On Friday, July 3rd, The Dead Guise, one of the Bay Area’s best Grateful Dead cover bands played a wonderful two-set concert at The Starry Plough that drew quite the crowd. The Plough was packed as it always is whenever The Dead Guise play and lots of the same friendly faces I have been seeing around The Plough and Ashkenaz as of late greeted me as we awaited for the set to begin. The Dead Guise consist of lead guitarist vocalist Ken Younger, rhythm guitarist and vocalist John Heffferman, keyboardist James Miller, bassist and vocalist Mike Marino, and drummer and vocalist Bob Sicotte.
Rich Macon a huge fan of The Dead Guise since their existence for the last five years was telling me how glad he was to see these guys headlining two sets. At first I thought that The Dead Guise would be playing one set acoustic and one electric since the first two times I had seen them they had only played acoustic. This time, though, The Dead Guise ripped into an electric “Hell In The Bucket,” with lead guitarist/vocalist John Hefferman doing a great job covering the Bob Weir and John Perry Barlow original off In The Dark. The lyrics sounded excellent as Hefferman sang “You imagine me sipping champagne from your boot for a taste of your elegant pride. I may be going to hell in a bucket, babe, but at least I'm enjoying the ride. At least I'm enjoying the ride.” This was a fantastic opening cut for The Dead Guise to pick and a song I hadn’t heard live in quite sometime off any Grateful Dead live record. It sounded a bit like the version off Dozin At The Knick, with lots of that Weir energy which John Hefferman showcased by banging his guitar up and down while the crowd bounced up and down to the beat. Hefferman proved he had mastered the Pete Townsend "windmill" flailing his arms about and then crashing it into the guitar heavily. The solo Hefferman played with his Les Paul guitar in “Hell Of A Bucket” sounded just like Jerry Garcia would have sounded and it brought a lot of Dead Heads at the show a serene place of memory.
Younger & Hefferman | Starry Plough
The Dead Guise moved into “Bertha,” which continued to get the crowd dancing and rolling all over the floor. It wasn’t until the third song, though, when The Dead Guise launched into “New Minglewood Blues,” that I realized that it was going to be a fantastic set. James Miller in particular showcased his immense keyboard skills on the keys by pounding them up and down during his solo. Miller sounded incredible just like Brent Mydland on the Grateful Dead’s 1980 live album Dead Set. “Easy Wind” was the following song and The Dead Guise captured the steel miner “stone jack hammer,” feel Ron “Pigpen” Mckernan gave to the song when he first introduced it to Dead fans some thirty-nine years ago. “Easy Wind,” is a classic Robert Hunter penned and Pigpen sung tune that originally appeared off The Grateful Dead’s Workingman’s Dead record.
“Sugaree,” a Jerry Garcia favorite among Dead Heads, from his first solo album Garcia, was played next by The Dead Guise. It was a very enjoyable listen, which had lots of ladies dancing and singing along the lyrics, as guitarist Ken Younger took the lead in this one both with vocals and his guitar. The Dead Guise sounded on key during “Sugaree” and they transitioned well into a more boppier jazzy song from The Grateful Dead’s Blues For Allah record “The Music Never Stopped.” This was undubtedly the highlight of the first set as everyone in the bar was bopping up and down, not just in front of the stage but all over wherever there was space to stand. John Hefferman sang this Bob Weir classic with excellent precision, “There's a band out on the highway. They're high-steppin' into town. They're a rainbow full of sound. It's fireworks, calliopes and clowns. Everybody's dancing. Come on, children. Come on, children, Come on clap your hands. Sun went down in honey. Moon came up in wine. Stars were spinnin' dizzy, Lord, the band kept us so busy. We forgot about the time.”
The Dead Guise continued to tear up the first set with a Brent Mydland classic “Hey Pockey Way,” the same song Live Dead had closed with at Ashkenaz just a few weeks ago. At the time I had thought “Hey Pockey Way,” was a pretty rare cut, but it must have been I just hadn’t heard it much, because speaking with fellow fans of The Dead Guise at The Starry Plough, apparently “Hey Pockey Way,” has been played quite frequently in the past by The Grateful Dead. The next song I must confess I had never heard either titled, “Man Smart, Woman Smarter,” which I was told later by Younger “was a calypso tune written by Harry Belafonte, that The Grateful Dead used to cover, and chicks really dig for some reason.” The first set closer was the Buddy Holly cover of “Not Fade Away,” which The Grateful Dead mastered thanks to Bob Weir’s incredible live energy he possesses. The song originally appeared on The Grateful Dead 1971 self-titled live album, which is now commonly referred to by Dead Heads as Skull and Roses.
