Dead Heads have expressed dramatically different positions on Tiger making some appearances this past week. It seems as though Tiger’s owner, Jim Irsay, made sure the news made headlines when Tiger was shipped out west. The article first appeared in Irsay’s hometown paper, the Indianapolis Star, and was picked up by just about everyone else in the hours and days that followed. It seems as though it really just showed up without a whole lot of notice or conversation preceding its arrival. “It’s like Steven Seagal showing up at your gig with his equipment and asking where he should set up” said a famous bass player.
The story was written like Tiger was on loan to Dead & Company for use by John Mayer. The conversations about whether or not Tiger should be played by Mayer or anyone else began almost immediately. I think Irsay approached the whole thing entirely wrong. He was way too heavy handed in his approach to people he didn’t even know. Then, as if he wants the world to know about the favor he’s doing, he gets his paper to do a write up about sending the guitar out west.
I had a conversation with somebody that isn’t a nobody regarding the chances of Tiger being played this Summer with Dead & Company. He pointed out that John, as with many musicians, is completely obsessed with his sound and gear as well as his instrument. He’s extremely particular about the way his guitar is set up to play and spends considerable time making sure all of his equipment is exactly as he wants it. He tinkers and dials in his gear with the intensity of a tweaked out meth head locked in an appliance store with a bag of screwdrivers. John is not the kind of musician that’s just gonna play any instrument that gets thrown at him. He’s not willing to compromise his own expectations of excellence to satisfy anybody else. At this point, it doesn’t matter whether or not you like him, he’s 100% ALL IN and the majority of US are happy about what he’s bringing to the party. More importantly, the rest of the band is 100% behind him and that means much more than what anybody else thinks. Complaining about Mayer is like complaining about the weather. You can do it all you want but it doesn’t change a damn thing. Brother is killing it! We should ALL show him the same level of respect that he has shown for the music.
While I’m at it, after the show at The Fillmore, I’m not sure how anyone could complain about the state of the music coming out of Grateful Dead Land. That night was inspired by the legacy of the music and the artists that are currently in possession of The Sacred Trust. That along with a heavy dose of the Magic provided by a fan base that brings unequaled vibrations and energy to season the air that fuels the fire of the experience! We should probably all get a paycheck for what we provide as an audience! Bernie would make that shit happen. He’d take some of the loot away from the elite on the stage and transfer it into the hands of those that help maintain the incredibly creative environment that allows for the birth of transcendental experiences! In keeping with that socialist thought, the band provided that one for free! Much like socialism, millions continue to go to those at the top and we get occasional and small complimentary tokens in return. That’s all I’m gonna say about that… Pay It Forward y’all!
The night at The Fillmore proved that the band has gelled, become familiar and comfortable with the material as well as each other and are taking this shit up to a whole new level. The band was aggressive in their approach to the music and seemed to attack it in a way that was fresh and revitalized yet again. The energy that drives the pistons of the machine seems to come heavily from the side of the stage where Bill, Oteil, and John reside. The wave only gains momentum as it passes through Mickey, Bob and Jeff, who we still can’t hear. That power would definitely be more balanced if I had control of Jeff’s volume. I’m sure their mix is exactly as the band leaders want it so I should just go fuck myself… “It was awesome to have Sammy come out and sing Loose Lucy” said nobody in the crowd. For those of US that can’t make it through a set without a trip to the bathroom, it was good to hear Queen Jane back in the rotation. Queen Jane gives everybody ample time to use the bathroom, even if severely constipated. That tune has about 6 too many verses and like the bowels of the constipated individual goes absolutely nowhere. I know, I know, some of you love it. You’ll be happy to hear it again. I’ll just be happy to drop a deuce before the lines get too long and sill have time to pick up a beverage and eat a personal pizza all while getting back to my seat in time for the next tune.
Back to Tiger. So far Tiger has been seen but not heard. I got this intense reminder of showing up at Dead Shows throughout the years and just seeing Tiger on its stand on stage. That guitar on a stand by itself had more stage presence than 99% of the musicians that have ever lived. The potential energy that sat dormant while Tiger was resting was unspeakably powerful.
It was great to see Phil holding the greatest instrument ever made before playing the hell out of 9/18/87 at TXR. I heard a rumor that 5 of the 6 strings are still the original strings that were on it when it was auctioned. Imagine if John came out and got all crazy juiced up playing Garcia’s guitar and broke 4 of them on the first song. He wouldn’t take that chance. I’m sure the strings would most likely be removed, safely stored and replaced by new ones if anyone was going to play it on stage. Here’s some information that you can take to the bank. Based on Irsay’s approach to the whole thing, which didn’t sit well with Mayer according to officially unofficial sources, you might not hear much from Tiger. Things like that can get settled but if you thought that John would play entire shows with Tiger, like Warren has with Wolf, you’ll most likely be disappointed. If one of Garcia’s daughters approached John and said they would really enjoy hearing him play Tiger, I guarantee we’d hear the Tiger Growl once again. That hasn’t happened yet. Irsay’s approach to the whole thing didn’t have the same impact. If we do get to hear Tiger played by John, it will be for a song or two per show and that’s about it. If your expectations were for it to be played for entire shows or the entire tour, they won’t be met. If you didn’t want it to be played at all, you can find solace in it being played in a very limited capacity, if at all. I doubt Weir would have it configured to be played by him but ya never know… That would definitely require way too many changes to the instrument and would still only be appropriate in an extremely limited fashion. The damn thing weighs as much as a 7-year-old.
60 minutes had a great episode that was about Stradivarius violins and the Museo del Violino in Cremona, Italy. They have the world’s greatest collection of Stradivarius violins and a woman whose job it is to play them all regularly. The segment talked about how without being played, the instruments basically die. I thought it was an incredible thing to have the realization that the instruments themselves have a life of their own. Without being properly exercised they would turn to warped and useless materials that were once the finest of violins. Check that episode out if you’d like. It was fascinating. In the same way, Irsay has an impressive collection of guitars and a full time guitar tech that plays and maintains all of them. Tiger does get played regularly, it just hasn’t been played for US in a long time.
Of course, there was a lot more that went into Tiger’s sound than just the guitar itself. First and foremost was the man whose soul played through it. We’ve always known that will never be duplicated. Playing Miles’ horn won’t make you sound like Miles most likely. It’s not the air but where the air comes from and the vessel it comes through that makes the biggest difference. Same with Tiger. Add to that the glowing meters of the McIntosh Amp and the rest of the rig that Garcia played through and there was a lot more to Garcia’s sound than just Tiger. While I would absolutely LOVE to hear Tiger growl again, I’m not sure what will become of that in the future. It most likely will NOT have a very prominent place with Dead & Company.
We should really ask Trey while he’s still alive how he would feel about his guitar being played after he kicks the bucket. That would save an entire generation from having this conversation in the future.
Can’t wait to see you on the road! We’re almost there! Love y’all forever and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it!
Dead To The Core,
Dean Sottile (pronounced So Tilly)
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