I wrote a review for the benefit but I chose not to publish it. If I did, I could’ve called it West L.A. Fadeaway… I didn’t wanna be mean about it but, I didn’t have one good word to say. I was certain I wouldn’t make any new friends from it, at least friends that I wanted. I chose not to publish it in hopes that there would be a dramatic change in the 2 or 3 days leading up to the official tour opener at MSG. If they made a music video for that Touch of Grey from the benefit the video would feature old nuns falling down the stairs, still attached to their wheelchairs, in slow motion. One of the great songs of hope and encouragement that found a way to offer none of either. Mama Mia… Not Fade Away sounded like Nobody ever really loved anybody in the first place. I don’t wanna harp on that shit because there are always a lot of challenges when bands play events like that. Like Not Practicing… That presents a big fuckin problem. Where’s Bill Walton? Brother needs to talk to his pals about how Proper Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance. It was obvious that Improper Preparation Promoted Piss Poor Playing… Anyway, The real Tour opener was Sunday at “The World’s Most Famous Arena” according to the arena itself. I wondered if it would be possible to turn things around in such a short period of time… Here’s me and a bunch of my friends reviewing the benefit.
Regardless, we were all gathered in NYC and as happy as we could be to get Dead & Company Tour underway. I was a little surprised that the energy around the arena was a bit more subdued than I expected. Tickets were half price or less outside the venue close to showtime. Once we got in the venue, the excitement that goes along with the opening night of a tour still seemed a bit muted. As I looked around the concessions on the floor area, you’d think that Wooks were an endangered species. I think ticket prices might be driving out the Wooks like construction drives out wildlife. Nearly everyone looked gainfully employed and most appeared to have at least one shower this week. If you’re concerned about Wook Conservation efforts, I’m sure they’ll have a table at Phish shows soon…
After polluting the air with noise at the benefit, Weir had a solution. “Get me a shirt that’s at least one size too small!” he said. The brother came out looking trim and if he couldn’t move us with music, he was gonna at least try to distract the ladies and gay men with muscle. He definitely looked as though he’s been giving all his desserts to Bill and keeping up with some fitness routines!
The one thing the band had going for them is the power of comparison. Compared to what we heard in San Francisco, a ward full of people with pneumonia coughing would have been an improvement. My expectations were low as the lights went down for the first time this tour! Putting all the jokes aside, when this band takes the stage, the feeling of impending magic is always with me. This was a new day and Dead & Co were on their tour, with their sound crew, on their terms, and most importantly, they had all of US! Shakedown was a fantastic way to get things started and your mind can’t help but wander back to the dozens of nights that have been spent in MSG over the years. My mind immediately flashed me a picture of Branford next to Garcia on Shakedown 9/10/91. One of my favorite nights in my entire musical history. The Shakedown was good and it felt fantastic to be in the room with Dead & Company and a packed house of boogeying brothers and sisters!
The first notes of Greatest Story signaled a welcome addition to the repertoire. One of my favorite first set Weir tunes from the past making a comeback. It was a fine debut and came off as good as can be expected for its first time around. I’m glad that one is back! In days gone by, Bertha-> Greatest was a common pairing, this time around we got Greatest-> Bertha. The Bertha kept things moving in a strong direction and the disease that plagued the band last week seemed to have passed for the most part. The second solo spot in Bertha has been a stumbling block for Dead & Company, particularly early in tours since their beginning. John gets a little too excited and once it starts moving a little too fast, the band becomes like a fat kid running down a hill. Momentum kicks in and physical abilities can’t keep up resulting in a fat kid tumbling down a hill. My ears were set to that moment and when they made it through successfully it was clear that this thing was moving in the right direction. Weir made a comment about shaking the dust and rust off and I gotta say something about that. The band should be doing that shit on their time, not our dime. That’s all I’m gonna say about that.
Cassidy was kind of like an acid trip without enough acid. You take it and then you wait… Nothing’s happening… Should be any time now… Still waiting… It’s coming on… It’s getting interesting now!!! It’s over… WTF? It started slow and really never went anywhere. It was trying for a minute or two but never made it. The second debut of the night, BIODTL was another great addition to the growing list of possibilities. I ran the soundtrack stored in my mind that carries Garcia’s backup vocals for that one. They Love Each Other had some good harmonies and the mix seemed a little better, especially for Jeff.
