The Dead | 05.14.09 | Mountain View

By Team JamBase May 18, 2009 4:00 pm PDT

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

Order the show for Download on

Continue reading for Part II of our Dead at Shoreline coverage…

Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Jay Blakesberg

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

The Dead :: 05.14 :: Shoreline
As a formless jam threw salt before the next tumble in the ring, I overheard a wizened Deadhead behind me say, “Well, they’re home.” Sunday’s nerves behind me, it truly did feel like The Dead had brought back a feeling many of us hadn’t known for quite some time. As the gathered energies coalesced into “Jack Straw” with the sun still high and proud above us, the wind whipped our cares away as the music seeped into us. Despite its implicit misogyny (“we can share the women…”), “Jack” never fails to unify the flock. Who amongst us hasn’t found themselves cupboard bare and in need of intoxication and pleasure? That knack for encapsulating life’s magnificent truths in miniscule details lies at the core of Grateful Dead Music, and the opener cemented the feel building outside the venue with the balloon toting, color splattered pilgrimage up Shoreline Boulevard. If one ever needed confirmation that “home” is a state of mind more than any geographical domicile this was it.

These are not new observations about this music and the makers of it. And that commonality, that sustained feeling of togetherness, that joyous, deeply felt sense of shared experience thrived last Thursday at Shoreline Amphitheatre. Perhaps what I liked best about it was how “normal” it all felt. Instead of some massive, one-off event, it was just Dead music delivered with reckless care and bare skinned honesty. “Warts and all” is the expression but thankfully there were few blemishes at this tour’s final California show. The smooth strut of “Jack Straw” was a harbinger of the classy, full throttle performance to come. Perhaps as touched by the bucolic weather (and throng feeding that vibe), The Dead reveled in their note snaring from the start, and while they wandered off into the wilderness in the middle section of the second set, they ultimately found their way back, well, home again and again.

Red and white/ blue suede shoes
I’m Uncle Sam/ how do you do?
Gimme five/ I’m still alive
Ain’t no luck/ I learned to duck

Bob Weir :: 05.14 :: Shoreline
The roar that hit the lawn as “U.S. Blues” unfurled was heartening. This ragtag gathering of freaks and toddlers, scammers and sweethearts, ramblers and rootsmen is America. It may not be the wholesome, scrubbed image of the States some would like but it is an honest slice of the electorate, more lovers than fighters but wily and bright enough to get in the fray when necessary. For all the conservative hectoring dominating the national conversation it’s easy to forget that it’s this country’s diversity that makes it such a glorious thing – contradictions, conflict and all. Just two songs in and most of us we’re waving that flag wide and proud, including a fellow who walked across the stage with an American flag with the stars replaced by a peace sign. It’s hokey shit and the metal head inside me understands the urge to issue hippie beatdowns when it gets a bit too wet-eyed leftie PC but there’s also a child in me (and many others shaking what mama gave ’em on the grass) that says, “Right on, peace child,” when faced with such moments.

Oldie “Mason’s Children” followed, offered in a very sleek, wah-wah accented Brent-era style, and then the calm embarkation on “Ship of Fools,” delivered with particular vocal warmth and a percussion display that highlighted the delicacy and intricacy of the conversation between Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart. Restraint isn’t a word one uses often with The Rhythm Devils but their golden year playing was perhaps more subtle and artfully interlocked than at almost anytime in their history, a fact that seemed to goose fine, small touches from the entire band.

A husky Bob Weir vocal sparked a fine “Friend of the Devil,” further bolstered by some really terrific harmonies (The Dead a vocal band? Go figure!) and pass-the-potato playing. But, this was just the warm-up for the Set One highlight. For nearly anyone who discovered the Grateful Dead in the ’80s, “Standing On The Moon” is a special tune, an introspective jewel, West Coast rock’s answer to Pete Townshend’s gifted naval gazing from Hunter/Garcia that raises its eyes to a “lonely view of heaven.” Delivered as well as I’ve ever heard, it ultimately sandwiched a stunning run through “Terrapin Station” – that great, pondering hullabaloo of electric jazz artiness and Jethro Tull-esque pomp – and left a number of us shaken up in the best ways. The eloquent delivery and stately pacing built on the opening promise to “let inspiration flow” but tempered and clouded by the sentiments of two verses that struck deep given the moment we found ourselves in:

