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Five-Live from the Dead

By Brian L. Knight

 

The Grateful Dead may no longer be touring and playing live, but their spirit is undoubtedly living on in many different musical forms and incarnations. Here is some of the latest to come from the California coast.

 

The Grateful Dead / Dick’s Picks Volume 15th, Englishtown, NJ 9/3/77

Many a fan will claim that their favorite year of the Grateful Dead was 1977. When listening to any show from this year, one can hear an incredible energy and communication between the band members. This was most evident in the countless climatic jams that the band achieved in songs like "Morning Dew", "Fire on the Mountain" and "Dancing in the Streets." One show that particularly sticks out of the impressive pool of 1977 concerts was the band’s end of the summer regalia in Englishtown, New Jersey. Along with the New Riders of the Purple Sage and Marshall Tucker Band, the Grateful Dead played to over 100,000 jam hungry fans on a hot humid September day. Grateful Dead archivist Dick Latvala, who died recently from hear related problems, also felt that 1977 was special year and the Englishtown concerts was on his all time favorite list. Although he left implicit instructions for further Dick’s Pick releases, the Englishtown concerts were an appropriate swan song for the longtime fan of the band. When listening top the CDs, it is easy to see that Dick knew what he was doing. From the opening notes of Chuck Berry’s "Promised Land" to the closing of the newly penned "Terrapin Station", the Englishtown concert wall of vibrancy and electricity. Throughout the evening’s performance, their were numerous tunes that defined the Grateful Dead’s Americana - "Mississippi Step Uptown Toodledoo" which sounds like a modern mutation of a Duke Ellington song while "Peggy –O" made references to traditional American folk and "Friend of the Devil" had its roots in bluegrass. What really shines in this concert is the jams – Garcia’s super-lengthy introduction to "Eyes of the World" and the endless "Not Fade Away" are highlights. The true Dead experience arrives with "Truckin". From a lyrical pointy of view, the song serves as an autobiographical tale of the band, which in turns acts as a bonding agent between the audience and the band. From a musical point of view, the song defines a unique characteristic about the Grateful Dead – when they suck, they rock. As the band winds down Truckin, they completely flub a major component of the tune. Instead of ending the tune on a bad note, Garcia and Lesh resurrect the song from its ashes, bring the band back together for one more shot at the end of the tune and completely supercede anybody’s expectations for the song. To the band members, they probably felt they completely botched the song but to all the fans there and everybody who hears this disk, they get to witness an amazing example of improvisational recovery. This Dick’s Picks may just be the best to date and Dick knew it. In the liner notes, Dick writes: "I hope this release will alleviate any doubts concerning my posthumous powers." No doubts here.

Hot Tuna/And Furthurmore

Like his San Francisco counterpart, Jerry Garcia, guitarist Jorma Kaukonen can play a whole range of styles. As a lead guitarist for the Jefferson Airplane, his psychedelic solos would send audiences at places like the Avalon Ballroom and Fillmore West on transcendental journeys. While playing with the Airplane, Kaukonen also formed Hot Tuna with longtime friend and fellow Airplane member, bassist Jack Casady. Together, the two recorded a number of albums ranging from their acoustic based debut album and the hard rocking First Pull Up, Then Pull Down. Since the early 1970s, Hot Tuna (originally called Hot S%&T) has seen numerous lineup changes with Casady and Kaukonen always forming the backbone. During the 1990s, the band mutated into Kaukonen, Casady, guitarist Michael Falzarano, drummer Harvey Sorgen and keyboardist Pete Sears. During the latter stages of the millenium, this lineup was one of the featured acts on the Furthur Festival (A musical carnival that celebrated the culture and music of the Grateful Dead). And Furthurmore is a compilation of the famous 1998 Furthur Festival tour which also featured the Other Ones (former Grateful Dead members) and Rusted Root. This disc covers many of the tunes that made Hot Tuna and especially the guitar playing of Kaukonen famous – the rocking True Religion" "Funky #7" and "Been So Long"; the acoustic ballads of "I am The Light " and "Third Week in Chelsea" and the beautiful instrumentals "Embryonic Journey" and the "Water Song". In addition to Kaukonen’s fingerpicking and soloing, Falzarano’s guitar playing is highlighted on songs such as "Gypsy Fire" and "Just My Way". Although there is a mass proliferation of Hot Tuna albums such as their self titled debut album, Splashdown, Live at the Sweetwater, Historic Hot Tuna and Double Dose, And Furthurmore stands out for two reason – 1)the song selection is one of the finest to be found on a live Hot Tuna album and 2) the present lineup may just be one of the finest incarnations of the band.

