The Dead & Company tour may be over, but there’s still plenty of Grateful Dead music being played! This past Saturday my parents and I went back to the Brighton Music Hall to see John Kadlecik, but in a different band. This was the Golden Gate Wingmen, who we saw in the same place last summer, and it is made up of John, Jeff Chimenti, Jay Lane on drums, and Reed Mathis on bass. They play a lot of non-Dead songs, but can be put in the same category as JRAD; if you’re the kind of person who puts labels on things, mannnn.
The show wasn’t quite sold out, but there was still a lot of people in the dance hall, and I think Jeff Chimenti might be more responsible for that than anyone else. The other musicians are obviously big draws themselves, all having played in various band including ones with Grateful Dead members, but Jeff has been in the most Dead bands and is the least divisive among fans. I actually ran into John and Jeff in the smoking area out back (and I didn’t pass out of freak out at them), and after a bit someone asked Jeff, “What’s it like playing with John Mayer, did you finally dose him?,” at which point Kadlecik kind of rolled his eyes and went inside and Jeff shrugged the question off. Maybe John has some hard feelings about there being a new guitar-John on the Dead scene, but I think probably not.
The show got a bit of a late start, but we were all ready to dance all night, so we weren’t bothered! We were dead center, just a couple people back from the stage, so we had great view and sound. For whatever reason, there’s a soundboard of the show available here, which is awesome!
- Nobody Told Me
- We had seen John do this a few months ago with his JK Band, but we could already tell that this show was going to be a lot better.
- John really sings and plays Lennon songs so well, and the rest of the band was already playing like mad men. Reed Mathis plays bass like no one else, feeling more than comfortable just sitting on two notes for a whole song, but liable to slip into an incredible lead at any point. Besides his regular bass playing, he also has a filter that makes his bass play two octaves at once, so he sounds like an electric guitar and a bass playing together, which is mind blowing.
- Jay Lane, of Furthur, Ratdog, and Primus fame, was playing way better than I remember him playing last year, augmenting the rhythms and timings of all the songs they played, but staying right with the other musicians. It’s a very Furthur-esque way of playing, which makes sense with three members of that band.
- Brown-Eyed Woman
- Another one we had just seen John do, but this was again worlds apart from that version.
- This one was played so ferociously, with John, Jeff, and Reed exchanging the most blistering solos, while Jay played with and deconstructed the beat below them.
- I always think of the 11/11/11 Furthur performance of this song as the gold standard, and I think this one might actually have been better, but it’s truly hard to say.
- They took a small tuning break and make some Yellow Submarine jokes.
- Seen Love
- Three in a row that John played last time he was in Brighton, but three in a row that were better performances!
- This song mostly has an undulating reggae-esque feel, but this band took the jams way out there. They got into some truly deep space, getting close to a kind of “King Solomon’s Marbles” feel, then ditching that for some pure, jammy goodness.
- I don’t want to get too into this now because I already have a post in the works somewhat devoted to this very topic, but John K can get to those formless spaces so much easier than certain other guitarists in the Dead world.
- Just Like a Woman
- Reed asked how we were all doing, and got a much bigger thrill out of our response than he expected, so asked if we could do it again. I hadn’t seen him out in the smoking area, but he was definitely in some kind of State of Mind.
- Reed’s first vocal lead of the night, with John singing all the other songs. Reed has such a beautiful voice, very folksy while also sounding a bit like alternative rock.
- He and Jay were the main forces behind the heavy syncopation that was present in a lot of these songs, and John and Jeff never lost a beat, playing their solos over the breakdowns and coming back to the regular rhythm all together.
- Jeff got a literal solo in this song when Reed told the rest of the band to cut out and shushed the crowd, leading into a breathtaking lead from John.
- Lazy River Road
- Not my favorite Dead song, but I like it a lot better than plenty of others, and it gave the band room for more mellow, harmonic solos.
- This is also a great song for John’s voice, which is not the most refined voice, but is still very nice and emotive.
- Givin’ Me The Business
- This is from the album that John made with Melvin Seals (of the JGB), American Spring, and besides the chorus being a serious case of questionable phrasing (givin’ me the business, in my own backyard) it’s a great song.
- It’s got a harder vibe to it, kind of like a mix between “After Midnight” and “Me & My Uncle.”
- They rocked through the jam section with everyone, including Jay, getting solos, before briefly rocketing into unknown, feedbacky territory.
- One of the highlights of the show, and like with “Brown-Eyed Women,” it passed the 11/11/11 test.
- A great intro jam to this one, with Reed and John teasing the main riff, but taking their time actually getting into the song, sometimes getting close to a “Spanish Jam” feeling.
- Reed repeated the “cup of cold coffee” verse, but acknowledged it by singing “I told ya twice.”
- The solo to this “Loser” has got to be one of the best pieces of music there is, it’s just so heart wrenching and haunting, while also being a perfect platform for blistering rock and roll.
- Feel Like Dynamite
- Super funky, this one got everyone dancing!
- Again, this band is so good on just turning on a dime and going of on a jam that’s almost totally divorced from the song they were playing. It’s different from how Furthur did it in that this is a lot more democratic, whereas Bobby and Phil (mostly Phil) were always the chief deciding factors in what direction a song or jam would take. These guys have the classic non-leader vibe going on, with each of them stepping up to lead the band only when it was right, and no clash of egos at all.
