be called “The Other One.”

    There are some interesting exceptions to this rule when it comes to the more common jams that the Dead would insert into their music.  Jams like “Spanish Jam,” “Mind Left Body Jam” and “Feeling Groovy Jam” all cropped up repeatedly during certain eras of the Dead, and I typically think that they are worth mentioning in a setlist, because these are practically songs in their own rights*.  However, we should keep in mind when looking at these examples how we would want it listed on a CD or MP3 player.  Take for example Dicks Picks Volume 19, from October 19, 1973, which includes the progression “Dark Star > Mind Left Body Jam > Morning Dew.”  While that is a distinct jam that’s sometimes worth listing, in this particular case I think it would be more appropriate to simply call it “Dark Star > Morning Dew.”  In this case the “MLB Jam” is a part of the “Dark Star”; that is the context that it came from.  Likewise with the “Spanish Jam” listed after the “Dark Star” from the Jai Alai Forum show on 06/23/74 that is included on the So Many Roads box set.  On the box set they even call it “Dark Star Jam,” but that’s because they don’t include the entire “Dark Star.”

    So those are some of the more clear-cut issues, but what about the trickier ones to decide on? Look at something like “China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider.”  Some people routinely list the transition as “China Cat > Jam > I Know You Rider” on the archive, but this is clearly unnecessary.  “China Cat” implies a jam out of it, and it was typically the same jam, depending on the era: pre-hiatus it included a Bobby solo and eventually a recurring thematic jam, post-hiatus it was a more simplified jam.  “Scarlet Begonias” and “Eyes of the World” also inherently include jams out of them and typically should not have “Jam” listed in the setlist.

    For all three of those, however, I think there are exceptions that could be made.  Sometimes the jam will go on for much longer than it typically does, and sometimes it will go into musical spaces that are totally foreign to the song.  The “Eyes” from 12/04/73, for example, is listed as 23 minutes long, but the majority of the outro jam is atypical for “Eyes,” so a strong case could be made for labeling it as “Eyes > Jam.”  The same will happen for “Scarlet” sometimes, especially if it isn’t going into “Fire on the Mountain.”  There’s also the 20+ minute “Here Comes Sunshine” from 04/02/73, which features a totally unique and unrelated jam out of it.  The only issue, like some people have posted on the archive, is that if you list each separate jam you end up with track listings that say “Here Comes Sunshine > Jam > Space,” which seems like too much.  You also see people listing sequences such as “The Other One Jam > The Other One > Jam > The Other One > Space > Wharf Rat,” which is absolutely wrong; just call it “The Other One”!

    This also relates to “That’s It For The Other One,” which is the original name for “Cryptical Envelopment > The Other One > Cryptical Envelopment.”  I think this should always be listed as “That’s It For The Other One,” because that listing implies all of the individual parts.  This is really a strange case, however, because it varied so much in the years they performed it (quick note, I won’t bring up the ‘85 versions because they were so sparse).  It eventually developed a “Drums” interlude after the first “Cryptical,” and that segment went from being a couple seconds long to almost ten minutes long, and occasionally featured a small jam in the middle of the “Drums.”  They also dropped the second “Cryptical” or limited its length fairly regularly in its later days.  I can see the case being made for calling it “Cryptical > Drums > The Other One > [something other than Cryptical],” but I think that whenever you have “Cryptical > The Other One” with only a drum or jam break in the middle, it should still just be labelled “That’s It For The Other One.”

    Going back to “Dark Star,” here’s another interesting example of debatable track listings.  One of my favorite shows is 03/24/1973 from the Spectrum in Philly, and among other things it features, allegedly, “He’s Gone > Truckin’ > Jam > Spanish Jam > Dark Star > Sing Me Back Home.”  Now while it is true that “Spanish Jam” is a distinct jam, in the opening jam I’m certain you can hear them hint at “Dark Star,” so I think that the appropriate listing would be “He’s Gone > Truckin’ > Dark Star > Sing Me Back Home.”  It is interesting to note that what is usually labelled as “Dark Star” on recordings of this show is under 5 minutes long, so some people think the rest of it is totally separate.

    One final topic I’ll touch on is the development of “Drums >Space” as a featured part of the Dead’s shows.  If what I’ve been saying above is true, shouldn’t it also apply here?  What I mean is that “Drums” eventually evolved to a point where it always implied that “Space” would come next, so should it really just be listed as “Drums”?  That’s how Dead Base has traditionally done it, and I think it does make a certain amount of sense.  However, I think that “Space” is handy to list when you compare earlier shows to later ones, because sometimes it would just be “Drums > The Wheel” (1976) and other times it would be “Drums > Space > The Wheel” (1980) and I think that’s an important enough distinction.

    While we’re in “Space” here, what is the difference between “Jam” and “Space”?  On the archive some people don’t recognize a difference, typically calling it “Drums > Jam.”  But you’ll see tracks listed as “Space” dating back as far as 1971 (earliest instance I have at least), and it’s interesting that people feel moved to list it as a distinct thing from a jam.  I think there’s honestly no real difference between the two, and what people list as “Space” is a any jam that features heavily on feedback and cataclysmic meltdowns, or whenever heavy special effects were employed.  For my own purposes, I only list jams that come immediately after “Drums” from ‘79 onward as “Space,” because that’s when it became a regular part of the show, and that was right on the cusp of them getting more filters and effects for their guitars, and Brent’s addition of synthesized sounds really pushed the envelope.  I’ll never really get into an argument about “Jam” vs. “Space,” though, because I think they are both applicable in most situations.