Phil and Friends – Love Will See You Through

If one is nostalgic for the Grateful Dead experience, listening to a Dick’s Picks is a great remedy. If one is searching for a more hands on experience, than Phil and Friends is the way to go. Since the Grateful Dead’s "break up", bassist Phil Lesh has been keeping busy on the west coast with his various incarnations known as "Phil and Friends". Through countless live concerts, musicians like David Crosby, Graham Nash, Bruce Hornsby, Warren Haynes Trey Anastasio and Steve Kimock have joined Lesh on stage. Every single Phil and Friends performance has a featured a different set of talented musicians which in turn have created some really daring and bold jam sessions. On such jam session has been released as Love Will See You Through and for this gig, the Phil and Friends lineup consisted of Lesh, Hot Tuna’s Pete Sears (keyboards and Jorma Kaukonen (guitar), singers Zoe Ellis and Caitlin Cornwell, ex-Tubes drummer Prairie Prince and guitarist Steve Kimock. The 2 CD set contains some old time Grateful Dead classics such as "Mr. Charlie", "New Potato Caboose" and "Duprees’ Diamond Blues". The Presence of Kaukonen is felt as the band plays "I am the Light" and "Good Shepherd" and Kaukonen takes lead vocals on "Friend of the Devil and "Big Boss Man". The big surprise is the jams that they work through – "Mash Potato Jam" and "Caboose Jam" as well as a 26+ minute "St Stephen." The jams are unbelievable and the energy coming from the band is unsurpassable.

 

The Grateful Dead/ So Many Roads 1965-1999

If a Phil and Friends concert/disc doesn’t satisfy your inherent desire to hear the Grateful Dead experience, that I think that So Many Roads will take care of those needs. This five CD set is a compendium of demos, outtakes, unreleased songs, live jams from every stage of the Grateful Dead experience – from the organ heavy sounds of the Warlocks with "Cream Puff War" to the epic jams that arose out of "Terrapin" and segued into space. Although the box set is celebration of every stage of the band and every player who passed through the bands ranks, the box set provides a chronology of guitarists Jerry Garcia’s playing style. From the raw, unbridled solos of the band’s earliest days, when Garcia was simply trying to figure out how to play an electric guitar after years of playing acoustic based bluegrass to Garcia’s experiments with Midi technology throughout the 1980s and 1990s, So Many Roads captures everything stage of Garcia’s rise to guitar wizardry. One can listen the intense jams in tunes such as Dark Star" and "The Other One" in disbelief as Garcia and Company are able to branch out on intense improvisations and somehow remembers how to return a jam back to the song’s basic structure. One can listen to the heartfelt solos in "Stella Blue" or "Black Peter" which can bring a tear to an eye. Or one can listen to the climatic jams in "Wharf Rat", "Estimated Prophet" or "Morning Dew", in which Garcia’s playing provide a total sense of euphoria and release. This box set is coming soon and it should be quite a treat. Add to the equation the amazing percussion/drumming of Hart and Kreutzman, the sweeping bass lines of Phil Lesh, the unique rhythmic approach of Bob Weir and the defining keyboard characteristics created by T.C., Pigpen, Godchaux, Mydland, Hornsby and Welnick, there is no better Grateful Dead compendium.

Various Artists/Sing Out For Seva

One of the Grateful Dead’s favorite charities was Seva. Seva is the Sanskrit word for service. It is also the name of a non-profit organization that has programs dedicated to diabetes among Native Americans, sustainable economic development in Mayan communities and sight restoration efforts in Asian countries. In recent years, there have been numerous fundraisers in which many a fine musician graced the stage in the name of Seva. This compilation is the best of those concerts. Not only does the album serve as a fundraiser for worthwhile programs, but it also showcases musicians stripped down to their bare necessities: a guitar and there voices. On this album, you will find Rambling Jack Elliott singing Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right", Arlo Guthrie’s "Can’t Help Falling In Love", Jorma Kaukonen’s "I am The Light of this World", Bob Weir’s "KC Moan" and Phil Lesh’s "Box of Rain". In addition there are performances by David Crosby/Graham Nash, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Hornsby and Maria Muldaur. Check out Seva at http://www.seva.org.

To keep abreast of future Grateful Dead releases, try the web site http://www.dead.net.