They closed out the set with big smiles and loud cheers from us. They were all found in the smoking area during break, but not a lot of us stayed out there as the rain and thunder started to roll in. During the first set, Jeff had removed the top of his Rhodes piano and had been repairing it while he was playing it, which is impressive! He had some feedback issues with it, but folded up some pieces of paper and fiddled around with a needle or something, and soon had it in working order. He had that Rhodes and an organ, neither of which I think we’ve seen him play, and both sounded great. Not only that, but Jeff was the real hero of the show, playing those instruments like no one else in the world can. You could even say he showed us his power...
A short setbreak, I think mostly because of the rain outside driving everyone in. There was then a good amount of smoking and vaping going on in the venue, which no one complained about. The Cool Mom next to me kept telling her teenage son he should feel free to start smoking and he pretended not to know who she was. The band came back out on stage with illegal smiles, and we were off into the second set!
Second Set (* w/ Todd Stoops)
- She Belongs to Me
- Another great Dylan song, this time sung (very well) by John.
- The Dead killed this one when they played it, even later in Jerry’s life, but this one was a version for the ages too. A lot peppier than when the Dead did it.
- Reed’s been working on a project called Electric Beethoven, which is basically a reworking of Beethoven’s classics in a 21st Century Acid Rock kind of way, and some of his solos in the second set had a more classical and elemental feel to them than other leads he played.
- Jeff’s Rhodes had some feedback issues at the beginning of this set, but he got that baby working again. Some banter from the band while they fixed it, Jeff complaining that it’s always his fault...
- Golden Wings
- I’m kind of embarrassed I didn’t recognize this song when they played it; it’s got (kind of) the name of the band in it!
- More great vocals from John here, and some great “wooshing” noises from Jay on his microphone…
- Once again, they took a relatively simple jam and took it out back and beat it with a tire iron until it told them all of its secrets.
- Reed started hinting at, and then full on playing, the “Estimated Prophet” rhythm, and they were about to really commit to it when they all kind of had a chat, then went back into “Join Together.” The reason why would soon be clear…
- John switched on his MIDI filter and started playing what sounded exactly like a grand piano, and it went great with Jeff’s Rhodes. Again, hints of what was to come.
- Dark Star >
- Another one you could have called it “Jam > Dark Star,” but we all know how I feel about that. John and Reed kind of gave the song away (or intentionally hinted at it) on the intro jam, and I totally called that shit.
- A really heavy “Dark Star,” with a relentless jam on the way in. Reed went from complicated multi-octave leads to the most minimalist bass playing he did all night, just thumping away on the downbeats while John and Jeff screeched into the stratosphere and Jay pummeled his drum kit.
- They finally did the opening “Dark Star” riff, toyed with the main theme for a bit, dove into the first verse, and then drifted back into space.
- Join Together >
- I didn’t realize this was a The Who song, I always just categorized it as another generic classic rock radio song that wasn’t actually written by anyone.
- This song has a triumphant, victorious feel to it that John really does well.
- Not surprisingly, they jammed this song out a lot more than The Who ever did.
- No one plays the organ quite like Jeff Chimenti, he’s truly a master of the art. I could listen to him play that thing all day everyday, and never get bored.
- Dark Star * >
- They went into a serious meltdown jam on the way back into this song, then suddenly snapped together to do the final verse.
- John sang both verses of the song, and he did it great, but I was hoping they trade the verses and Jeff and Reed would each get one.
- John got on his MuTron and started womping about, until they finally decided it was time to play “Estimated.”
- On the way there, a roadie brought another bench out and put it next to Jeff, then Todd Stoops came out on stage!
- Estimated Prophet * >
- They must have promised Todd they wouldn’t do this one without him, and he was indeed a great addition. He had impressed us back with the JK Band, but he really stepped up his playing for this band. He and Jeff really blended well together, and Jeff of course has experience playing with other keyboardists in Dead bands.
- We had hoped Reed would sing this one, and he exceeded our expectations. His drawn-out voice is perfect for the “Estimated” character and his lonely insistence that he knows the way.
- Reed and Jay really funked this one up with their telepathic syncopations.
- The outro jam started to build up from the uncertain dissonance they had reached to a brighter climax, and we all knew where they were headed...
- Eyes of the World * >
- This had been at the top of my list for songs I wanted to see the band do this time, so I was of course thrilled, especially once John took off on a stellar intro lead once they had established the song’s beat.
- Jeff and Todd both got solos that they shared with John in the body of the song. John also threw in some of what sounded like teases at TLC’s “Waterfalls,” which was fun and unexpected!
- Todd did some singing, which didn’t mesh too well with the rest of the band to my ears, but definitely not the worst singing I’ve heard from a Dead band.
- As with pretty much everything these guys played, this was a lot faster than the Dead & Company versions we had heard lately.
- They kind of broke down to just drums and a mellow jam while welcoming Todd back off the stage, then built the jam back up and made the surprising transition to...
- Touch of Grey
- After this song Jay was raving about how they gave it a ska rhythm, and he was really excited about it! It didn’t make the biggest difference to the song, but it did make it stand out from other versions I’ve seen, and was a nice touch (ha).
- One of my favorite nineties songs from the Dead, so glad to get it! John sings it so well, too.
Well that’s the show! I highly recommend you all go out and see this band if you get the chance. They’re all excellent musicians, and the music is of the highest quality, but there’s none of the pressure or angst that can come with bigger concerts in bigger venues. Like JRAD, these guys have taken the Grateful Dead catalogue and tradition and stood them on their heads while simultaneously still honoring them.