    So what’s the point I’m getting at?  Well I don’t honestly have one point I’m trying to make, I’m really just hoping to start a discussion about this...and also rant about some of my pet peeves in the Dead world.  When should it say “Eyes > Jam?”  Is “Jam  > Dark Star” really necessary, or can I get away with saying they opened with “Dark Star?”  Also, if I’m so intent on keeping sequences intact, shouldn’t “China > Rider,” “Alligator > Caution,” and “Scarlet > Fire” each be their own tracks?  This also brings up my own prejudices on where tracks should be cut (when does “St. Stephen” end and “The William Tell Bridge” begin?), but that’s a topic for another time.  Let me know what you guys think, and as always let me know what you want to read/talk about next time!  You can follow the blog here, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

*For a much more in-depth analysis of the Dead’s jams, and pretty much anything related to the Grateful Dead, I recommend checking out the Grateful Dead Guide, especially the three posts below.  They go into way more detail and do a ton more research than I have time to, and are definitely worth checking out!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Potential Setlists 1

     Hey everybody, welcome to the first of many smaller Thursday posts here on 21st Century Dead!  This week I'll be sharing some potential setlists I've come up with for Dead & Company's upcoming tour, specifically the three shows I'm going to.  The initals after the song names are for the people singing the different songs, and I tried to create these based on the feel Dead & Company had on their last tour.  I've also included some songs that they didn't do yet that I think they should dust off.  There are also a couple repeated songs, but there are going to be some shows between the first and the other two, so I think expecting repeats makes sense.  Feel free to comment on them and share your own potential setlists!

Hartford Show (06/28/16)

Set One
Big Railroad Blues (BW)
Stagger Lee (JM)
Ramble on Rose > (BW)
Loose Lucy (BW)
Mississippi Half Step > (JM &BW)
Looks Like Rain (BW)
Let it Grow > (BW)
Crazy Fingers > (JM)
Let it Grow (BW)

Set Two
Samson & Delilah (BW)
Help on the Way > (BW & JM)
Slipknot! >
Caution (Do Not Step on Tracks) > (JM)
Feedback/Space/Drums >
Saint Stephen > (ALL)
Not Fade Away > (ALL)
Comes a Time > (BW)
Slipknot! >
Franklin's Tower (JM)
Encore: Uncle John's Band (ALL)

Fenway Night One (07/15/16)

Set One
Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleoo > (JM &BW)
Feel Like a Stranger > (BW)
High Time (JM)
Dire Wolf (BW)
Me & My Uncle > (BW)
Mexicali Blues (BW)
Althea (JM)
So Many Roads > (BW)
Promised Land (BW)

Set Two
China Cat Sunflower > (JM & BW)
I Know You Rider > (ALL)
Estimated Prophet > (BW)
He's Gone > (BW & JM)
Truckin' > (BW)
Drums  >
Space >
Dark Star > (ALL)
Comes a Time > (BW)
Dark Star > (ALL)
Sugar Magnolia (BW)

Encore: Morning Dew (BW)

Fenway Night Two (07/16/16)

Set One
Touch of Gray > (BW)
Greatest Story Ever Told > (BW)
Good Morning Little Schoolgirl (JM)
When I Paint My Masterpiece (BW)
Tennessee Jed (JM & BW)
Bertha > (JM)
Lazy Lightning > (BW)
Supplication (BW)

Set Two
One More Saturday Night (BW)
St. Stephen (up to jam after "one man gathers what another man spills") > (ALL)
Scaret Begonias > (JM)
Eyes of the World > (JM)
Drums >
Space >
Days Between (BW) >
St. Stephen Reprise (ALL) >
Not Fade Away > (ALL)
Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad (ALL)

Encore: Attics of My Life

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Couch Concerts and Sofa Setlists

    One of the things that my generation of Dead Heads is blessed with is the prevalence of live streaming.  On any given week there’s probably at least one show being streamed online, and certain venues like the Capitol Theater and Brooklyn Bowl seem to stream every show they put on.  While I think we’re all lucky this technology is so prevalent and accessible, there are some down sides, or at least issues, worth discussing.  It’s still not a perfect medium, but the issues it does have are mostly surmountable.

    Let’s get the biggest issue out of the way first: buffering!  It’s hard to tell which is worse, if the feed suddenly stops dead (ha), or if it constantly starts and stops, only a few seconds at a time.  There is nothing worse than having the concert that you planned to watch, and maybe even paid money for, grind to a halt before your eyes when you know that the band is still playing hundreds of miles away!  It’s a jarring experience, especially if you’re in some kind of State of Mind.  It raises feelings of uncertainty because you don’t know where the problem is actually coming from; is it my computer?  Is it the internet connection?  Is it the streaming service?  Is it all just in my head??

    Needless to say, this drastically diminishes the enjoyability of the streaming experience.  I think when this happens it is mostly due to the streaming service not allocating enough bandwidth for the amount of people watching the stream.  Which is something they should stop doing!  It’s like the organization of Fare Thee Well, where they drastically underestimated the amount of interest in the shows; as Phil said “Who knew??”  We knew, Phil!  At this point there is no reasonable excuse for being unprepared for the amount of traffic a Dead show will get, because we are everywhere!

