Merl Saunders:: Comes A Time :: 09.24.05
Everyone from JamBase and beyond was pleased to see Merl doing well...


For over twenty years, the Rex Foundation has been the charity arm of the Dead organization, and in fact, the tribute was a dual event meant to serve as a benefit for the worthy cause. After Ratdog's brief yet potent set, Rex Foundation Executive Director Sandy Sohcot and President Freddy Hahne told the crowd about the tribute's intent and then introduced the Garcia family members. Annabelle Garcia said a few words about how long they had been trying to get this night to happen and thanked the crowd for their continued support of her father's work. It was an unexpected and heartfelt prelude to the main event.

Walton & Hart :: Comes A Time :: 09.24.05
Mickey Hart led a percussion contingent on stage fronted by Hamza El Din, who brought the Garcia story up to 1978 and their legendary September trip to Egypt. Along for the ride to the Pyramids? Bill Walton back in '78, and he took his place on stage in '05 on percussion along with a dozen or so others as they played "Olin Arageed" — a piece first performed during the Dead's dates in Egypt. Each performer wore a white robe and was in a semi-circle as El Din directed the ensemble. Kreutzmann and Hart went to the twin drum kits, Jimmy Herring and Trey Anastasio on guitars, JGB-ers Gloria Jones and Jackie LaBranch and Donna Jean on backup vocals. Weir led the supergroup into "Help on the Way," and we were off - literally. Herring suddenly left the stage, and Trey handled the lead vocals and guitar work until the sound cut out. This was the tensest moment of the whole evening. I thought, "Great - just what Trey needs." My old friend was up there to pay tribute to one of his idols, a man who inspired an entire generation of jam music, and the power failed. The crowd, being an extremely intelligent group of heads, roared with support for the situation. They weren't going to let anything, not even a technical glitch out of hell's lower regions, spoil the magic. Quickly, VERY quickly, Bob Weir raced over with his guitar to the soundboard on stage-left, chatted EXTREMELY briefly (perhaps even threatened a good ol' Angels-style stomping), and suddenly the volume returned to full force - a classic GD moment in a classic California setting with classic music being played by the best from yesterday and today.

Trey Anastasio :: Comes A Time :: 09.24.05
Trey rolled into "Slipknot!," and the band turned this bliss into a majestic little pearl before abruptly stopping the jam. "Franklin's Tower" did not conclude the usual trilogy, and Trey walked quickly off stage as Weir and Warren Haynes started up "Sugaree." This sequence would occur throughout the rest of the night — the band would jam, hit a peak, stay there for a little while, we would be dancing and yelling and shaking back and forth, and the song would suddenly end. My take on this is that there were so many songs that the supergroup wanted--check that--needed to cover, that brevity became a requirement.

Herring, Anastasio, Kang :: Comes A Time :: 09.24.05
"Sugaree," featuring Haynes on guitar and vocals, was played well, but I had to scratch my head when I saw Bruce Hornsby enter late in the song to handle keyboards. Quite frankly, Hornsby would have been a perfect foil for Haynes on the Garcia debut album masterpiece from the get-go. I was just being impatient for Hornsby, I suppose. His presence would become monumental as the night wore on as we rode the wave of great music towards the astonishing version of "Standing on the Moon," where Hornsby matched forces with Anastasio on a song for the ages. "Loser" followed, and Hornsby immediately grabbed the spotlight with conviction.

Hornsby has played this song in the past many times, but hearing him bring it up to another level on this early fall eve made you wonder if Hornsby was the best keyboardist the Grateful Dead ever had. I had been waiting for this song and I thought that Weir would handle the vocals, but Hornsby just seemed to make the tune his own in a big way — all heartbreak and true feeling from the gut. J.V. Collier took over the bass duties from the strong Robin Sylvester of Ratdog on "Loser" and was a familiar sight to those who had seen Hornsby's band in action.

Michael Kang :: Comes A Time :: 09.24.05
Michael Kang on violin drifted on and off stage after SCI's strong set and participated in an ingenious pairing of "Brown-Eyed Woman" and the first verse reading of "Dark Star." Jimmy Herring, in this wonderful guitar tag team that was going on, sat in on these two numbers, which eventually melted into "Bertha" featuring Herring and Haynes. The initial half of "Dark Star" ventured into space, but this wasn't to be an evening of mysterious, mind-blowing, deep interstellar exploration. Alas, most of the time, the grip was fairly tight on the yokes of the Triple Crown of guitarists.

