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As someone who didn't grow up during the 1960s, being enamored with the music of that era has always left me feeling a little detached. Most of my favorite bands/artists stopped touring years before I was even born and in many cases their albums proceeded me by as many as 20 years! That may not have tempered my love of those bands any, but it has left me a little unsatisfied in terms of attending concerts.
It's only compounded by the fact that many of the rock and roll shows of the 60s and 70s have become the stuff of legend. Anyone who's a fan of Hendrix, Cream or the Who can attest to that. And let's not forget the greatest, most legendary, epic jam band of all time: The Grateful Dead. These bands put on concerts that are the epitome of great rock and roll played live... powerful, spontaneous and raw... psychedelic, artistic and expansive... often destructive... good stuff. I've seen some amazing concerts from more modern bands, but when I think of rock and roll live... the artists from the 60s and 70s are the ones that come to mind and serve as my base for what a great concert should be like.
Of course, a lot of those bands I'll never actually get to see in person. I did get to see the Who live... that was a dream come true, as was seeing Bob Dylan, the Eagles and Paul McCartney all at separate, but equally amazing shows. I'll never get to see Hendrix live though, for obvious reasons. I missed the Cream reunion (but I did get to see Clapton and Steve Winwood ala Blind Faith), and I'm still hoping and praying for both Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd tours, but am not holding my breath for either to pan out. I guess I consider myself lucky to see some of these legends play if I get to, even if they aren't the "original lineups." There's countless others on my list as well that hopefully I will get to see in some form or another, but I know that there are more than a few I'll never experience.
That's what I thought about the Grateful Dead for a long time... I'd missed my chance to see them live. They were still touring regularly right up until Jerry Garcia passed away in 1995, but that was before I was really listening to their music. Ironically I didn't really get into the Dead until long after I'd moved on from being intensely infatuated with jam bands like Phish... probably the Dead's closest relatives in terms of live show (as always, debatable). No, the Dead came later, and once they did, they were on the list of bands I wanted to, but thought I probably never would, see perform live.
Then I heard about "The Dead" touring...
In case you're unaware, the Dead is the remaining members of the Grateful Dead...as in, everyone who's still alive... helped out by a couple of guests, like guitarist Warren Hayes. They've toured a couple of times since Jerry Garcia passed away, and so when I heard they were coming, I jumped at the chance to go... after all it would probably be the closest I'd ever get to seeing the Grateful Dead in concert.
So I went to see the Dead, and boy am I, corny wordplay intended, "grateful" that I did.
This concert was everything I expected: lengthy jamming, great guitar playing and psychedelic explorations galore, all with tie-dye, dreadlocks and a "questionable" haze as far as the eye could see.
Check out the set list:
1. China Cat Sunflower
2. Born Cross-Eyed
3. Built to Last
4. Pride of Cucamonga
5. I Need a Miracle
6. Wang Dang Doodle
7. West L.A. Fadeaway
9. All Along the Watchtower
10. Mexicali Blues
11. Into the Mystic
13. A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall
16. Aiko Aiko
17. Standing On the Moon
18. Going Down the Road Feeling Bad
20. Box of Rain
I won't go through song by song highlights for this one... it just doesn't make sense at a Dead show. A Grateful Dead show is more about the jamming than the particular songs they play night to night... and there was plenty of jamming throughout. Although they only played 20 songs, the show entire show lasted almost 4 hours... that includes encore/set breaks, but I still have the band actually on stage for just under 3 hours... awesome. The interplay between Bob Weir and Warren Hayes, both on guitar... also awesome. Lengthy psychedelic explorations, thunderous drum breaks, complete with flashing "lightning" and haunting spacey jams... again, all awesome.
These things are exactly the kind of spontaneous improvisation that have made Grateful Dead shows the stuff of legends going back to the very beginning. Although I expected nothing less from them, I'm glad to see the remaining Dead keeping that tradition alive... especially in a world where the music scene seems more and more content with having live shows simply be a jukebox with a light show. Personally as I've said many times before, when I go to a concert, I want to see what the band can deliver in the moment. I do NOT want to hear their songs played note for note exactly like they are on album. Great bands like the Dead will keep you enthralled and engaged during the entire show with their improvisation... even during those lengthy jams that are so often dismissed by critics as self indulgent... and that's exactly how I felt during this show: engaged, enthralled and excited to see what would come next.
Now some people may not want to hear free form jams and long stretches of improvisation. That's fine, but those people should not see the Dead, and I wouldn't expect them to even be fans of this band actually. The Grateful Dead are the epitome of all jam bands... people who aren't into improvisation are not "Dead Heads."
There are plenty of people who are though, and if you've never been to a Dead concert, being part of the fan base is as much of an experience as the show itself. I expected this going it, but it surprised even me. It's a very unique and positive environment that has to be experienced, one that you just don't find with other bands, even other jam bands.
I also thought it was really cool that when I looked up the set list for the show I was at, I checked out a few of the other nights as well and each night was almost completely unique. That's very much a rarity (or at least is becoming one) in my experience with attending concerts. It's much easier for a band to put together a fixed set list night to night, or maybe a few that are then rotated. I much prefer having each night be a completely unique experience though. It made me wish I'd gotten tickets to the next night as well... and maybe the next night too. The unique shows combined with the great fan atmosphere, it's no wonder people follow this band from city to city.
Although I'll never consider myself a true Dead Head... I have been a fan of their music for a while, especially the live albums. Although it may be different without Jerry Garcia on guitar... I'm not going to lie and say that I don't still wish I got to see them during their heyday... but the Dead still put on one heck of a concert experience to this day. Seeing them was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, one that I would gladly repeat and may soon enough should they come back to my area.
So, if you're a fan of the Grateful Dead, but never got to see them live (and thought you never would like I did), I think you should definitely catch one of these Dead shows... in fact I'd be surprised if you haven't already.
If you've never listened to the Dead, maybe it's time to check them out. Their music is varied, earthy, intricate and just great rock and roll. Oh and although the studio records are great, the real magic of this band will always be live, so make sure to check out some live albums, or even a concert if you want, before making any judgments.
Truthfully, I wish I could take fans and non-fans alike to see the Dead (along with a bunch of other bands) play, as a sort of introduction to what a rock and roll show really should be like. If you're used to seeing a band play through their hits with lights, exactly as they are on record, one of these shows could change your world entirely.
The Dead are still jamming, and once again, I am grateful they are around for us to see.
Images Coming Soon