In the book of The Dead, who ever imagined a chapter titled “After Jerry?”
Once known as The Warlocks, The Other Ones and — oh yeah, that Grateful Dead thing — The (revamped) Dead pulled the bus into The Meadows in Hartford Saturday as part of their “Summer Getaway Tour” with a few new passengers on board.
The core of one of the most legendary touring bands of all time remains Phil Lesh (bass), Bob Weir (guitar), Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann (drums). New are keyboardists Jeff Chimenti and Rob Barraco, who migrated over from Weir’s side band, Ratdog. Jimmy Herring (lead guitar) has the job of standing in the swirling black hole created by the 1995 death of Jerry Garcia. And singer Joan Osborne is the latest recruit in the long-lived tradition of Dead-affiliated female backup singers, Susan Tedeschi (last time around with the Other Ones) and Donna Jean Godcheaux (early 1970s) the most notable.
But, the more things change …
The Dead, in any incarnation, have always kept a pretty large circus in tow. Cold, leaden skies didn’t make that any different Saturday, and parking lots were replete with the smell of patchouli, the sight of spinning girls and Hacky Sacks, the sound of distant bootlegs and nitrous tanks.
Going on at about 8:20, the band made an immediate impact with a “Mississippi Half-Step” opener. It’s always somehow disquieting to hear him sing Jerry’s songs, but Weir got the crowd to respond by belting out the line “pray for better weather,” his breath pluming out into the chilly air.
After more Weir — with the rare but venerable “Me and Bobby McGee” cover and the always crowd-engaging “Aiko Aiko” — opener Steve Winwood came out with his soprano sax for a long, jazzy rendition of “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” that had serious mileage.
“The Wheel,” awkwardly placed in the first set, was tried and true nonetheless. “Touch of Grey” closed out the set paying homage to the Dead’s ever-popular 1990s period.
The band kicked off the second set with “Scarlet Begonias,” then used “Playin’ In the Band” to sandwich the songs in the remainder of the set. “Feel Like a Stranger” showcased Osborne’s vocal prowess and Herring’s startingly Garcia-like quickpicking, while R&B standards “Hard to Handle” and “In the Midnight Hour” seemed to flounder under the weight of the plodding blues beat. The Dead also reached into the vault for a perfectly able version of the little heard-from “St. Stephen.”
A predictable “One More Saturday Night” encore sent the old-timers (what there was of them) packing early for the long walk back through a dismal rain to satellite parking garages miles away.
All-in-all, you have to admire The Dead’s longevity and willingness to tour, even with its shifting cast of characters. It was an inventive, mostly energetic show, drawing power from its original rhythm section, Weir’s capable frontman routine and that abiding, jazz-inspired sense of adventurous improvisation that made the Grateful Dead the psychedelic era’s sole survivor.
The ever-changing picture of the Dead and its audiences make it difficult to assess its current run of shows (they tour through Aug. 10, when they will play two, recently announced three-set shows at Jones Beach, N.Y.).
Measured against most other live acts, The Dead still is as fun, unpredictable and wild as a musical rollercoaster. But amid the vast ouevre of the band’s live performances, the Dead may never again be as Grateful as they once were.
To view a version of this article at The Other Ones.net, click here.