    Another issue is being at the whim of the director.  When you’re at a concert you can see everything at once and choose where to look at any given time.  Watching a stream, however, means you can only look at what the director wants you to look at.  Typically the director knows what he or she is doing, but it can be a real nuisance when they are unfamiliar with the band or their repertoire.  For example, picture a concert where the Dead just finished “Truckin’,” and are now heading into what is very obviously “The Other One.”  We all know that you want to keep one eye on Phil just in case he does his intro run into the song, but a cameraman or director who knows nothing about the Dead will inevitably keep the camera on the lead guitar or drums.  Equally annoying is when they can’t figure out who is singing or soloing at a given time, and you’re just sitting there screaming at your TV “It’s Kadlecik playing, not Bobby!”

    A prime example of this was the webcast of the Phil & Friends show from 10-31-2015.  My parents and I saw this and the night before live down in Port Chester, and Phil had guitar virtuoso Stanley Jordan playing with him (full review to come).  In the second set they did the incredible segue of “Dark Star > Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) > Dark Star,” which not only featured some of the most incredible playing I’ve ever seen but also include the 56 year old Jordan doing a goddam somersault on stage while soloing on “Voodoo Chile;” we couldn’t believe it!  We bought the livestream and official recording ahead of time so we could watch the video of the show when we got home, and we were appalled to see (or not see) that the cameras had no idea what he was doing and didn’t catch any of the somersault or the jumping about that led up to it.  If we hadn’t gone and only watched the live stream, we never would have even known about this!

    During a live stream, I also find myself weighing the pros and cons of being at the concert vs. being on my couch.  When I’m on my couch, I can just get up and pour myself another drink without having to wait in line and pay a fortune for a beer.  When I’m at the show I’m constantly dancing and there is a feeling that I am contributing to the concert, but from my couch I’m only a spectator, and to get up and dance seems a little forced.  There’s also a chance of falling asleep if I’m sitting on a couch and it’s a late show from California (three hour time difference) or a New Year’s Show that’s bound to go past midnight; how embarrassing!  Another difference is the sound mix; when you’re live streaming you’re getting just the pure soundboard and you miss out on the actual acoustics of the venue.  On the other hand, you don’t have to deal with people having conversations during the show.

    Finally, as mentioned before, you have no control over the camera, and for some reason directors and cameramen are fascinated by shots of the crowd.  I think that can sometimes be a good thing, but all too often they’ll find a member of the crowd (typically an attractive girl) and linger on her for a long time.  The worst thing about this is that the person typically knows they’re being filmed because there’s a camera in their face and getting in the way of the dancing, and they are visibly uncomfortable -- move the camera!  The streaming of the show should not get in the way of the show itself, either by distracting the performers or by distracting the crowd trying to enjoy the show live.

    So those are the issues, and it may sound like I feel mostly bad about live streaming, but as I said at the beginning, it’s honestly a blessing.  While it of course doesn’t measure up to seeing the show live, and doesn’t always work out the way you plan, live streaming is the only way most people can see all the shows they want without traveling across the country and shelling out thousands of dollars.  The Lockn’ Festival typically offers streams of their entire festival, and while they do have some serious buffering issues at times, it’s incredible to be able to pay just a fraction of the ticket price and still be able to catch every act in the lineup!  It’s a great way to spend the weekend while listening to new and different music that you know is being performed live.  Live streams also give you the chance to have listening parties, where you invite your friends over and all watch the show together from the comfort of your home.  Again, being at the show is better, but if there’s no possibility of getting to the show or getting all your friends there, this is a great compromise.

    Well that’s about all I have to say.  Do any of you have streaming stories that you want to share?  Terrible experiences?  Great experiences?  Shows you saw live that you’re glad to have recordings of for the future?  Let me know in the comments below, and let me know if you have any requests or suggestions for my next post!  Also, you can follow the blog on Facebook and Twitter, both @21stCenturyDead, where sometimes I’ll have small supplements to the blog, questions, and teases for what’s coming up!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

How Do We Feel About Dead & Company?

    Since I took my hiatus from blogging, there have been many changes in the world of the Grateful Dead: Furthur disbanded, Phil officially stopped touring, The Fare Thee Well 50th Anniversary Celebrations took place, and, most recently, Dead & Company was born.  I’ll have to talk about Fare Thee Well another time, but for now I want to talk about Dead & Company and the ways its formation, as with most things, divided Dead Head opinion.  Criticism mainly stemmed from two issues: the claim that Fare Thee Well would be the last time all of the members of the band would play together, and the choice of John Mayer as lead guitarist.  During Fare Thee Well, there was a lot of talk about money-grabbing, especially focused around Pete Shapiro, owner of the Capitol Theater and other venues.  Pete was the one who made the claim that the Core Four would never again play together (and the band echoed his sentiments), and when Dead & Company emerged, it brought back the ire that people felt when they were shelling out thousands of dollars for Fare Thee Well; what the hell did they pay for if the band was going on tour again?! As for Mayer, he was best known, to me at least, as a pop musician with an affinity for the blues who spent a lot of time in the tabloids for his involvement with various affairs and scandals.  Being the guy that I am, I never read any of these articles or paid much attention, but his association with that world kept me from paying him any attention before this.  And as for the first criticism mentioned above, Phil isn’t playing with these guys, so, I for one, don’t think they lied to us.  And, how can anyone complain about a new Dead band?!  I think the real source of the outrage is that Fare Thee Well felt like the end of a chapter in history, and for a lot of people it’s where they thought they would get off the bus.  But at no point did anyone in charge of the events say “there will be no more Grateful Dead music ever again, get it while it’s hot,” people just drew that conclusion themselves, and as a result felt a little bitter about the whole thing.

