Over the past few nights, we’ve been treated to some great moments in Dead Land that span the course of 27 years that have gone by faster than greased grass through a goose. With both events happening on consecutive nights, it provided a tremendous perspective for analysis and reflection. As a young brother that had been to about 100 shows by the Summer of 89, it was really the summer that changed everything since the journey began for me in ’85. This was the year I lived the Grateful American Adventure to the fullest. I quit my 14th job in a row without any notice in order to go see The Dead. I was 19, an electrician’s apprentice and left for work the morning of June 30th like any other day that’s ever been. Somewhere in my mind, I was aware Summer Tour started on July 2nd. At about 4:30 when my boss told me to clean up I made an instantaneous decision. I said, “You’re gonna have to clean up your own shit today Boss man, I’m done with this shit!” And just like that, one of the greatest decisions in my life, up to that point, was made.
Foxboro stood out for a lot of reasons. For one, it was hotter than a couple of raccoons screwing on a grill as evidenced by the fire hoses attempting to cool us all off. It was important to keep papers and powders in ziplocks as opposed to those cheap plastic bags with the flap. I wondered how many sheets and grams of X got collectively ruined by the summer hoses of 89. The band was tighter than a crab’s asshole and the scene was vibrant, completely electric and totally thriving. The impact of commercial success was evident but hadn’t yet become detrimental to the overall health of the community. At least that’s how the scene existed through the eyes of a newly credentialed full-time tour head that was 19 years old. The older Heads on Tour still had a problem with Brent because Keith was better and the much older ones had a problem with the folks that thought Keith was better because they were still upset about Pigpen’s passing. Me, I didn’t give a shit! I loved everything about the scene that was filling my life with awakenings and a sense of community where all of the bullshit and invisible barriers that existed outside of our community were washed away with a single Gooney Bird. Foxboro was the first show of my first complete tour in my time with The Dead. It was a tour that I went on with a backpack and $40. I lived on the lot most of the time. I camped in places that were never meant for camping. One night I’d be at The Marriott and the very next night, just another homeless dude trying to get some sleep in a park. There are so many tales from that first trip across the country…
As the years rolled by I was always puzzled by the fact that a SBD of that night never circulated at all. I think it was the only show in a bunch of years that there was absolutely nobody in the community that had a board of that show. In my decades of trading music, one of the first questions I’ve often asked people with really good collections is, “You ever heard a board of Foxboro 89?” It was amazing to me that it never got out. For this reason alone, there was NO WAY I was gonna miss this year’s MeetUp At The Movies! Maybe the SDB never circulated because there were obviously some problems with the sound that night. The Cassidy jam was great but the mix through the best of the jams was terrible. It was all Bob’s guitar and so loud that you could hardly hear Garcia over it. There were several moments like that throughout and it was obvious there were sound problems that may have gone beyond being able to repair or remix. I don’t think any of US cared all that much but to me it was fairly obvious.
The show began with Playin and it was an abbreviated version that didn’t go too deep at all followed by Crazy Fingers. Then the Wang Dang Doodle that was far better than I ever remembered. At the beginning of Wang Dang, when the camera closed in on Weir, I stopped mentally for a second and said to myself, “Is that fucker wearing barrettes in his hair?” I could only imagine the ball breaking that took place. I imagined Garcia looking at him with one of those Garcia faces kinda like, “Bob… Are those barrettes in your fuckin hair? They look nice Barbie!” Somewhere at a theater in L.A., Mayer was watching with something equally as awkward on his head and at the same time thought to himself, “Wow… Barrettes… Really cool man…
The second thing that really hit me was Mickey on a kit with sticks. Mickey was one of the coolest dudes ever to watch playing a kit. His style was great and I spent a lot of time watching him. Mickey’s Hi-hat sound created something completely brilliant and colorful and unique into the mix. He played it like nobody else played it and had the freedom to develop that in such a unique way because Bill was always there to make sure it all remained steady. Healy did an amazing job figuring out how to project that crisp sound so loudly and clearly into the live mix. Of all the things I miss hearing, Mickey’s Hi-hat is one of them. A small thing that was such a huge part of the overall sound and experience to my ears. His runs were never overdone but infused so much incredible power into everything he played. When Mickey hit shit, it used to influence your physiology. Watching him backhand the cymbal that was suspended from above, to his right, was a trademark memory of the experiences. Brother would go into full Spock mode and take the Starship to a different level. Now he stands back there in his hallway of drums and beats on shit with muted kitchen utensils… Can hardly hear him. Can somebody get the brother his hi-hat cymbals again?
