Peaches En Randalia #38
_When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. _ – Franklin D. Roosevelt
TONS of negative carping about the recent Dead reunion setlists, somnambulant playing, and overall disturbing malaise amongst fans on the streets these days. TONS. Funnysome clichnever die, and why should they? This old chestnut goes a little bit like this: the more things change, the more they remain the same. Ahhhbut heres another tired clicha band that is on the cutting edge of spontaneous musical moments needs to grow, lest one falls into the Dylanesque category of he not busy being born, is busy dying.
Whats a poor fortune cookie scribe to do with such similar yet opposing philosophies?
The Grateful Deads surviving members, now known as simply The Dead, post-Jerry Garcias inevitable yet tragic passing in 1995, have been playing improvisational music with a mixture of country, folk, bluegrass, roots, and good old fashioned Americana magic for over 40 years. Indeed, it is almost their right and duty to continue trudging across the States in one form or another, whether its BK3, Mickeys band of Wayward Harts & Planet Drum Gypsies, Bobby Weirs RatDog, or Phil Lesh & Friends. These gentlemen hippies have earned their legendary stripes, paid their dues a thousand times over, and continued to justwell, fill the slot that says that one is playin in the band.
However, the recent opening batch of hit and miss shows on the 2009 runtheir first series of gigs in almost five years, much like their soon-to-be-touring jam inheritors, Phishdoes appear as if the Dead is on an intriguing yet inevitable money grab tour. And you knowwhy not? They see the type of artists and bands that are cashing in on their good names in sheds and arenas in the late 00s, and think, heywerent we the highest grossing touring band in America for quite a long time? Well, yes they were, but so were Phish, and all of their members are still very much alive, and their ticket prices have remained sane and 2009-priced in these economically challenged times. Tough call.
The point about setlists is always a dead end. To be blunt, setlists dont mean shit. What goes in the bucket is of vastly greater importance than what the fucking bucket is made out of in the first place. Drop that argument. But what is disturbing is the fact that the Dead dont seem to be playing very challenging setsrather there are specific peaks and valleys, but the forward momentum (usually in the second set, nothing new there for the Dead, or the late-period Grateful Dead, say 1982-1995, for that matter) seems to be disjointed, brief, and gasp, sometimes not present at all. I have enjoyed some of the passages of Dark Star that I have heard, and some rarely-played songs pulled out of their vast canon, so I cant quite agree that the Dead is sleepwalking through each show.
But I will say that what Ive heard from the tapes, isnt all that bad. For one thing, Warren Haynes has stepped up to the plate and is hitting far above average, thus far, on this tour as a member of the Dead. I have never understood some rather pointless and demeaning criticism of the guitarist. Yes, the Big Man is ubiquitous, and can sometimes appear to be playing everywhere with everyone, but that is also quite a compliment to his ability to ease into the many difficult and subtle intricacies of various band motifs.
Haynes is also criticized for having no soul, and that makes no sense. I havent heard an insincere note from Haynes, and I certainly dont think he is ever playing from anything other than his heart and some well-seasoned chops. Its not like Haynes is here just to jam with the Dead. He also plays a series of charactersfamous and daunting characters, as wellwhen he is embodying the Robert Hunter lyrical passages, and his guitar playing has been top notch, from what I have heard. It is a difficult task to walk in ones shoes, but it is even more difficult when one chooses a different path, an alternative road that a legend might not have ventured upon, and Haynes achieves that goal more often than he fails. Is he equal to, or better than Garcia? No, that is an impossible comparison. But he is equal to Being Warren Haynes, and that is all a fan of music should be asking.
And sowe return to the quality of the shows, the financial intent of this reunion tour, and the ominous calendar on the wall that pegs these cats as each nears their 70s in age. That chronological lifespan fact is clearly evident, and one feels that this is the last time we may see the Dead on extended tours, or together again at all. Its all an open book, and one never knows, so all criticism, dissection, negative musings, and crippling interpretations of their motives aside, I think it would behoove any fan of truly important American-honed songcraft and historic improvisation to get out to see them in 2009. After all, one is far more open to options dangling at the end of a tangible rope for dear life than one is after that grip has finally loosened and the slow descent to oblivion has commenced. What? Go. Bitch about the amount you spent after you see the U2 prices, and compare their body of work with some of the Garcia/Hunter tunes. No contest, fan.
_- Randy Ray stores his work at www.rmrcompany.blogspot.com. _