    The band was conceived when Bobby and the drummers realized how much fun they were having playing together during Fare Thee Well and decided they needed to ride this wave while it lasted.  As I mentioned above, Phil is totally done touring (though he still plays a few residencies a year), and the Core Four aren’t planning on getting together again, so they had to find a bass player.  There were rumors they tried out Mike Gordon from Phish, which in the wake of bringing Trey Anastasio along for Fare Thee Well seemed like a huge problem for the anti-Phish Dead Heads out there.  Personally, I’m not wild about Phish, but I certainly don’t hate them like some folks do.  I’m glad that they ditched this idea and went instead with Oteil Burbridge, who most recently was the bass player for the Allman Brothers Band and plays with just about every musician there is.  He has a very jazzy style of playing bass and does a lot more tapping and slapping than Phil ever did, in a Jaco Pastorius kind of way (  He’s no lightweight though, his bass can sound like the horns of the Gods when he really lets loose.  I think he is a perfect fit for this band -- he plays the songs in his own way, but is familiar enough with the music that he always knows what needs to be played.

    On keyboards they went with the obvious and correct choice, our old friend Jeff Chimenti!  Besides playing with Furthur, Phil and Friends, and previous iterations of the Dead, he also held down the organ and synth role for the Fare Thee Well shows while Bruce Hornsby played the grand piano.  Now Jeff’s back as the sole keyboardist and is as unbelievable as ever.  I do wish they would give him more solos like he had in Furthur, but I really can’t complain.  The ones he does get are mind-blowing and always so inventive.  His background playing provides so many textures and he always seems to know exactly which one is perfect at any given moment.  He’s also singing more now, and that’s pretty cool!

    Billy and Mickey are of course the drummers, and I think they’ve only been getting better since this band formed.  When I saw them for Fare Thee Well I was a little iffy about how they were playing, and looking back I think some of that feeling lies with Trey’s performance.  I think he was great and had many brilliant moments at those shows, but the problem is that he seemed reluctant to really take the lead and express himself within the music.  It seemed to me that he was trying not to step on anyone’s toes and was constantly looking to the other players so he would change keys or songs when they wanted to, but they really wanted him to just make the decision himself and they would follow.  Because of this the drummers had to keep track of where they were, where the rest of the band was, and where Trey was, which is a lot to keep track of if they’re not all on the same page from the beginning.  With Dead & Company I think there was still a little bit of that going on in their first/only tour so far, but they were still a hundred times tighter than Fare Thee Well.  It’s really something to see those two drumming together, they have such an awesome power at their fingertips, and the “Drums > Space” segments are like watching kids play on a jungle gym: there are so many toys and only so much time to play with them!  Mickey especially has worked his Beam up into a super instrument that seems to be able to make any possible sound.

    My only criticism of having a dedicated “Drums > Space” segment each night is that it’s fairly predictable at this point.  The Dead started including a “Drums” break at every show in 1978, and while “Drums” and “Space” are by their natures some of the most free-form and improvisational parts of a show, you always know that they’re coming in the second set, and that leaves the setlist format relatively fixed.  During the second set I find myself thinking, “Ok, they’ve done three songs since the set started, they probably have one more before going into ‘Drums,’ and then they’ll have to come out of ‘Space’ into something psychedelic, then do a ballad, and then a rocker or two to close the set.”  I think it would do a lot for the novelty of the shows if they did it a little more like they would in ‘70 or ‘76, when they would sprinkle in several smaller “Drums” segments throughout, and occasionally have a 15-20 minute interlude.  Maybe their reasoning is that they have two drummers and what looks like several tons of drum equipment, so for it to all pay off they have to do a big “Drums” segment each night, which makes sense to me.  I just think that after almost 40 years of the same formula, maybe they should change things up a little to keep us on our toes!

    Bob Weir was a bit reclusive after the end of Furthur, mostly because of some health issues he was having at the time.  He even cancelled his Ratdog tour to our chagrin (we had tickets!) a couple years back, so we were a little worried about him going into 2015.  As he showed us, however, he was in fine form for Fare Thee Well and was looking and playing even better by the time Dead & Company rolled around.  He’s singing better than he has in the last few years and his playing is sounding much better too.  He still makes some questionable noises with his guitar sometimes, but overall I like the tones he’s playing with better than the ones he had in Furthur.  He also looks like he’s having a great time -- in fact the whole band is constantly beaming when they’re onstage!  He’s taken to having a stool on the stage that he can lean on when he gets tired.  What surprises me is that he doesn’t use it very often, but just having it on stage seems to give him more freedom to be energetic when he needs to, and during the quieter or more contemplative parts of shows he can conserve his energy and return to the stool.