That all changed ever-so-slightly during "Eyes of the World." Trey Anastasio, in what must have been a true thrill, took over on guitar and vocals and definitely sent shivers down the spines of the audience. He nailed all of the inter-verse solos, and his vocals were moving and hauntingly real. This was arguably Anastasio's finest performance of the evening as he completely connected with a Garcia tune that he had not played since the very early days of Phish, some 20 years prior. If you weren't moved by this performance, you weren't anywhere near me and my buddy because most people looked like heaven had suddenly fallen to Earth. It was sweet payback after the unfortunate technical glitch during "Help" > "Slip."

Bill Kreutzmann Centers the Beat :: Comes A Time :: 09.24.05
The beautiful otherworldly moment just wouldn't end. As a matter of fact, we had hit the meat of the show, and the highlight was next: all of the members of the supergroup left the stage except for Bruce Hornsby on keys and vocals. But, wait a minute - Anastasio stayed on stage and Weir stood in the dark, back by the speakers, watching and occasionally strumming while the true goods were about to be delivered. Hornsby sang "Standing on the Moon" as if he wrote and owned it. In-between vocals, Hornsby and Anastasio played an absolutely sublime combination of unique music that had to be heard to be believed. The best part was that the moment appeared unscripted, as if it was just supposed to be Hornsby solo. But it was the addition of Anastasio playing along with Hornsby that led to a house full of teary eyes. In an evening of song after song, one rotating musician after another, Hornsby and Anastasio somehow stopped the clock and played a truly beautiful "thank you" to Garcia that was overwhelmingly touching.

Weir, Donna Jean, Sylvester, Kreutzmann
Comes A Time :: 09.24.05
"Scarlet Begonias" > "Fire on the Mountain" followed with Hornsby, Haynes, Herring, Anastasio, and Kang ripping through the old warhorse, but it failed to lift up off the ground. Hart handled the vocals on "Fire," but clearly, like "Dark Star," this sequence was really hard to pull off without Garcia's presence. However, there were brief moments of fine soloing, and Kang, as he did the entire evening, again offered unique colors and a sweet undertone.

Haynes had played "Stella Blue" before, and his familiarity was of great help. He pulled it off with some inspired vocals and guitar work shared with Herring. "The Wheel" > "Uncle John's Band" saw the unique guitar triplet pairing of Anastasio, Haynes, and the vastly underrated Mark Karan of Ratdog. "UJB" featured Anastasio and Haynes toe-to-toe, soloing back and forth as I laughed out loud for two reasons. 1) It was brilliant, and 2) Weir seemed to keep looking over in horror: were Warren and Trey about to go off into a twin split-screen corner of space that would develop into a 20-minute jam?

Fingers crossed.

Comes A Time :: 09.24.05
Alas, not on this night, but it was a guitar hero battle for the ages. "He's Gone" followed to slow things way, way down before Weir again segued the huge beast into the nearly-forgotten "Franklin's Tower," delivering a perfectly fat sandwich closure to the three-hour set. Anastasio handled the vocals with Donna Jean on backup vocals up front like it was 1976 again, with Kang on violin and Hornsby and Haynes offering a fine combination of mojo heat. There were three encores, and by then, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. I hadn't heard so many Garcia tunes back-to-back before - like most heads, I was used to Garcia/Weir flip-flopping during a show - and it was mind-boggling to think that the man, like his peer Bob Dylan, had created such a major body of work. "Brokedown Palace" was a fitting first encore featuring Haynes and Hornsby and was followed by the second sandwich closer, "Dark Star," as they completed the final verse with a slight bit of space exploration, but not much. (This was an encore after all, at a tribute show of tunes). "Touch of Grey" closed the epic night of fantastic music, and I groaned loudly. I wanted "China Cat," but I wasn't about to split hairs at this juncture. We all sang along to the phrase "We will survive," and the warm vibes of the evening led us out into the dark Berkeley night as Mickey Hart gave a warm speech similar to the one he gave ten years ago at the Garcia wake when he advised that we all take this spirit and positive energy and "do something with it."

May that special Garcia buzz last beyond this little old dimension we share. One can only hope.

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[Published on: 10/3/05]

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