When it comes down to it, most of us are there to see Garcia some more. Every time Garcia appears on screen the entire environment changes. Garcia determined what kind of night it was going to be almost single-handedly. When Garcia felt good, everybody was gonna feel good. The Summer of 89 was the “White Orthopedic Shoes Tour”. There’s only one dude in the world that can come out on a stage with some shoes that were stolen from your grandma’s closet and nobody is gonna say a damn thing about it. I don’t know what it was about those orthopedic granny shoes but Garcia played like a motherfucker while he was wearing em!
There are different artists that are known for different talents. When it comes to expressions, Garcia could dance like James Brown from the eyebrows up. Nobody in music history comes close to Garcia when you talk about eyebrow movement and forehead wrinkling. His connection to everything he sang expressed through the movement of the top 1/3rd of his face is unparalleled. It was his connection to the moment that took all of US so much deeper into the experience. When he became disinterested it all became less interesting. To Lay Me Down was one of the best moments of the event for me. Garcia may not have had the greatest voice technically but his voice was the greatest that ever existed to me. There was a finish to his vocal that would get passed through his nose towards the end like a swig of top shelf cognac. It caused us to be drawn closer to the lyric and the sound and drew us all closer to a man that we never really knew. The chances to see all of this on pro shot video is something that I wish the folks at GDP would give us more of. There’s an abundance of video in the archives that we’re all dying to see. Come on y’all, give us some more video! I’m grateful for the stuff that’s been gathered on YouTube and I’m amazed by how much of it exists but you can’t compare it to the collection that is sitting in the archives.
I remember being pretty surprised that night when they opened the second set with Friend Of The Devil. It’s fair to say nobody guessed that was gonna happen. If somebody did make a guess like that you’d probably assume they didn’t know shit about The Dead. The up-tempo version was outstanding and surprisingly, it never happened like that again. Phil seemed somewhat detached from the experience to me. Not nearly as invested in it all as the others seemed to be. Maybe it was me, maybe it was the Calvin Klein jeans… Somebody should’ve scored him a pair of white orthopedic granny loafers maybe… Truckin was tremendous and the best of it for me was when they were winding up the tension on the jam at the end. That jam was grabbing pieces of cosmic debris from all over the universe and rolling it up into this massive burrito of energy when you see Garcia and Bill stuck in the moment with each other just blowing their own fuckin minds! They both had the face on like they were completely responsible for stealing their own damn faces right off their heads! It was a fantastic moment captured forever. He’s Gone and the jam that followed was a mind melter and the vocal jam at the end gave us the bug-eyed Brent we all loved so much. I don’t what was in Brent’s soup but that shit kicked in pretty hard toward the end of He’s Gone. Weir had already left the stage assuming Drums when Garcia started Eyes. Weir came running back to rejoin the movement. I loved when shit like that happened and it only comes back into memory through the videos.
The Dear Mr. Fantasy-> Hey Jude was a moment that put an enormous exclamation point on the evening. I’ve heard dozens of bands play that tune but none has ever come remotely close to what the Dead made out of that tune. The connection between Garcia and Brent throughout that exchange caused me to miss both equally at that moment. It’s been rumored that early experiments involving vaporizing pot first took place when a bag of weed was sitting on the keyboard between Garcia and Brent while they were playing. It’s clear that nothing could enter that field of intensity while they were engaged in a tune without being completely vaporized. At one point in the Hey Jude, there were so many simultaneous musical orgasms going on it was nearly impossible not to start smoking and looking for ice cream afterward. The short clip of Garcia throwing a power chord over his head, almost windmill style, while fully immersed in the magic that was taking place was well worth the price of admission on its own.
