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Published: 2003/06/25
by Dan Alford

The Dead, PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ- 6/24

In the sweltering heat of a New Jersey afternoon the Dead strolled on stage and stirred up a slow, rambling Let the Good Times Roll, and it was immediately apparent that this, like so many past shows at the venue, would be a very summertime, goodtime show. Moving away from the opener, the music cascaded down slippery tiers to a lengthy Cumberland with excellent playing all around, and a particularly fine bit of back and forth between Rob and Jimmy during the second jam. Throughout the show Jeff and Rob were rarely on stage together, switching off every couple songs, although Jeff had more stage time overall.

In fact, Jeff took over the keys as Bob began Even So, the great and greatly-obscure Ratdog song. A big, teetering version, it was beautiful in its uncertainty and slight nervousness and melted effortlessly into the surprise energy builder of the set, October’s Queen. Rob mounted the organ, while Jeff remained on piano, the two headed keyboard beast unleashed, adding layers of effects and complimentary riffs. Jeff mirrored and urged on Bobby’s vocals, and then let loose with Rob for a nice mid song jam. After the transsexual/transvestite escapades concluded, it was Jeff again, this time with Jimmy’s help, who took to the song out. Phil plumbed the deep end and eventually set up a nice groove that segued into a bombastic Gimme Some Lovin’, with Steve Winwood on B-3 and vocals. His singing was great, Bobby offering interesting and enthusiastic rhythm structures beneath, but his solo was in a whole different league. The energy continued to rise as he pushed the music further and further, and lashed out again at the very end of the song. A short transition jam with Steve, Rob and Jimmy all swirling about rode into Fire on the Mountain on Phil’s shoulders. With still more rabid playing from Jimmy and Steve on this one, there were smiles all around the stage. "Put it down heavy, strip it down lean, Got to lay it down dirty and play it back clean."

Just before nine o’clock the house lights went down, and Mickey approached the Beam, stroking it once and initiating a twenty minute Drumz > Space to open the second set. Edison DaSilva and Walfredo Reyes from Steve Winwood’s band joined, along with Billy, as Mickey moved to the Beast and the rhythm began to churn. A new plateau was attained when Billy slipped behind his kit, and when the segment seemed to have peaked, the foursome just kept going. Near the end DaSilva was chittering and squawking into the various percussion microphones, adding an extra layer of complexity and fun. Finally, the rest of the band crept in from the sides, Phil leading the way, and delved into Space. Bobby played briefly with a duck call before offering it to Joan, and Mickey sneaked up behind Jimmy, wrapped his arms around him so that they were both playing his guitar simultaneously. (Was Susan’s solo on Jimmy’s guitar in the fall so surprising? It certainly left a mark on the band…) Stev! e Winwood was also back on stage as the music coalesced somewhat into a crazy acid walk, and eventually strutted into a fantastic Smokestack Lightning. It was happenin’, really happenin’, all stony and blue and blistering. Rob supplanted Jeff as an alchemical jam materialized, all the elements working in unison, and arrived at a speedy Mojo Workin’. Not far into the song, Bobby simply started singing Schoolgirl; everyone looked surprised (Mickey threw his hands in the air and looked around) and the music crumbled, leaving Bob alone with his guitar. That kind of move shows the level of faith he has in his band mates, and they did not disappoint, but reformed around him as he took two separate solos and brought the blues suite to its climax.

Joan stepped up for a surprising Tons of Steel, where the train, incidentally, was "more a dick than a machine", which segued into a powerful Black Throated Wind, Phil digging in deep; his bass lines can easily push this personal favorite to new heights. After a short, sweet Roses, the ensemble embarked on a colossal, intimidating, entirely primordial Tomorrow Never Knows, Phil shining once again as he flushed out the ground beneath Joan’s wailing laments- a moment of pure psychedelic grandeur. The jam swelled and twisted and began to lose shape, and Bobby hinted at Love Supreme. But Jimmy burst out with a full Eleven lead and forced the band in that direction. Unfortunately the gears never quite meshed, resulting in an awkward, clunky version- even the vocals were off.

To close the show, a warmly received Help > Slipknot, with quick clips from Bobby and long mournful notes from Jimmy at the outset. As the band cut through the final composition, the drummers began to swell, so that instead of the traditional Franklin’s, the group launched into Not Fade Away, capping off a very nice, loose and rolling mid-week summertime show.

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