It became apparent immediately that our favorite musicians spent their time off as off time. Nobody can fault anybody for taking a well deserved break after a fairly extensive tour. The holidays were probably spent as they should be I’d imagine. By doing as much of nothing as you can get away with while somehow meeting the needs of family expectation in as minimal a way as possible. I had a mentor at one time in my life that used to tell me that a week off is always followed by an off week. He may have been right but I decided his shit probably wasn’t gonna work for me. I like time off too much. Dead & Company opened up the night in San Francisco like a fat basketball team trying to run the floor with a belly full of Turkey and Prime Rib all covered with mashed potatoes. I’m probably not supposed to say that because it would be much more popular to stuff a heaping helping of fresh sunshine up everyone’s ass. Truckin came out of one of those pointless jams that’s not designed to go anywhere at all other than becoming Truckin at some point. Out of the gates came some old dudes running with glue on the bottom of their shoes. Doesn’t make me love anybody any less. Dead & Co still haven’t figured out that jam at the end of Truckin as a group just yet. That’s supposed to be a gigantic ball of tension that gets all rolled up and compressed before its eventual and incredible release. They haven’t really found the tension or the release in that one yet but we’re all having a blast anyway so who cares? Cold Rain and Snow is obviously a favorite of John’s and it was OK. Brown Eyed Women was good but nothing worth talking about afterwards. Black Throated Wind came dribbling in. Weir was pushing to make it as good as it could be but it was like trying to kick start a cold motorcycle with a broken leg. There was way more human effort trying to push the ship than what we experience when the ship is surrendered to its environment and the mystical force is doing all the pushing as the massive ship seems to move effortlessly through the sea. The nights when it’s the very best, effort seems minimal and natural as opposed to trying to make the magic happen. John’s take on Standing On The Moon did absolutely nothing for me. It was the musical equivalent of a fat chick in a half shirt. Even the San Francisco verse fell totally flat to me. There was nothing there. Decent solo at the end perhaps. I know some of you thought it was wonderful. Oteil continued to be the brightest spot in the picture and his apparent joy while playing brings joy to anybody with a soul. When I watch my kids play, they don’t have to try to bring me joy, it just happens automatically by watching them. Oteil is like that but he’s a full grown motherfucker! When he’s expressing his gift it’s full blown, unadulterated, Holy Ghost inspired Joy busting out all over the place and that shit is contagious!
Cassidy began and it seemed like the Cialis started kicking in. As unimpressed as I was with the start, I was definitely impressed by how quickly the dust was beaten from the old rugs and in an instant the experience went from disjointed and forced to completely natural and seemingly effortless. Cassidy provided the fuel to the muted spark that began to catch fire. The confusing jam segments seemed to fan the flames as the chemistry from last month caught up to the band in a hurry. Like many nights in Dead Land, it always seemed in an instant the machine could be taken over by the driving forces of life and change lanes from the average to the transcendental experience. That happened during Cassidy. U.S. Blues found some great spots and some inspired jams that had me high stepping to the stream provided by Moonalice. I caught myself break dancing during that one. Strong finishes always help to erase the memories of sluggish starts. Strong finishes also make for more entertaining and fun intermissions. As much as I love a good Birdsong, when that would be used to end the first set, the confusion of the jams lingered in an unsettled fashion all through intermission. People stayed completely confused until the lights went out again. All they had to do was throw a Promised Land after it and all that confusing shit would’ve been cleared out. In the same way, I’m glad they finished strong.
Samson has long been a staple of Sunday Night shows and it seemed like the set break provided all the time the band needed to reconnect and return to the single minded entity we became accustomed to throughout November. Samson jams infuse a room with the particles required for environmental acceleration and kicked off the dance party with some rigorous cardio. The Deal was excellent and wound down awkwardly into He’s Gone. I’ve wondered hundreds of times throughout the years how Mickey felt during that one… Its meaning has definitely made a lot of changes over the years. Estimated was always better to hear in California than anywhere else and has always been the Weir tune in the pre drums slot with the most power, authority and potential. When I think back on The Warlocks in Hampton in 89, the only thing that prevented the first night from absolute perfection was following the Help->Slip->Franklin’s bust out with Victim Or The Crime. If Estimated was in that slot that night, it would’ve been perfection. they ended up putting that together at The Spectrum in Philly later that tour and that was a monumental night in what was probably the best complete Tour I ever personally did, Fall of 89.
Eyes was tremendous as always and Oteil has helped that tune become more than it ever was. In my opinion, No other member of Dead & Company has done that. Nobody else has brought something to a tune and made it better than it was before they got there. Oteil’s take on Eyes has elevated the entire song to a higher place than it existed previously.
Drums and Space was drummy and spacey… Bill and Mickey never disappoint. Except maybe when Mickey licked the beam… That might’ve been slightly disappointing… He’s Mickey tho… Captain of The Percussive Universe! He can do whatever the hell he wants and we should all bow at his brilliance. The healing properties of his more esoteric work have cured insomnia in thousands of people… While I love to joke about shit, I’m all about his work in the healing properties of music and I’m certain throughout the course of their careers The Dead have cured all kinds of people of all kinds of stuff without either party knowing the depth of what has taken place. Love you forever Rhythm Devils!
Black Peter came limping out of space and out of all the epic Garcia ballads, this one sits most comfortably with this group of musicians as it presents itself to my ears. It’s constructed with colors that Mayer paints with intrinsically and lends itself to the natural inclinations of his innate gifts. It’s a tremendous example of the beauty that can be found and experienced through melancholy events. The sorrow that exists within the song is wrapped in this deep textured sonic vibration that takes half of it’s fabric from tears and the other half through the peace found in an eventual surrender to inevitable circumstances. There’s a lot of lessons that have been learned through the years within the enormous heart of that song. GDTRFB is always a fun run up and down the neck of the guitar and has always provided ample opportunities for excellence. Soothing in its approach and lyric, searing in its potential for soloing and superb when it comes to making an entire room leave their seat and move their feet! It’s a great way to clear the air and redirect the momentum of emotions following a tune like Black Peter.
Ripple makes everybody happy and it did just that. I remember the first time I saw John Popper with Blues Traveler at Wetlands in NYC. I was blown away by what that brother could do with a harmonica. When they played there, it was the hardest tickets of the year at that place. I believe I saw Oteil for the first time with Col Bruce and the ARU at Wetlands as well. Those guys used to tear that little room up! The late 80’s were all happening at Wetlands! Anyway, It seemed like the entire band, along with John Popper, were high on cocaine for Casey Jones. The tempo was blazing fast particularly towards the end. Oteil was shaking his ass like a stripper whose rent was due tomorrow. By the final verses everyone in the band was grinding their teeth and wiping the residue from wherever they could find it across their gums with their index fingers. That shit was moving furiously! The tempos that started somewhat sluggishly with Dead & Company last October have definitely found a better pace in nearly all cases. Everybody left happy but tried hard to subdue their excitement in order to be more in line with behavior fitting of San Francisco. East Coasters forced themselves to pretend like they were much mellower than they actually are in hopes of being confused for native Californians. A fine time was had by all! If I had to guess, it’s gonna get better and better leading up to New Year’s Eve. The warm up is out of the way and the Help is on the way!
I hope Phil shows up tonight! Love you forever!!!
Dead To The Core,
Dean Sottile (pronounced So Tilly)
@gd50th on Twitter
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