    Mayer and Bobby really seem to have a special connection musically, and Mayer always seems to have one eye on Bobby to see where he’s going.  Bobby used to talk about how he could see where Jerry was going with a lead, and would always try to get there ahead of him so he could have a surprise waiting that Jerry would sometimes love and sometimes hate (paraphrasing), and he seems to be able to do that for Mayer as well.  The difference is that he hasn’t played with Mayer for 30 years, so there are surprises waiting for Bobby too.

    Finally we come to the newest addition to the world of the Dead, John Mayer.  The way the story goes as he tells it is that he was sitting in his pool, being a rockstar, when the Pandora station he was listening to started playing “Althea,” and his world changed forever.  He rushed out of the pool and ran to his phone to see what was playing, and got on the bus from there.  What I like about this is that his own awakening to the Dead happened right around the same time I got into them (2011 for him, 2010 for me), so he’s in the same generation of Dead Heads as I am from a certain perspective.  He went through a crash course of listening to the Dead and becoming familiar with their history, and eventually played with Bob Weir last year when Mayer took his turn hosting “The Late Late Show.”  I don’t know why they went for Trey for Fare Thee Well when communication had already been established with Mayer, but I know nothing about any of the decisions they made, so that’s nothing new.  Maybe they figured Trey was already more well known in Dead circles, and they had probably already been rehearsing with him at this point.  Either way, Mayer went to Fare Thee Well not as a participant but as part of the audience, and from what he’s said seemed to be very supportive of Trey.  It wasn’t long after Fare Thee Well, however, that Dead & Company came to light as the next iteration of a constant Dead band, with Mayer in the Jerry slot.

    I think that Mayer is absolutely the right choice, and I hope this lineup stays the way it is; the only alteration I would accept willingly would be replacing Oteil with Phil, but even that I have reservations about.  This really feels like Bob’s band to me, of course with contributions from the other members of the band, and I think that nowadays Phil is very particular about what he wants to play, which doesn’t always mesh with what the rest of the Core Four want.  So it’s maybe for the best that Phil stay with his Friends, and these guys keep touring -- I wouldn’t mind a couple collaborations when they’re in the same area though!  One of the best things about Mayer is that he clearly has opinions about how he wants to play these songs that he’s fallen in love with, and he takes such a dominant role as the lead guitarist, something I think Trey struggled with for Fare Thee Well as I mentioned earlier.  Besides bringing his own sound and tone to the table, he also has some very Garcia-like tendencies, and even got a new guitar specifically to sound a little more Jerry-ish.  Now this is controversial in-and-of itself in that many people (including Billy) have said in the past that they don’t want a Jerry clone, they want someone unique who can still play the necessary hooks and riffs.  I think that Mayer has found a perfect balance of these elements: he’s still very much himself and plays like no other guitarist I’ve seen in that role, but is also very aware of when he needs to play the Jerry card.  His vocals are unmistakably pop-oriented, which isn’t always a great fit, but on songs like “Cold Rain & Snow,” “Althea,” and “Row Jimmy” it was a great twist on tunes we’re all so familiar with.

    My dad and I saw Dead & Company with our friend Scott in Worcester (pronounced “wuh-ster” for you non-Bostonians out there) on 11/10/2015, and had a great time.  I won’t go into a whole song-by-song review of the show, but here’s the setlist, and I’ll go into some highlights:

First Set: Cassidy, Row Jimmy, Ramble on Rose, Big River, Peggy-O, Sugaree, The Music Never Stopped

Second Set: Deal > Uncle John’s Band > Estimated Prophet > Terrapin Station > Drums > Space > Dear Prudence > Get Out My Life, Woman > Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad

Encore: Ripple

Here’s an audience recording, more available on the archive:

    We were shocked to get “Cassidy” as the opener, but I was thrilled because that was one of the main songs I hadn’t gotten before that I was hoping to get from Bobby at this show.  The first three songs were arguably the best part of the show, they absolutely killed each of them.  Mayer’s solos in “Row Jimmy” were unbelievable, and the leads he and Chimenti were trading on “Ramble on Rose” just kept building higher and higher.  The two songs at the end of the first set were also fantastic and featured some heavy bass bombs from Oteil.  There were some rough spots in “Peggy-O” and “Deal,” but even these were excellent versions of the songs; Bobby kept switching up the amount of measures in each verse of Peggy-O, that Prankster!  The post-drums segment was a little lacking, but Dear Prudence was beautiful, especially the way it solidified out of “Space.”  Allen Toussaint passed away earlier that same day, and “Get Out My life, Woman” was a song he popularized, so we really appreciated their effort to honor his memory, even if the song was obviously unrehearsed.  I also think that “Terrapin” isn’t anywhere as good as it was when Furthur did it, but I think that’s mainly a result of Kadlecik being totally immersed in the Dead’s repertoire and Mayer still just getting into it, and this is a very complex song.  They didn’t have a single wrong note, I just felt that Mayer wasn’t comfortable enough with the song to really step away from the basic format.  “Uncle John’s > Estimated > Terrapin” was such a  great sequence though, and the whole band was really showcasing their newfound powers.  At this point “Ripple” is a bit of a clich├ęd encore, but it’s still such a soul-warming song, and Mayer switched it up by playing some of the mandolin parts from the album on his acoustic guitar!

    That was our only live encounter with the band, but they also put on a free concert at Madison Square Garden and streamed it live.  It’s still available for free, with the sets separated, at the links below.

