The Other Ones, Robert Hunter, Kaiser Auditorium, Oakland, CA- 12/5
I found a seat in the balcony on Phil's side, fairly close to the stage. To see the drummers I had to stand up and move my head a little bit since my view of them was obstructed by the speaker stack and large cloth tube that served as the screen. While my ideal seats would have been down another five or six rows near the railing of the balcony's front row, all in all, this was still quite acceptable.
The opening jam was fast and tight and scurried pretty quickly into the tune Aiko-Aiko. Mickey belted out this old favorite with gusto and the good vibe of a Mardi Gras celebration was felt all throughout the Kaiser. After a loud and syncopated Aiko, the band quickly jumped into The Music Never Stopped. I was excited to hear this classic Dead tune and to see how the Other Ones would handle it. It was a very slow and deliberate rendition of the song that lacked the speed and punch of the versions I am used to. However, it had a new slinkier jazz-groove feel which I really enjoyed. It’s nice to see the music go in new directions. After the jam slowed down and got really bizarre, (I would almost call it a space jam) the band rolled right into a great rendition of The Eleven. Vocal duties were shared between Bob, Rob, and Phil and it worked well. Another unexpected segue and the band started right into Eyes of the World. This was an unanticipated turn to say the least, and Phil and Rob’s sharing of vocal harmonies was quite effective. Rob’s singing the high harmony definitely kept Phil a little more in key and the song contained some great jams that went to some unusual places. From here the band came back into the lilting groove of the Music Never Stopped Reprise and Bobby stepped to the mic and did some scatting, "Never stop, never stop!" Good stuff. When the band quieted down to almost silence I had no idea what was going on. Suddenly, they slammed into the Scarlet Begonias opening riff. While not the smoothest of transitions, the choice of songs electrified the Kaiser. This bubbly frenetic version of Scarlet flowed into Fire on the Mountain, which was rapped/sang by Mickey Hart. Mickey’s vocals can be a bit harsh, but he sure does have feeling! Some sound problems started plaguing the band at this point, however. Vocals were coming in and out and Jimmy had been slightly muddy in the mix all night. A rocking Midnight Hour closed things out. Not a long extended jammy version of the tune, but solid powerful vocals from Bob helped to make it a very good version.
The lights were only on for about five minutes before they went out again and Robert Hunter walked out onto the stage with acoustic guitar in hand. I had never seen Hunter play live and was pretty excited to witness the scribe perform some of his tunes for us. He played a nice little set which included the tunes Mission in the Rain, Lazy River Road, Wind Blows High, Easy Wind, Mister Charlie, Standin’ on the Moon, and Ripple. Of course, Hunter is no young buck and has never been an extraordinary vocalist. The tunes were all played in his unique and heartfelt style, sung passionately with little meandering acoustic jams added here and there. I think the highlight of the set was hearing Hunter talk to the crowd. He was definitely all wound up this night and he mentioned being happy to be home in the bay area. "We’re not on tour anymore, now we’re just playing some hometown shows for all of you guys." Another highlight of his stage banter was when he mentioned the bankruptcy of United Airlines. "It’s no longer fly the friendly skies. Fly the pissed skies!"
The break after Hunter’s short set seemed a little too long for my taste. But after about thirty or forty minutes, the band finally made their way back to the stage. I was hoping for something kicking right out of the gate, but was instead greeted by the slow meandering psychedelic stroll of Strawberry Fields Forever. Rob Barraco handled the vocals nicely and the tune found some pretty cosmic and drippy places before flowing directly into Cryptical Envelopment. I love Cryptical and it is always a treat to hear, but I was ready for the catapult of energy and eagerly waited for the band to kick into something with a little more umph. The next song may look like it could have been my antidote…on paper, that is. All Along the Watchtower was next but it was slowed way down to almost loungey levels. Bob spread the verses out by a few more measures than usual which served to slow things down even more. I always loved the late 80’s version of Watchtower and this particular version of the tune left me feeling disappointed. It was just too slow and I was longing for the powerful Bobby vocals of the past ("And the WIND began to HOOOOWWL!).
Drums was next and it was great to see Mickey and Billy up there pounding away like the old days. We got the whole deal, too. The pounding on the huge drums by Mickey, the talking drum between Billy’s legs, and the marimba sounding high-pitched drums that make one feel like they are in a lush jungle. The rest of the band eventually came back on the stage and played an extremely short space jam, maybe clocking in around two or three minutes, before they jumped into Help on the Way. The crowd went nuts. This was the energy boost everyone had been waiting for. Jimmy had some smoking leads and Rob sang beautifully. The volume of the jam at the end of the tune got lower and lower and I was becoming perplexed as to how they might segue into Slip>Franklin’s when all of the sudden a spotlight shined on Phil and he did his rumbling powerful bass intro into The Other One. This was totally unexpected and the crowd ate it up. Everyone really enjoyed hearing Bob belt out the vocals to this classic tune, although the verses are spread out ala Watchtower earlier in the set. When the band took it back into Slip>Franklin’s to end things off the energy went through the roof. Phil and Rob harmonized the vocals to Franklin’s and it worked well. Jimmy ripped a few tasty solos and the show ended on quite a high note. After a few minutes they came back to encore with Box of Rain. The version of this tune was clunky at best. Near the end, the band came in very low as if to start the last verse but it was not yet that time. Phil sang the correct verse which left everyone discombobulated. When Phil finished singing the last part of the tune, ("and a short time to be there") he immediately put his bass down and walked off the stage before the rest of the band.
Overall, it was a pretty good night of music. The band did have some technical problems, played some clunky transitions, missed a few vocal starts and stops, and lacked energy at times. However, they also nailed a few tunes and transitions and it was great to see the core members on stage together again. Since I saw glimpses of the serious shit, I had very high expectations for the next night. If they could harness the power, then maintain and control it a little more by really paying attention and listening to each other, the next night could be a seriously intense night of music.