James Miller of the Dead Guise | photos by Robert Splilsbury
The second set opened with a heart throbbing version of “Shakedown Street,” which had the whole crowd chanting, “Nothing shakin’ on Shakedown Street used to be the heart of town. Don’t tell me this town aint got no heart, you just gotta poke around.”
The Dead Guise followed “Shakedown Street,” with one of the most famous Grateful Dead multi-song intertwined jams “Help On The Way,” into “Slipknot,” into “Franklins Tower.” It was an incredible, three-song jam culminating with “Franklins,” which really blew the whole crowd away. It was spectacular to see so many classic cuts off Blues For Allah in one night. The crowd’s excitement remained immense as The Dead Guise launched into “Dancing In The Streets,” which has always been a live favorite of mine, to hear and also of course you can never go wrong hearing it off Terrapin Station. One thing I do believe is it would have been incredible if The Dead Guise had hired somebody for the night to sing Donna Jean Godchaux’s parts in both “Dancing In The Streets,” and “The Music Never Stops,” because Donna plays such a vital role in making those songs sound great with her voice. On the other hand I have met a large number of Dead Heads who do not like Donna Jean Godchaux’s contributions with to The Grateful Dead and were happy once she was gone, so maybe The Dead Guise are right not to hire a female for those songs.
While the highlight of the first set may have been “The Music Never Stopped,” there is no doubt that the peek of the second and really of the whole show combined was when The Dead Guise played “Might As Well,” a Jerry Garcia solo song off his third record, released in the 1970s titled Reflections. The whole crowd danced and sang along at the top of their lungs, just as if they were partying up with The Grateful Dead when they were in the actual caboose traveling across Canada with The Band and Janis Joplin on the Festival Express Tour of 1970. One of the best Jerry Garcia songs ever “The Wheel” was played next. Right on the same lines as “Too Lay Me Down,” “Wheel is a very gripping song with deep emotional lyrics about the perils of life and death. “Wheel is spinning but you can’t slow down. “The wheel is turning and you can't slow down. You can't let go and you can't hold on. You can't go back and you can't stand still. If the thunder don't get you then the lightning will.” The Dead Guise allowed the crowd to re-live another Terrapin Station classic cut when they played “Estimated Prophet,” another of the many Bob Weir classics that were scattered around the two set show during the course of the night. The crowd loved “Eyes Of The World,” which has become possibly the biggest live Dead song to hear over the years. There has not been a Dead cover band show I have been to thus far, other than The Dead Guise’s two acoustic sets I have seen, that have not played “Eyes Of The World,” in their set.
The Dead Guise | Berkeley, CA
The Dead Guise weren’t done busting out some of the greatest Grateful Dead tunes ever to be heard live as they continued on a tirade playing two old 1960s psychedelic era classics, “Morning Dew,” and “Turn On Your Lovelight.” By now it was well past midnight and people were going all out celebrating the beginning of July 4th, Independence Day. Watching all the Dead Heads dance to Turn On Your Lovelight,” was entrancing as it looked like they were really connecting to the 1960s Dead sound as well.
“Turn On Your Lovelight,” was the second Pigpen song The Dead Guise had covered that night, as they had played “Easy Wind,” earlier in the first set. While I have always been a bigger fan of “Easy Wind,” it is obvious to me the crowd was much more into “Turn On Your Lovelight,” which remains one of the best songs off Live Dead, the first Grateful Dead live recording ever to be released on Warner Brothers back in 1969.
The Dead Guise at the Starry Plough
As The Dead Guise were about to depart the stage the crowd requested one more. “Well happy Fourth of July!” exclaimed Ken Younger, “We’re going to play you a pretty fitting red, white, and blue song to end the night.” With that The Dead Guise played “U.S. Blues,” the only song they played off the Mars Hotel album the whole night. It was a fantastic set closer to a wonderful night of The Dead Guise’s music. As the Dead Guise’s myspace page states, “The heart of the Grateful Dead is the incredible amount of energy that is exchanged between the band and the audience at a live show... And that's the inspiration of the Dead Guise--to try their best to recreate that energy and share it with audiences who crave it...” This perfectly describes The Dead Guise and what they have done with their music, which is a beautiful thing. Lets hope this band continues to play many more shows to come in the Bay Area.