Sugar Mags was great as always and closed a phenomenal night at the Movies. Those were some of the last of the truly great years for The Faithful and The Grateful. I always loved Mighty Quinn encores and although it rarely provided any super moments it has always been a tune that sits in just the right pace and just the right place for dancing our way out of the night. That tune always guaranteed a joyous march back to the parking lot.
Fast forward nearly 27 years and some of our favorite musicians along with a few new ones are playing on Jimmy Kimmel. It seems to me like Dead & Co are taking it up a notch. They’ve become comfortable enough with the material and each other to really start letting it go a little more. I dig Weir and John trading verses on some tunes but I really think they should let Oteil into the mix. Oteil can sing and his voice has some dynamics to it. Talking about John’s vocal dynamics is like talking about my height. It’s easier to talk about the absence of it than the presence of it. John’s guitar playing seemed more confident and aggressive than I’ve heard it before which makes the lack of any real feeling in his singing more tolerable. Don’t get me wrong, I like what John brings to the table more than any of his predecessors since the Grate Old Days it’s just that vocally he seems stuck in a single octave. He doesn’t go higher, he doesn’t go lower, he just sits in that one place on everything he sings. The place he sits is ok and I can dig it but it goes nowhere from there. I hope he tries to push his vocals a little more in the months ahead.
Oteil has returned to the Afro Punk days of his youth and is wearing the hell out of a Mohawk that will be called the “O”Hawk from now on. Looked like Mr T pawned his jewelry and bought a bass with the proceeds. Oteil brings his all every night. The future of our music is safe in the hearts and hands of guys like Oteil, Jeff and John. The energy that they are bringing to this whole thing is creating a heavy buzz as we move towards Summer Tour in Dead Land. It’s really apparent that these guys were happy to be back together doing what they do. The ingredients are just right with this batch of artists.
Bertha was a made for TV version yet still managed to be the best thing you’ll catch on a late night TV Show all year. The Scarlet Fire wasn’t a made for TV moment as Dead & Co blasted 15 minutes worth of fury at those that were in attendance. Althea was great musically and the jams were full of fire and life. NFA sends everybody home radiating The Love that this group of musicians has been perpetuating for over 50 years now. The chemistry is growing with this group and I imagine this Summer is going to provide many memorable moments. They won’t be moments like the one we revisited at the movies this week but they’ll be moments none the less. The current incarnation of the band is the most exhilarating one I’ve witnessed since Garcia.
In other news, Miley Cyrus posted a picture on Instagram of herself wearing a Grateful Dead Shirt. It became immediately apparent who Mayer last slept with. As soon as he’s planted his seeds anywhere, Grateful Dead shirts pop up. It’s like a crime scene that doesn’t need an investigation. Either that or one pop star woman at a time is starting to dig the Dead… You make the call… Poor dude won’t be able to keep anything under cover. We all remember last year’s conquest in the Gucci Dancing Bear dress. She’s like a steam locomotive, rolling down the track. It must be challenging to be part of an outside->in Pop world and then enter Grateful Dead Land where internal contents are abundantly more relevant than external accessories. Many a self-righteous personality have been melted down in the intense mirror of the soul that our favorite musicians have always provided. It’s easier to pass through it briefly than to stick around and let the process run its course.
I listen with a critical ear and commentate with some sarcasm but I could never thank the folks that have kept the mother rolling all these years enough. My life has been made astronomically better through the experience and environment that this community and culture has given me. Whether past, present or future, I’ll forever be Dead To The Core. Less than a month until we all use any bathroom we want in North Carolina!
Love You Long Time!
Dean Sottile (pronounced So Tilly)
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