The Other Ones, Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh PA 11/29
The houselights went down and the band emerged shortly after 7:20. The Mellon Arena, about three quarters full with energized show goers ready to have a good time, responded loudly as those on stage began to fiddle with their instruments in typical in-no-hurry' fashion. Tuning and tweaking gave way to a quiet but building tuning jam, each member making sure everything was set just so, until Jimmy Herring, stationed stage right in the familiar Garcia spot, dipped into the intro lick to "Here Comes Sunshine". This elicited a growing roar from the crowd that peaked as the band dropped into the first verse. Sung strongly by bushy bearded piano man Rob Barraco, formerly of the Zen Tricksters, the show was off and the crowd was ready to dance. The newest addition to the Other Ones, vocalist Susan Tedeschi, added bursts of color to the vocal mix, even harmonizing with Herring's guitar lines during the quickly paced outro jam that eased its way out of the confines of "Here Comes Sunshine." The tempo sped up on top of the rumbling of Hart and Kreutzman's drums as they dropped into "Only the Strange Remain".
Mickey stood at his perch half singing, half rappping the verses accentuating each word as he pounded the skins. The tone of "Only the Strange Remain", was rooted in dissonance as all band members shouted the vocal refrain, this led to a dark groove driven by Phil’s rumbling bass. With each turn the jam seemed to meld into something almost evil and frightening. Susan stretched her vocal chords as she howled and chanted into the mic, as Weir and the rest of the band gave way to the drummers. The arena grew darker, echoing with the sounds of the Rhythm Devils’ own personal brand of thunder. The nearly fifteen minute drumz segment that followed seemed a little out of place so early in the show, but most in attendance didn’t seem to mind. Most used the opportunity to take a seat and chit chat or make a mad dash to the bathroom.
The instrumentalists then stepped back out on stage and steered the drummers through a brief space segment. Weir, Lesh, Herring and the keyboard duo layered spacey melodies on top of each other with no sort of regard for structure or form. Space continued until Billy K’s high-hat subtly pushed the band into blues mode and into a rollicking version of "I’m A Hog For You Baby". Weir, Tedeschi, Barraco and Lesh all chimed in on this one, belting out the lyrics with roadhouse style abandon, making the listener wonder if the band really knew they were in a hockey arena. Jeff Chimenti’s blistering organ solo got this one cooking as the rest of the band merely rode along. "Hog For You" received a warm and exuberant welcome from the crowd, the heads around me commenting to each other that they never expected to hear this song, since it had been retired from the Grateful Dead repertoire so long ago.
The energy level in the arena reached a breaking point as Herring and Weir, fresh on the heels of the end of "Hog For You", dropped the unmistakable intro to "China Cat Sunflower" on the Mellon Arena crowd, which responded with feverish dancing and all the hooting and hollering they could muster. Bobby stepped up to the mic and sang in typical choppy Bob Weir fashion, making some in the arena long for Jerry’s quiet chirpy singing, but few took the time to actually stop dancing to consider it. After the last verse the band took off on a quickened pace, while the audience may have been waiting for the by-the-book Grateful Dead segue into "I Know You Rider", they instead were treated by a much more Other One’s take on the situation, as the band speeded head long in to "The Eleven".
As the band alternated between parts of eleven and parts of twelve the audience spun, bobbed, and jumped to and fro, exploding each time the band members returned briefly to the same beat before taking off again. Weir ran through the lyrics, building momentum and vigor as he reached the end of the song. Lesh leaned into his mic and belted out the last line of the song, he and Weir repeating, each time with more intensity the final "What now?" of the song. Emphasizing it so much that it seemed that the two of them, still carrying the torch of the Grateful Dead, were asking of the audience what the Other One’s and the legacy of the Dead, meant to each and everyone in attendance.
After "The Eleven" had run its course the band seemed to throw the brakes on and slow down the pace as they began to slowly glide into the Phil Lesh classic "Unbroken Chain". The crowd sang along as the band rolled through the middle segments with ease, each time changing pace on a dime before dropping back into the vocal sections. After about ten minutes the song was brought to a close, and the now bearded Bob Weir stepped to the mic and uttered his customary, "We’ll be back in just a little bit…".
At set break I went off with my friends in search of a breath of fresh air. Ironically, the only place the Mellon Arena allows re-entry is the smoker’s concourse, so "fresh air" might be an oxymoron, but the cool November night air was a refresher after the hot set we had just witnessed inside. Outside, we ran into some other Morgantown heads who had made the trip up to the burgh. Excitement was bristling, spurred on not only by the outstanding night of music that we were in the midst of, but also by the West Virginia vs. U of Pittsburgh football game that loomed large the next day. We ran into some Pitt fans and participated in the requisite back and forth trash talking before smoking the ceremonial peace pipe. It was a nice moment. The common bond of the music of the Grateful Dead bringing two groups of people, sworn to hate each other, together. The following day, the Mountaineers rolled over the Panthers, 24-17, in the 95th installment of the Backyard Brawl. For those who care.
We ambled back inside to catch the tail end of Robert Hunter’s set. I was impressed. I had seen him open for Phil this past summer, but the mix on the lawn was poor and I could hardly make out what was going on, and felt disconnected. This time Hunter’s guitar and voice were loud and full, and I enjoyed listening to the tail end of his set. Which included a stellar "Black Muddy River", and the set closing "Ripple". After "Black Muddy River" Hunter remarked with great emotion "God, how long has it been? And we still miss him". You could tell the emotion was genuine, and it seemed to set the table for the Other
Ones set to follow.