    This show is really fantastic, and while they seemed a little shaky during parts of “Shakedown” and “I Need a Miracle” (the first two songs) the whole rest of the show is stellar.  There is a little hiccup going into “Franklin’s”, but the whole “Help > Slip! > Frank” triumvirate is absolutely incredible, with Mayer really getting into “Slipknot!”  “He’s Gone” and “Tennessee Jed” also come to mind as real stand-out performances.

    So what’s my final verdict on the band?  I love them!  I think they really carry on the tradition of the Grateful Dead in an authentic way, meaning they play the songs we love but still push the boundaries of where music can go.  For now they don’t quite measure up to the combined power and control that Furthur had, but for a band that’s done one small tour they are way ahead of the curve.  Mayer is fitting in with the Dead world beautifully, and it’s a joy to watch this band come together and find their groove.  The onstage chemistry is palpable, whether Mayer is watching Chimenti solo with his jaw hanging open, or Oteil is joining the drummers for the “Drums”!  I hope that Mayer continues to take a dominant role as the lead guitarist and grow in his confidence.  The more they play these songs and increase the size of their repertoire, the stronger the band will become.  I think this upcoming tour of theirs is really going to give them a chance to spread their wings and see exactly what they’re capable of.  We’re scheduled to see three of their upcoming shows, one in Hartford, CT (06/28/2016) and two at Fenway Park(07/15 & 07/16/2016), and hopefully they’ll announce more tours and live streams to come!  I wish they would release official soundboard recordings of their shows, but the word on the street is that Mayer’s recording contract won’t allow for that.  They’re allowing audience members to tape the shows, so at least there’s that; but still, let us hear the soundboards!

    What do you guys think of this band?  Let me know in the comments below, or if you have any questions/objections about what I wrote.  Also let me know if any of you have suggestions or requests for future posts and I’ll take them into consideration!  You can follow the blog on Facebook and Twitter at the links below if you'd like.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Phil Lesh's 76th Birthday Night Two

As you may recall my parents and I went down to the Capitol Theater to catch two of Phil Lesh's birthday concerts. You can view the previous night's blog here if you want to refresh your memory before diving into the second night.

Night Two (2016-03-18)
    We woke up a little sore the next day from all the dancing, hung around the hotel for a while, and then headed out to Sherwood Island State Park in Connecticut before making the trek back into Port Chester for more of the same.  This time we hit up Shakedown Corner (not exactly a street) before getting food and heading into the venue.  We didn't end up getting anything at Shakedown, but we did get a nice poster from the official merchandise table inside.  Our seats were much farther back in the balcony this time, which was a bit of a shame as far as sight lines  and crowd noise go. The sound quality and volume were still fantastic though, and we enjoyed the Capitol’s light show even more than before.  We also had four seats for just the three of us, and I was at the end of the row, so there was plenty of room in the aisle for optimum dancing!  Soon the lights went down, the crowd cheered, and the band came on stage for another epic night.

And here's the link to the
pictures my mom took of both nights
First Set

Dark Star (All) > Again and Again (Haynes & Barraco), New Speedway Boogie (Haynes), Sunshine of Your Love (Haynes) > Broken Arrow (Lesh), End of the Line (Haynes) > Dark Star (All) > I Know You Rider (All)

    “Dark Star,” they opened with “Dark Star”!!  It wasn’t apparent at first, and you could probably call it “Jam > Dark Star” if you were so inclined, but that jam crystallized into “Dark Star” so flawlessly and seamlessly that there’s no way it was anything else from the very start.  The moment Phil signalled that familiar call the whole theater just opened up and people lost their minds, never to regain them -- I’m still recovering.  Phil, Barraco, and Haynes, respectively, took turns singing the first verses in the same way Furthur used to do, with the whole band (and theater) singing the chorus, then we were back into the thick of it.  Like with the previous night’s “The Other One,” the band took their time and stretched their wings into all possible corners of the song, flirting with the theme of the song before soaring into another dimension, just to return again with a new perspective.  My dad and I always half-joked about them opening with “Dark Star” and then just playing it for the whole night, and for a while that reality was almost ours!  Eventually though, the band drifted out of the cosmos and into what sounded like a song, though not one we recognized.

    “Again and Again” is another song from There and Back Again, and it features overlapping vocal parts from Haynes and Barraco.  The whole song feels like separate parts that are constantly folding over each other, finding common patterns and then drifting back into their own parts again.  The lyrics were a little hard to distinguish from where we were, but the song was a true example of the whole being greater than the sum of its individual parts.  They closed the song with some soulful licks from Haynes on the slide guitar.  We thought they’d go right back into “Dark Star,”  but instead the song came to a close and everyone looked around as we tried to catch our breaths and figure out where we were again.

