DEAD ON THE ROCKS

The Dead :: 06.015.04 - 06.20.04 :: Red Rocks Amphitheater :: Morrison, CO


The Dead :: Red Rocks :: 06.16.04 by Tony Stack
As one of many long-time fans of the Greatest Band in the Land, it's no small challenge to sever off a tiny segment of this ongoing musical-cum-social experiment and hold it up for definitive evaluation. The much-heralded jam-based continuum has been evolving for nigh on 35 years in various manifestations and at this point the mystic ritual of live Dead music has been etched into our dreams and minds if not our collective DNA. One might wonder if a review of the Dead even matters. It's what's in our heads and hearts that counts, wherein rattle the images and rhythms of the years.

No matter what the year though, celebrating the advent of the summer in an ancient and musically-enshrined sandstone alcove with 9,000 like-minded souls and THE band is as close to "it" as jam heads can get on this planet. Gazing out over the stage at Denver and beyond to the rolling prairie as the first notes of the music hit the air and a lazy loop of lightning zig-zagged across the horizon, it hardly seemed arrogant to think, "It doesn't get much better than this!"


The Dead :: Red Rocks :: 06.16.04 by Tony Stack
And so it was as I checked in on the second night of the Red Rocks run. The buzz going around was that the band had been a little stiff the previous evening. My hunch was that the guys would be looser on night two. This hunch proved correct. After a limbering-of-the-fingers jam the boys came off the line with a solid "Feel Like a Stranger."

Next followed a well-received "Mississippi Half-Step" that included a vocal rearrangement at the song's finale with Bobby, now seemingly the on-stage conductor, staggering the refrain (by about a half-step) and signaling the crowd to do the same: "Uptown Mississippi Half Step (Pause) Toodeloo. (Repeat) Uptown Mississippi Half Step... Toodeloo." A fresh take on a classic, infusing the old with a refreshing interactive twist--perhaps some of the spirit of Ratdog creeping in.

In fact, The Dead is now an amalgam of side projects that includes members of Ratdog (Bob and Jeff) and Phil and Friends (Phil, Warren, and Jimmy) all backed by the rhythm aces of the Grateful Dead--Mickey and Billy. It felt like fractals of band split from the mother pod spliced back together, minus Jerome but with new travelers.


Warren Haynes :: Red Rocks
06.16.04 By Tony Stack
The cool overcast night provided fresh misty air and we all took in big gulps of the high-altitude ether as the band continued with "No More Do I" and "Alligator," a pair of soul-drenched ditties led vocally by Mr. Warren Haynes, who proved himself to be a valuable addition to the sound: a new and colorful tentacle of the pulsing Dead amoeba. Warren isn't Jerry, nor is he Duane or Dickey, but he is an extension of the spirit of those players while remaining very much himself: a stylish rocker with lots of rootsy power stuffed deep under his jam log, like a sleepy alligator come up from the swampy Southland. And he can he make that slide sing!

Flick the florescent purple light switch to mellow the vibe and give Bob an acoustic and it's down the "Lazy River Road" to conjure the pleasant pastoral memories of Garcia. Bob is still psychically attached to Jerry. The oversoul connects the two and we can sense the pervasive spirit of Jer in the interstices of the sound, of the air, creeping out of the rocks after a long winter. What next? What a shuffle! Is it "Hand Jive?" Is it back to Bob's Kingfish roots? No! It's, even better, a nod to the King of the Crossroads: "After Midnight!" Who woulda thunk it? And it's tight and rockin' and everyone is really going now. The Cale classic bled into a crowd-pleasing "Watchtower," followed by a personal favorite, "Just A Little Light." It's Warren on vocals again and he's leading the group like a sparrow in the armies of the night to wrap up a well-rendered first set.


Jimmy Herring :: Red Rocks
06.16.04 By Tony Stack
Ah, summer is a comin' in and I'm at Red Rocks. Who's that giant towering over the audience dead center down front? His massive limbs stab the air and his large frame sways as the music builds. It's none other than good ol' Grateful Red, aka Bill Walton. He's here for the whole run! It's good to see one of the old posse groovin' and playin' the band. Standing in front of me is an acquaintance from my college days who I haven't seen in 14 years. The music pulls us back together and conjures memories while new experiences are forged in the moment and new friends are made in the unfolding of the present.

The boys are back on stage, and whazzis bubbling out of the jam but Neil Young's tale of oppressive empire, "Cortez the Killer." It's a Dead first for the tune and we listen with hushed appreciation. Warren paints a picture of galleons, guns, coca leaves, and pearls and then the guitars take us away into a Phil and Friends rocker, "Night of a Thousand Stars." The music folds neatly into "Scarlet Begonias," Walton's massive arms pumping the beat, followed by "Fire on the Mountain," as sung by Mr. Hart. Mickey's no crooner, but it's good to know this is still a democratic outfit in which even the drummer gets a go. This is starting to feel like a Dead show!

Drums and space are nice and weird crackling into a hefty linkage of "The Other One" > "Death Don't Have No Mercy" > "Golden Road To Unlimited Devotion" > "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" and "Midnight Hour" to finish the set. Notice the well-chosen classics and a hint of a Beatles motif that will continue over the next few days. For the encore it's a slightly bumpy version of "Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad" followed by a very soulful a cappella "We Bid You Goodnight" that saw Warren, Bobby, Phil, and company harmonizing sweetly.


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