While you were gone
These spaces filled with darkness
The obvious was hidden
With nothing to believe in
The compass always points to Terrapin

The sullen wings of fortune beat like rain
You’re back in Terrapin for good or ill again
For good or ill again

The Dead :: 05.14 :: Shoreline
Part of the appeal of Grateful Dead Music for some of us is the lingering uncertainty of it – the mystery of each setlist, each given performance, etc. – right down to the knowledge any old hand has that these guys can suck it and suck it real bad. I’ve never seen an arena level band play worse, but those belly flops were always more than balanced out by the nights where they caught something holy, huge and healing. The possibility of a total wreck is part of the covenant we share with them. When one takes genuine risks, when one hangs it out over the edge every single time the house lights go down, there’s gonna be off nights. This wasn’t one of them but after Sunday’s gig I was prepared for anything – another sign that “home” had been reached, at least for a portion of us. Expectations are always killers with this music and it’s hard to gauge if everyone extends them the same level of empathetic largess. The general feeling as I moved around the Amphitheatre appeared to be quiet shock and abiding pleasure. War stories from the road were eagerly exchanged, beers hoisted and conversations regularly interrupted by guffaws inspired by what was transpiring onstage, communicated with pore revealing intimacy on the large video screens scattered around.

Another virtue of the core Dead men is their ability to read a crowd, to assess what the moment needs and respond in real time. Thus, with the sun just dropping below the horizon, darkness beginning to engulf the space, they began the second set with “Estimated Prophet,” one of the finest bits of blue-eyed reggae ever, which neatly captured all the high spirits in the air, sunlight raised in the evening, and a perfecto boot scooter, too. On paper it may seem incongruous that contemplative live rarity “New Potato Caboose” chased “Prophet” but such is their amazing sleight-of-hand with mood and texture that it simply showed up as if expected. The Dead were working us into something quite profound in this set, taking advantage of the attention they’d built up and going into fathomless terrain born of the blues, Traffic, fire dancers (in different but equally alluring costumes than Sunday), Bonnie Dobson/Tim Rose inspired rumination and finally settling on a few beautifully orthodox pieces of their liturgy.

The Dead :: 05.14 :: Shoreline
If one wasn’t extremely patient and especially tuned-in then I suspect this set was tough to get a handle on. Bone weary and achy from too many big thoughts and big feelings, I almost bailed during an especially lost “Space,” feeling satisfied that I’d seen and heard enough. But, as the first strains of the Dobson/Rose classic “Morning Dew” emerged I realized I’d only gotten part of the story. I hurried to a spot where I could be “alone” with the music (something still always strangely possible at a Dead show despite the ever-stirring mob – it is after all a state of mind) and gave myself to the current. After the tuneless twaddle of “Drums” and the overlong “Space” it actually felt a bit like dawn, one dappled and disoriented on a green carpet as “Morning Dew” settled with sureness and exquisite handling. When that tune’s natural crawl gave way to “China Cat Sunflower” it felt a bit like being on a water slide, a slippery “ah yes” as they manhandled that kitty into traditional pairing “I Know You Rider,” a song like “Sugaree” on Sunday that had a feel unlike anything from the Garcia years. I can’t quite put into words what that new feel is yet but can say it is different, a thing made by these six men and no others, possessed of that unique, pungent verisimilitude intrinsic to successful Grateful Dead Music. Briefer, they are getting the job done even on the old standards.

In the afternoon before the show I went to a matinee of the new Star Trek. Walking slowly back towards my car as the encore echoed around me, I thought about how much the two things – a Dead show and Gene Roddenberry‘s creation – overlap. Each was born in the crucible of the 1960s and bears the earmarks of a young generation hungry for positive change, peace, equality, adventure and broadminded compassion. So few things in this world awaken wonder in us, and we are fools to turn our noses at anything that does. Delivered with care, giant size skill and devil-may-care bravado, Grateful Dead Music is a wonder trigger, and The Dead are pulling it with Wild West gusto. Here’s to the next round at the rodeo.

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

For more pics of this show go here.

JamBase | Shakedown Street
Go See Live Music!

JamBase Collections