    We didn’t have much time to relax before it was time to dance again!  “New Speedway Boogie” was next up, and it was time for Haynes to really showcase his vocal chops.  He exudes such an authentic feeling when it comes to songs like this that you forget he’s singing a Grateful Dead song and instead it feels as old as the blues themselves (even when he forgets some of the lyrics).  The band had the whole place reeling and rocking during this one, and all of the players’ parts built the others’ higher and higher into the stratosphere.  It’s another great example of Phil’s ability to stretch the boundaries of a song so far that it goes from swamp rock, to outer space, to hard rock, and back again in the blink of an eye.  The band scorched its way back into the lyrics, brought it down, and led the crowd in closing lines:

One way or another, one way or another, one way or another, this darkness got to give

    Here again the band took a small break, and then broke out into something really unexpected--the Cream classic, “Sunshine of Your Love”!  Phil played this with Haynes in the past, but I never saw it coming, and what a spectacular surprise.  I’ve never seen Clapton or Cream live, so this is a totally unfounded claim, but I bet they never thought the song could be played in this way.  Molo really led the band, and Haynes was just killing the vocals.  Phil once again seemed to revel in playing someone else’s song.  After the traditional vocal part of the song, the jam took us into totally unexplored space, and it wasn’t clear if we were going into another song or just off into infinity.  Eventually Haynes came to the mic and reminded us what song we were in.  He brought the band back into the closing of the song, and instead of coming to a finish they just rocketed back into full drive.  During the whole set we couldn’t forget that they had opened with “Dark Star,” but only done the first verse, and this was one of many times we thought the band was heading back into it, but all of a sudden the music coalesced around a familiar theme: “Cumberland”!  But Phil, that Prankster, was just teasing us, and they left that behind to land on something a little different.

    I have to admit, not only did I never expect this next song, but I also actively said I didn’t want to hear it.  Much like the last time I felt this way about a song, “Throwing Stones,” I soon realized how wrong all my previous judgements were.  “Broken Arrow” is a song written by The Band’s Robbie Robertson that the Dead started to do in the 90’s, and I was just never a fan.  Looking back, maybe it was Jerry’s deteriorating health and playing that soured me on it, but I just never felt that it fit in with the Grateful Dead sound.  This version totally turned my whole world around, and now I can’t wait to hear another version with a fresh outlook!  A huge part of my enjoyment came from the harmonies the band was hitting all night, and the way each part fit perfectly with one another.  The jam in the middle of the song was incredible too, and Phil just seemed so happy singing that I couldn’t believe it was the same song I had bad-mouthed for so long!  After a beautiful jam out of the song with some more “Dark Star” hints, they laid the song to rest and took their final breather of the set.

    They launched into a hard-rockin’ time with The Allman Brothers’ “End of the Line,” another song that Warren Haynes seemed so at home with.  I wasn’t too familiar with this one, but they killed it, and I was dancing at the top of the Capitol stairs.  Just when it started to feel like the set-closer, they changed gears and slipped right back into “Dark Star” like nothing had changed from the beginning of the set!  They could have wrapped it up neatly in just three short minutes, but Phil was having too good of a time and took them for another go round or two before they came back into the lyrics.  They jammed out of the song with a definite theme in mind, which my dad really liked the sound of, and the band launched into “I Know You Rider.”

    This could have been longer, in my opinion, but we certainly weren’t going to complain to the band that just opened a show with “Dark Star.”  Despite not being the longest version ever, it was still a crisp and precise version of the song that had everyone singing and dancing along.  My dad called this earlier in the day, saying they had to do this and “Franklin’s Tower” since they had done those two songs’ traditional companions in the nights before, and he sure was right (on both counts).  They brought the song to a triumphant close and left the stage to thunderous applause, while we all tried to figure out what to do with ourselves during Intermission.

Second Set

Unbroken Chain (Lesh) > The Wheel (All) > Cumberland Blues (All), Uncle John’s Band (All) > No More Do I (Haynes & Barraco) > Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys (Haynes) > Franklin’s Tower (Lesh)

    Leading up to these shows my Dad and I were pretty sure that we’d get both “Unbroken Chain” and “Box of Rain,” arguably Phil’s best contributions to the Dead repertoire, so we were glad to have our predictions confirmed when they opened the second set.  We didn’t get “Box of Rain” this time, but what a great version of “Unbroken Chain”!  It was hard to tell who was having more fun, Barraco or Phil.  Rob Barraco is a huge jazz-head, and a pretty nerdy one at that, so this kind of song is right up his alley with all of its key and time changes; this is some heady stuff.  They wound their way through the middle of the song, interchanging leads and rhythms across the shifting soundscape, eleven and fifteen beats at a time, until Phil brought them back into the vocals.  This wasn’t his best singing of the night, but it’s always such a treat to hear him sing this song that he so clearly loves.  Haynes led the way on the jam out of the song from the familiar outro into new territory.

    It really wasn’t clear what song we were going into until we were already apparently two verses in, and I think there was some miscommunication in the band somewhere, but all of a sudden we went from a jam in a minor key kind of like “Mountains of the Moon” straight into “The Wheel.”  I, of course, was thrilled to get this song, especially after I thought they were going to do it the night before; it was just so weird to have it come so out of the blue, but oh well!  The rest of the song went off without a hitch and was everything I hoped it would be.  It seems like such a simple song at first, but then it quickly becomes clear there are many levels all working together to create a beautiful unity.  Everyone creates their own wheels of music within the song, and as long as they stay revolving at the same rate, it all comes around together.  Phil really likes to stretch this one out with multiple jam sections between the verses, unlike the way the Dead would; they would only really have a couple shorter jam sections before the end and all the verses would come together.  We rolled our way out of the into something we left behind during the first set.

