The Other Ones, Robert Hunter, Kaiser Auditorium, Oakland, CA- 12/6
On Friday, December 6th I waited in line to get inside starting at about 6:00pm. It was worth the wait because I scored the seats I wanted to score the first night. Two rows up from the railing of the balcony’s front row directly in front of the speaker stack with a clear view of the entire stage. The sound was amazing. My seat was directly below one of the entrances to the balcony area, too, so I had a cool breeze blowing on me every now and then. Not to mention the folks I was sitting near were infinitely cooler than the previous night. We chatted folks up all around us and had a generally high family vibe circulating around us before the lights went out for the first set.
A jam led into a rock solid high-energy performance of Good Lovin’ complete with extended intro. Bob and Rob traded vocals on this one and it developed into a great rendition of the tune. After a post-Good Lovin’ jam, they went into Tennessee Jed. I’ll be honest and just say that I am not a huge fan of this old standard. It’s played too similarly from one time to the next for my personal taste as it was in this instance (even if its nice to see the band pick up some of the old Garcia tunes). I returned just in time for Lost Sailor>St. of Circumstance. The Lost Sailor was sung beautifully and played great although the drummers seemed a little heavy handed as this is a subtle ballad, not a chugging rhythm train. By the time they went into St. of Circumstance, Jimmy was on fire. He was ripping out fast barrages of notes and it just rocked. Then the band started up with Only the Strange Remain and it was one of the highlights of the set. I know a lot of Deadheads are down on this tune, but I really enjoyed it. It had a fast beat and Mickey belted out the vocals while Jimmy really let things fly. Cumberland was next and it was played just about as fast and furiously as I’ve ever heard it. Phil was slamming, Rob and Jeff were chugging along, the drummers were firing on all cylinders, and Jimmy just went crazy. Next up was a beautiful, slow, psychedelic Estimated Prophet. It slinked around and dripped in thick psychedelic drops while blues and purples were projected on the screens. Bob did some tasteful cries at the end, but no full-on rock star wails and moans. This was one of the better versions of the tune I’ve ever heard. Once out of the psychedelic soup of Estimated, the band kicked into a great version of Casey Jones. None of the jams went out too far, but the energy really built up at the end to quite a release. It was a fine set closer.
Hunter ambled out on stage after a couple minutes to the warm cheers of the crowd. His set of music was nice to hear and included some classics like Stella Blue, Loser, Deal, and Cats Down Under the Stars. However, he never really seemed to find his comfort zone on stage this night. He attempted some banter at one point and stumbled over his words. He mentioned that things weren’t flowing as well as last night and that he better just shut up and play his tunes which disappointed me as I enjoyed his commentary the previous night. It was nice to hear some old standards played in Hunter’s unique style. On Cats Down Under, for example, he did seem to meander for quite some time doing a "jam" on his acoustic where he just kind of ran up and down the fret board. I leaned over to my friend and joked, "I don’t remember THIS part of the song." He replied, "Well, this is the way it was MEANT to be played." We both smiled.
As the lights went down for the beginning of the second set, I was psyched. I had high expectations for a great set to close out the tour and the band delivered in a big way. They started things off with He’s Gone. While I was not initially excited for this slower set opener, I was won over by the end of the song. Bob sang the tune very well and the vocal jam at the end was quite strong with Phil’s low end vocals holding things together. After a nice long jam where Jimmy shined yet again (and I heard strong Smokestack Lightnin’ teases), the band played Lazy Lightin’ which they played rather well. I was stoked to hear the Supplication that would surely follow, but it never fully materialized. The jam was there, but no vocals by Bobby. Suddenly, things slowed down but in a very good way with Phil belting out the vocals to Mountains of the Moon. This was a haunting rendition of the old tune and it’s one of the only songs which I feel Phil’s deep and mysterious voice to be perfectly suited. Uncle John’s Band was next, and while it was a solid version it was nothing spectacular (I’ve heard better versions played by Phil and Friends). Personally, I was longing for a tastier song selection like Viola Lee Blues or New Potato Caboose. Uncle John’s Band led right into the first part of Terrapin. I like Terrapin, but, again, I was hoping for something a little bit more abstract. As the Terrapin jam lost momentum and slowly petered out Phil’s bass could be heard loud and clear. He played some licks that were torturously close to the intro of Dark Star. People near me were like, "Come on! Just play it!" He dilly-dallied around the actual intro for a few minutes before slamming into the bass intro. The first verse and first few minutes of the jam were everything one could ask for. It grooved, got dark and spacey, the whole deal. Then it melted subtly away and led right into some drumming.
Drums thundered like crazy even harder than the previous night. Mickey and Billy were bopping around on stage seemingly banging away at any drum they could lay their hands on. Then Mickey stepped up to one of the large drums near the back of the room. He pointed his stick in the air and the crowd screamed. Then he let it rip – GONG! Then he did it again until the crowd was really hollering. When all the band members returned to the stage, they began a very brief space jam that led right back into an up tempo finishing of Terrapin. It began with the "Inspiration, moves me brightly" vocals right from the start as it came out of space. Terrapin ended and the band finished this lengthy set with the second half of Dark Star. While not as god as the first verse and jam, it was nice to hear the song come to its completion. And the guys even did the vocal jam ending where they repeated "Transitive nightfall of diamonds" over and over in a round vocal jam.
Before the encore Phil did his donor rap and wished his son Graham a happy 16th Birthday. Phil explained that when the Dead played NYE at the Kaiser a little more than 16 years ago, Graham was just a baby. He said that someone (an unnamed beat poet) popped their head into Phil’s dressing room and mistook a pile of clothes for little baby Graham and said to Phil, "Looks just like ya, Lesh!" The band and entire crowd then proceeded to sing happy birthday to Graham which was a nice way to tie in the great family vibe that pervaded these two Kaiser shows. Then they busted into the best version of Touch of Grey in recent memory. Bob was just wailing the vocals and nailing them like nobody’s business. The "We will get by" verses at the end made the energy levels go through the roof. Then, just as they ended the song with the last riffs, they slammed back into the chorus again and the place just went crazy. There was nothing but energy, love, and light in the room at this point. As the show ended everyone was all smiles. The band lined up and took a group bow. Billy even grabbed a microphone and said something like, "Wow. I can’t believe it. I have a microphone. A microphone!" Mickey mentioned that we should all take some of the magic of this night home and do something good with it.
Both nights were good, but the second night the band was just totally on. There was none of the bickering evident in the first show around to plague the second night. In fact, the band was all smiles, jokes, and hugs the second night. Bob tried to make a hand signal to Phil at some point during the second set but Phil just kind of stared blankly back. Mickey saw that Phil was at a loss and began making big over exaggerated hand motions to Phil, and then they both laughed. Sure, they were needling Bob a little, but it was all in good fun and I think the crowd could feel this positive energy. I had a great time and was very impressed by these two shows. I am excited to see what the band has in store for us in the future.