The Dead | 05.14.09 | Mountain View

Editor's Note: As we promised last week, here we are with Part II of our Dead Shoreline double-review. Just like for Part I we brought back Bay Area musician Garrin Benfield and JamBase Associate Editor Dennis Cook for two different takes on one big night. Click here to read Part I of our Shoreline coverage.

Words by: Garrin Benfield | Images by: Jay Blakesberg

The Dead :: 05.14.09 :: Shoreline Amphitheatre :: Mountain View, CA

The Dead :: 05.14 :: Shoreline
It warmed my heart to see the lot at Shoreline Amphitheatre fully happening for The Dead's second show at our hometown venue. Unlike the afternoon of the first show, security appeared to loosen their hold on vending and partying, and the scene was in full flower. It was a classic, sunny Northern California day, and though this show was not fully sold out, I sensed a greater sense of anticipation in the air. Everyone in the band had just had a few days to sleep in their own beds, except Warren Haynes, who played two shows with the Allmans in Oakland (coverage here). That guy never seems to get a break!

The effectiveness of this show's first set was slightly mitigated for me by song placement choices. How ironic after all those years of complaining about the rigidity of the Dead format to now be realizing that there were some good reasons for that graceful setlist arc developed over the years. Not that this logic has been completely abandoned, but the band does seem to be enjoying mixing it up on every level right now, not least of which is where we expect to hear certain songs. "Ship of Fools" as the fourth song in the first set? A "Scarlet-Fire" encore? As listeners we now have a new set of challenges with the Dead: first to avoid that slippery slope of comparing every post-Jerry move the band makes to the way it was, and second to let go of our expectations about how a show develops.

The Dead :: 05.14 :: Shoreline
I had a hankering for "Jack Straw" all afternoon, so I was pleased to hear the song gradually appear out of the opening jam that was based around that tune's classic, descending opening figure. This wasn't the pumping, rocked-out version I was looking for but a good reminder for me to take the long view and remain open to different takes on the old repertoire. It was clear right out of the gate that these guys were going to take their time and build something this evening. After an equally breezy "U.S. Blues," "Mason's Children" opened up into the first extensive jam of the set, with Warren employing that oh-so familiar, quack-y envelope filter. That auto-wah sound is de rigeur in the arsenal of effects for any guitarist playing Dead music, though I think both Warren and Bobby overuse it, especially when they've both got it on simultaneously.

"Ship of Fools" came across as slightly under-rehearsed, or perhaps Warren just hasn't had that many chances to really get inside the song. For the "new" guys, one of the consequences of not repeating songs from night to night (with a book this large) is that some of the less familiar songs remain that way. It's remarkable, actually, when you look over the song list statistics from this 22-show tour how many songs have been played less than five times.

"Friend of the Devil" had a nice round of solo breaks from Warren, Jeff Chimenti and especially Bobby. I never tire of that composed little line he plays, especially now that he's consistently mixed loud enough. The first set ended with an ambitious plan: A "Lady With A Fan/Terrapin Station" that was bookended by "Standing on the Moon," the latter sung/spoken by Bob. I heard the other version of this song from the tour (which also suffered from weak vocals) and think this is just one of those songs that might be better left alone to its Jerry-identified legacy. However, I appreciated the effort of ending this set with two important songs strung together by a new segue idea.

The second set kicked off with an introspective take on "Estimated Prophet" that was given full room to wander in many slinky directions. Warren's distinctive microtonal string bending techniques complimented the dark strut of this tune perfectly. Talk about a slow burn! I couldn't have been happier to hear "New Potato Caboose" blossom next, as Phil once described it "like a thousand petal lotus." The suggestion that The Dead might have revived tunes like this and "Born Cross-Eyed" in the late '80s or early '90s would have gotten you laughed right off the bus, so this felt truly special to me. And the gorgeous "all graceful instruments" chorus of "New Potato" sent a shiver straight up to the upper reaches of the Shoreline lawn.

The Dead :: 05.14 :: Shoreline
In a brilliant juxtaposition of Dead-eras, "Dear Mr. Fantasy" came next, which of course is the kind of tune built for Haynes. His gravelly vocal take was also a nice unintentional nod to Brent Mydland, who played some of his most confident shows at Shoreline. A scaled-back fire dancing troupe again accompanied Mickey and Billy during "Drums," which was typically intense. The crowd seemed thrilled to hear the "Morning Dew" and "China-Rider" that closed the show, though both were a bit soft-focus and meandering for my taste. Jerry was so often accused of noodling, but he had a way of getting to the point that this band sometimes misses, and that was evident to me in the way this show finished up.

What we are witnessing with this current incarnation of The Dead is an internal dialogue and a constant insistence on deconstruction that occasionally runs the risk of sabotaging not just individual songs but the show itself. The payoff of this approach, of course, is that the results are so often fascinating and unexpected. The three-song encore of "Scarlet-Fire" and "Deal," while more than generous and a ton of fun, felt like the start of a new chapter rather than bringing the show to a natural conclusion. Maybe that was an appropriate way to finish these last few shows of what has generally shaped up to be the most confident, consistently engaging tour since the early '90s. A new door has clearly opened, and after some rest and objective distance, Mickey, Bill, Bob and Phil will have the chance to decide where to take this. Whatever their decision, I remain thrilled to have the opportunity to be in the room when the "core four" crank it up.

The Dead :: 05.14.09 :: Shoreline Amphitheatre :: Mountain View, CA
Set I: Jack Straw, U.S. Blues > Mason's Children, Ship Of Fools, Friend Of The Devil > Standing On The Moon > Lady With A Fan > Terrapin Station > Standing On The Moon
Set II: Estimated Prophet > New Potato Caboose > Born Cross-Eyed > Dear Mr. Fantasy > Drums > Space > Morning Dew > China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider
Encore: Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain, Deal

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