    Like with “The Wheel,” “Cumberland Blues” has really grown from its original incarnations into a cosmic-jam-grass-rocker.  Molo really came alive for this one, and the band, to me at least, took on a very Furthur-like sound.  A good thing in my book!  Herring’s guitar especially took on a tone that sounded a lot like the one John Kadlecik uses.  The intro jam felt longer than most early versions of the entire song, with teases of other songs sprinkled in until Phil led the way into the opening vocals.   At this point in the show everyone had been dancing for a long while, with some taking their seats during “Wheel,” but we all got  up to dance our asses off for this one.  Now I’m a very Phil-centric guy, if that isn’t obvious, and I loved both of these shows, but around this point I was kind of missing Bobby.  These guys were all so serious about the music and it was producing stellar results, but sometimes you just need a good “yee-haw!”, or “wooow!”, or even a good Bobby vamping (“little bit, little bit, harder, haiya!”) to really let loose.  Barraco gave a couple of these with varying results (does he really mean that scream?), and as I mentioned before Haynes just oozes authenticity when he sings, but who doesn’t love a 17-year-old kid in a 68-year-old man’s body having a good time?  We were having a good time too though, and the show wasn’t over yet.

    The band took a minute to tune up and stretch out while we wondered what was coming next, trying to think of what songs they hadn’t played, and what unexpected songs they might surprise us with.  “Uncle John’s Band” wasn’t much of a surprise, but I was hoping to hear these guys have a go at.  I liked that they took a faster tempo to it than other times I’ve heard it, and they really jazzed it up.  Songs like this, “Touch of Grey,” and “Truckin’” are of course ones that even non-Dead Heads know some/most of the lyrics to, so the sing-along factor was at a high, which can be a good or bad thing.  Being so far back made the band’s vocals a little less distinct, but it’s not like we weren’t singing too!  I think this song tricks people who aren’t familiar with it, because if you only know the album version then it’s a sweet camp-fire sing-along with a cute little instrumental bit at the end, but in reality it’s a total jam vehicle with some real teeth at the end.  It starts out lilting and carefree with a great jam that has a light theme, but when performed live that jam can go some pretty far out places.  And the jam at the end in 7/4 time gives songs like “Playing in the Band” a run for their money when it comes to ferocity and weird time signatures.  This is a song that really shows how much control a band has, and these guys passed the test with flying colors.  Normally Phil will omit the second 7/4 section and actually do the closing “dah dah dee dah dee dah” bit that’s on the album, but in this case the band actually leaped back onto the jam and took it into the next song.

   “No More Do I” is another from Phil’s album.  I have recordings of Furthur doing this song that interested me in the past, and I was glad to see it live.  Maybe not as good as “Night of a Thousand Stars” from the night before, but they really made this shine.  It allowed for more mellow dancing, which was appreciated as we were all getting pretty tired at this point.  They played their way through the song into a spacey, soft jam that eventually took us into a Haynes tour-de-force, Traffic’s “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys.”  I knew this one was likely as Phil’s played it with Haynes in the past with great success.  Phil was really letting loose on the syncopated section, and the band twisted their way through the song with precision.  The song fit the mood perfectly: a dark, smoky room with a mystical undercurrent slowly drifting along until it suddenly builds up and brings everything together with an unexpected power, only to melt away like patterns in the smoke spontaneously forming and dissipating.

    Phil took the lead back from uncharted territory towards civilization, making some exploratory detours along the way, until it became apparent where we were headed, and my dad’s suspicions were once again vindicated.  On Phil’s birthday they did “Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Just a Little Light,” which of course left out the finale of the triumvirate, “Franklin’s Tower,” which my dad was waiting for all night.  It wasn’t as long as I expected and hoped, but still there was nothing to complain about.  The song was filled with flowing leads and flourishes, and every hoarse voice in the crowd was singing along once again.  Unlike “The Wheel,” this one is actually about as simple as it appears, but its simplicity makes it possible to build more complicated structures on top of it without losing the basic core of the song.  I thought it must have been liberating for the musicians who had been playing in fluctuating time signatures all night to let the music play even more easily.  It was certainly a lot easier for us to dance to without tumbling down the stairs!  They closed the song off with the “Slipknot!” ending, once again looked around with that shellshocked “woah” look on their faces, and left the stage.

Donor Rap/Encore
Patchwork Quilt (Haynes)

    Once again we couldn’t hear much of the Donor Rap, but upon listening to the soundboard he told a heartwarming story about a woman named Ali, who gave a kidney to her father, instead of the usual Cody-talk.  The band then came back onstage to play one last song.  It wasn’t “Box of Rain” like we were hoping for, but “Patchwork Quilt” was still a great end to the show.  It continued in the vein of ending these shows with more mellow songs. This was no easygoing affair though; it built to some real heights.  This song is on Phil’s album, but Haynes actually wrote it, and it’s  beautifully crafted.  It’s kind of a retrospective on a mysterious, yet beloved, figure with a wistful, fare-thee-well feeling to it, and it was a sweet note to leave on.  Phil once again came to the mic and introduced the band while we cheered with what was left of our voices for more, but alas they were only giving us the one encore.  We took our time heading out, figuring we would be the last ones out anyway, but ended up getting outside before most people somehow.  We made it back to the hotel and got some well-deserved rest after two successful concerts.

    Well, that’s my tale folks!   I’m not sure what my next post will be, but it will definitely be something a bit shorter, and as always feel free to suggest something!