Phil Lesh has said that when it comes to writing setlists, he tries to tell a story, or take the audience on a musical journey. I think in the second set at the Mellon Arena, the Other Ones did just that. They melted together a setlist that at every turn seemed to evoke Garcia’s absence. The second set started off with a long rocking intro jam which turned into "Mason’s Children". This got the crowd up and into the groove as the Other Ones set off on a fast paced tear with all vocalists chiming in, but Susan Tedeschi’s voice seeming to stand out just enough to give it great power. Lyrically the song evokes Garcia with lines like, "Mason was a mighty man, a mighty man was he always said when I’m dead I’m gone, don’t you weep for me". The crowd was not weeping but instead twirled enthusiastically during the ten minute jam out of the end of Mason’s Children, in which Jimmy Herring seemed to be teasing the intro lick to "The Other One", the band then dropped into the Garcia/Hunter country classic "Dire Wolf". A crowd favorite, most around me sang along boisterously as Rob Barraco led the band through this one. There was a brief solo section, but the tune was brought quickly to a close after about five minutes.
Quietly the band then eased into the tell tale lick of "Bird Song". The crowd began a gradual roar as each head got wind of what was coming. By the time Phil stepped to the mic for the song’s first verse the transition was complete and the audience had dissolved into a screaming, bouncing euphoria. The jam took off and weaved through the arena, speeding and slowing and then coming back again. Lesh paid tribute to Garcia again with this song, emphasized by the change of gender when he sang in the final verse, "All I know is something like a bird within HIM sang, all I know HE sang a little while and then flew off". The outro jam flowed smoothly and I again seemed to detect hints of "The Other One", but was off point as the band slowed down into the easy groove of "He’s Gone".
It’s obvious to think that many in the house had Garcia in mind as they loudly sang the song’s chorus along with Weir, Lesh, and cohorts. Those in attendance let out a primal roar as Weir sang the classic Garcia line, "Nothin’ left to do but smile, smile, smile". As I looked around I saw an audience clearly taking the band at heart as exuberant deadheads hugged each other and smiled ear to ear. It’s also ironic to note that just as the band began the first chorus of "He’s Gone", I noticed that it also applied to the Mellon Arena usher who had hovered over our section, harassing all those who tried to start any small contained and inhaled fires. It’s serendipity like this that makes going and seeing shows so exciting sometimes. As I’m looking over my shoulder for an usher, the band assuring me from across the arena that, "He’s gone, gone, nothin’s gonna bring him back…He’s gone". They were right.
The a cappella ending of "He’s Gone" soon stepped aside for a full on rocking rendition of the old school Pigpen classic "Mr. Charlie". Susan Tedeschi stepped up for the lead vocals on this one and absolutely belted it out with passion and soul. Not a Donna Jean Godchaux fan, I was impressed time and time again by Tedeschi’s singing, each note tasteful and on point. She adds a true soulful voice to so many of those songs in the Dead repertoire that are steeped in the blues. Jeff Chimenti used this as his chance to explode on the organ taking off on a molten fire solo. Chimenti was the only band member to take a solo, and the song was brought to an end after a brisk and spirited run through.
Bobby then stepped up and began chording out the beginning of "Throwing Stones". The band rocked through an eleven minute take on this one, the crowd always on cue with their participation, energy in the room spiraling upward each time the house was lit up with white lights, the audience singing "ashes, ashes, all fall down". Weir acknowledged his old friend Garcia, as well as the place of the Other One’s place in the hearts of deadheads when he sang an extended, "The future’s here, we are it, we are on our own". They crowd, from the floor to the balconies, whooped it up.
Immediately on the heel of the close of "Throwing Stones" the Other Ones began knocking out the familiar rhythm of "Not Fade Away". The crowd shouted the lyrics along with the band and clapped in unison throughout this energy raining set closer. The vocal jam at the end of the song featured Lesh and Barraco adding a rhythmic singing of the song’s closing chant, and Weir cheesing it up like only he knows how. The band then gave way to the voice of the audience and stepped offstage leaving the audience clapping and singing, "Our love is real, not fade away". Somewhere, Garcia was listening.
Phil returned to his microphone in typical fashion to thank the audience and implore them to become organ donors. The rest of the band then reemerged and slid slowly and quietly into an instrumental rendition of "Stella Blue". This was an obvious tribute to the fallen leader of the band. Like a squadron of airplanes flying the missing man formation, it was obvious what was missing. Simply, it was Garcia’s voice. "Stella Blue", a song that many heads, young and old, insist should be sung by no one but Garcia, is a fitting choice and was a subtle and beautiful encore choice.
Not to end on to slow a note, the band then launched into "Box of Rain". Though Phil flubbed the first line, the band ran through a rolling take on the tune and didn’t seem to miss a step. The last song ever played at a Grateful Dead show, this was the night’s final tribute to Garcia. A crowd favorite many sang along in unison, the house exploding with cheers at the songs final line, "Such a long long time to be gone, and a short time to be there". And with that an exhausted but exhilarated Mellon Arena audience was flushed back into the cold November night in their pursuit of post show grub, a ride back home, or just someone to chat about the show with. Everywhere people could find nothing left to do but smile, smile smile.
Aaron Hawley doesn’t think that’s it for the Other Ones.