‘One From The Vault’ Grateful Dead Show Honored 40 Years Later

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Words by: Chad Berndtson

Images by: Susan Weiand

8/13/75 Grateful Dead Celebration 40 Years Later :: 8/13/15 :: Great American Music Hall :: San Francisco, CA

Read Chad’s review below Susan’s gallery.

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As Grateful Dead years go, 1975 is a curiosity. It was part of a sort-of live hiatus period for the band in which only four shows were played, but one of those shows — August 13, 1975 at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall — is one of the most famous in Dead-dom, lovingly captured on One from the Vault. It’s also the year Blues for Allah — and everything that often misunderstood, mysteriously textured album implied about the band and where it was in its evolution — arrived.

Forty years after 8/13/75, a group of musicians known to well-known in the extended Grateful Dead family circle got together at the exact same venue to pay…well, tribute, yes, but more delightfully scruffy homage than anything else. Credit organizer and de facto bandleader David Gans this: a recreation of One from the Vault with strong musicians and carefully scheduled guest appearances would have been fun, but flat. What ended up happening — a raucous four-hour, 15-minute, three-set party that included interpretive renditions of everything on One from the Vault but not in order, with musicians blending in and out in the style of a New Orleans super jam party instead of a more buttoned-up tribute show — was fun and lively, and much truer to the spirit of the Dead in all of its imperfections. Even when the music wasn’t “on” — and it was shaky as often as it was solid during this show — the spirit was exactly right.

Taken together, these three sets were panoramic, with standout moments in each. The first set held off on any One from the Vault and instead featured what was more-or-less the house band — Gans on guitar and vocals, Mark Karan on guitar and vocals, James Nash on guitar and vocals, Neil Hampton on drums, Robin Sylvester on bass, and Danny Eisenberg and Jordan Feinstein on keys — feeling out the vibe, from a stringy “Cassidy > Cold Rain and Snow > Cassidy” opening sequence to balls-out versions of “Loser,” led with heavy drama by Karan, “Brown Eyed Women,” with a soaring guitar solo from Nash, and “Shakedown Street,” in which Jason Crosby slid in on fiddle. Vocalist Elliott Peck, who’d become one of the night’s constant and best features, joined in to sing during “Brown Eyed” and didn’t much leave after that.

As the “Vault” stuff kicked off set two, Gans made clear that the team salute to the album would be faithful but also interpretive. Yeah, it sure was: one minute you had Crosby and Roger McNamee out for “Big River,” another you had Teja Gerken in a solo guitar interpretation of “Sage & Spirit,” and still another you heard Real Estate’s Alex Bleeker and Little Wing’s Kyle Field (waving a giant rose) rollicking their way through “Eyes of the World” with most of the band behind them, and then leading a tender “It Must’ve Been the Roses.” Scott Guberman was there, so were Henry Kaiser, Cochrane McMillan and the amazing drummer Scott Amendola. The members of Totally Dead turned up by Set 3, not long after Grahame Lesh made an appearance for “The Music Never Stopped” and a spidery “Crazy Fingers.” Many others joined them, some for only moments.

It was that kind of night, where eventually you stopped keeping track of who was onstage, scrawled the setlist when you remembered to, but mostly just absorbed. The ending sequence of “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad” and “Brokedown Palace,” sung by Gans, wasn’t so much a grand finale as one more time around the bases before it was time to send everyone home. The original 1975 stage backdrop was there, and loomed large, with its violin-playing skeleton presiding over a hall’s worth of wide grins. It all felt like a good thing to do.