I had a love/hate relationship with Cumberland last night. At first, I thought they were just fuckin around and playing a little. Then I realized, they really didn’t know where the fuck they were or how to get there, then I laughed because they were wrestling with the moment and goofing on each other. I couldn’t decide if it was terrible or not. Then something happened and the switch got hit. All of a sudden I felt like I was blazing through a mine on one of those carts that haul shit through the mines. That tune turned into a furious combination of sounds albeit with a loosely wound center. During Chimenti’s solo, the sound formed this incredible hologram that was spinning in the center of the venue throwing notes all over the place! Shit got real in a hurry! That was one of those moments that you realize you just got spun by the music like a motherfucker. The ride went from fucked up to FUCK YES in a heartbeat!!! Fantastic finish to the first! Just like a Swiss watch!
China Rider is always a great way to kick off a set as well as the tour. It was sloppy and somewhat disjointed but still capable of driving the experience from flesh to spirit. I love Ship Of Fools and it was pleasant as John and Oteil shared the lines between them. Personally, I’d rather see Oteil get that one on his own. Terrapin was great but Weir’s pronunciation of “cicada” still bugs the shit out of me. Drums was outstanding and when you can really hear what Mickey is doing, it’s extremely special. The last member that needs some volume is Mickey. I don’t know about you, but I can’t hear him at all during the songs… Standing On The Moon came out of space and then went back in space before it came out again. I’ve never been a fan of Weir on Garcia’s ballads but SOTM got the full treatment last night. Bob belted out the Be With Yous like a Boss! His voice was solid throughout and once he stops trying to direct traffic, the band will get much better. It seems to take him a while to let go a little.
The Other One deserves its own paragraph! Mayer made the Other One his bitch last night! Holy Hendrix that brother got possessed by the spirit of the ghosts of MSG and started channeling some serious heat through the environment. It was Mayer at his best, not looking for approval from anyone and as it got intense, he did the right thing and turned toward Oteil instead of Weir. Weir will try to throw him some gang signs that mean “change now” or “slow down” or “Next part”. When he turns Oteil’s way the only thing he gets is the encouragement and assistance required to rage like a motherfucker! John and Oteil traded and merged greatness at length during that jam and it electrified the entire venue! I felt like a dog in a car that was speeding down the road with my head out of the window! Moments like THAT are why I’ll continue to go out of my way to be at Dead & Company shows.
Casey Jones closed the set and I love to jam to that number! I just kind of took it all in for that one. My favorite musicians, my favorite people, all of US just playin in the band! For the encore, Samson got a haircut before the song even started. I think he also got a big dose of methadone. Samson is getting so slow it’s almost a fuckin ballad at this point. At least Weir didn’t try to play the tambourine… That never really works and doesn’t look too cool either. I thought it was all over and started heading for the exits when the opening chords of Werewolves sent me into U-Turn mode in a hurry! We’ve traveled all over the place through the years to hear that song in Grateful Dead Land once a year on Halloween. It was a great surprise that seemed to be encouraged by John saying “Let’s play one more!”
I’ll have to listen again to see if what I heard at MSG was accurate but a few times John really was loping slightly behind the moment, a lot like Garcia used to play. Garcia lived there and it was his natural place. A couple of times it seemed like John put himself slightly behind expectation but the band seemed to follow him there as opposed to maintaining their own pace. I don’t get high but it doesn’t mean I wasn’t hearing things… I’ll have to revisit the music to see if I hear it again. I was impressed by the opener and compared to the way the band sounded only a few nights beforehand, the improvement was pretty dramatic. It was definitely flawed in parts but the moments of elevation far exceeded any mishaps. I’m thrilled to have Dead & Company on the road again and look forward to what’s coming! The moments that the music was playing the band last night were fine examples of why Dead & Co is still King. There are certain things that take place when they’re playing together that simply don’t take place anywhere else. For me, there’s a force within their music that transcends the human element. There are pieces that exist in the midst of jams that can’t be recorded or transferred to media. The way the air changes temperature and density as songs passing through surrendered musicians recruit the forces of nature to participate. If the musicians continue to be surrendered to the music and allow the moments to happen without the need to try to guide them too much, it’s gonna be a great month for all of us! There are some incredible moments hidden in the near future waiting to occur. I was definitely impressed with the opener!
See y’all tomorrow! Love You Long Time! I gotta go…
Dead To The Core,
Dean Sottile (pronounced So Tilly)
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