Sunday, September 27, 2009

ROTHBURY pt. 8 - The Dead!

Now is the time we've been waiting for:

The Dead at Rothbury. Having seen them on Spring Tour, I was very excited at the possibility of hearing them again, in the headliner spot of a festival. Well, the festival itself blew my mind but didn't take away from my principal purpose: hearing the Dead outside!

You can listen to the show here:

It was a perfect day as the crowds assembled, some to witness a legend for the first time, others to revisit the music and the scene they loved so well. Camping with Deadheads for 4 days was a treat, but the scene was also diversified along generational lines, as well as musical tastes and subcultures. A very colourful and vibrant crowd greeted the Dead on Saturday - some purists will argue that it wasn't a real Dead scene, but I was enjoying the mix very much. We were all there to dig the music, and this was definitely achieved, by young and old, veteran and newbie alike.
Like the night before, the crowd came out in full regalia. Even Clifford the Red Dog likes the Dead =)
Uncle Sam was there...
As was this beautiful Stealie lady.
The crowd was looking good, kicking up the dust and wavin' those flags high.
High spirits, a glorious afternoon, and a sense of good things to come made for a great vibe. The band started off with a gentle jam that led into Sugar Magnolia. What a great way to start a show - very up-tempo. An American lovesong with a feel-good country-rock rhythm. Everyone was grooving from the first note and this set the tone for a great party.
As the sun started dipping, we bathed in golden light and long shadows. Then came my favourite moment of the show: Eyes of the World. I'd been waiting to hear this song for my whole GDead-following life and wasn't disappointed.
Phil took on the singing duties and delivered it with just the right spirit. Jeff Chimenti played some soaring solos and then it was Warren's turn... any dissatisfaction from Spring Tour about Warren not stepping up to the plate and soloing was completely washed away here. Listen for yourself and you'll here a beautiful, jazzy and faithful rendition of Eyes from this show.
The phenomenal Eyes was evidence that these boys were still able to find that collective improvisational space and turn a song inside out. Then came a sweet surprise: Eyes' companion piece, Estimated. I love this suite for its contrasts and complexities of arrangement. I was already on cloud 9 from the start of the show - already got what I came for... the rest would be bonus! Little did I know that this was a sign of things to come - many more of my favourite suites all in the same night!
Here's a glimpse of Bobby, still alive and kicking. His energy was definitely up, his guitar playing was sharp, though the envelope filter effect became a bit predictable... It must be difficult to alter the way he plays after trying to find his peculiar space between Jerry and Phil for so many years. Now he's more the defacto leader, yet his parts are all supportive. It's got to take awhile for Bobby and Warren to get used to playing together. They've been at it a few years and there was some nice evidence of their styles gelling at this show. Unfortunately his singing is getting weaker, but I guess that's what comes with age! His version of Loose Lucy was still a lot of fun, despite his failing vocals.

Next came Friend of the Devil, which harkened back to the Wild West and brought the archetype of the outlaw to the fore. I started to see a theme developing... Fourth of July was shedding a particular light on all these songs. Place names: California, Reno, Utah..., character types like Loose Lucy and the Sugar Mag, and themes that reoccur in American history: freedom, possibility, self-determination. The Dead were once again conjuring the American folk-mythology that they are known for, in light of the national holiday, in the new temporary intentional community of Rothbury. Playing in the present while remembering the past. Brilliant.
Here's a rare shot of one of my favourite Dead members - Mr. Kreuzmann. This guy is sharper than ever and a real treat to listen to. Thanks Billy!

Warren sang a gentle version of Van Morrison's Into the Mystic, and then it was time for yet another epic suite, another of my all-time favourites, Help>Slipknot>Franklin's. Have a listen to the Slipknot - this is the place in the show where the jam got thickest. People were grooving so hard at this point that we looked up and had that knowing moment when the band is really taking off.
Phil and Bobby, cementing their rekindled relationship. Working together again was so much fun, they decided to tour again this September!
Second set: Saturday Night opener. This set the stage for the major party vibe of the second set and was a real blast. Fireworks indeed!
Then came the bass-bomb opening of one of my all-time faves, the bell tolling four dark times announcing the SHAKEDOWN! Now, I am a Shakedown fanatic and heard a killer version at MSG on Spring Tour '09, so hearing it again at Rothbury was a real treat. The crowd was freaking at this point and we were really getting down. I love the sentiment of the song - the seedy side of life in the free world - and the imperative that you just gotta poke around to stir up some magic.
Here's a great shot of Mickey and his gear, and Warren focusing intently on the huge task at hand... China>Rider. Nice to hear this as a suite instead of separately, like earlier in Spring Tour. Bobby fails at the near-impossible task of playing the lead line and singing complex psychedelic lyrics at the same time. It's tough! Luckily he and Warren trade off at singing time and eventually pull it off. Everyone felt the Northbound Train, which roars through the subconscious of the American people.
Next, Rhythm Devils. The Dead invited members of Toubab Krewe and Michael Travis from String Cheese Incident to join them for the drum jam. It seemed like they were off to a rough start - but don't let the delayed video feed fool you - listening back in retrospect they managed to pull off a jam that was heavy and very trippy. Mickey and Billy have really been able to shine this year and this was an interesting musical moment, in the spirit of collaboration at Rothbury.
Space went deep, and then the band burst into Viola Lee Blues, an early adventure in hybridity which joins blues with psychedelia. The Fourth of July theme was apparent again here, remembering those who can't excercise their freedoms.
Morning Dew is a difficult song: the pace is slow and makes for careful playing, the singing is mournful, and the message is stark. The possibility of atomic annihilation has left its mark on the American psyche and this song is a reminder of this. Morning Dew coloured Weir's delivery of Throwing Stones, extending the consciousness of culpability from the local to the global. Message music on the Fourth of July - a celebration, but it's not all a party...

Then the band wanted to bring back the lighter side and threw in a Sunshine Daydream reprise. That lifted spirits and got us ready for the big finish: BIG FIREWORKS! What could be better than the US Blues, an ironic song of celebration and condemnation both, set to the biggest fireworks I've ever witnessed? Not a whole lot could top it. A killer set, beautiful musical suites, multiple messages in the songs that allowed us to contemplate the enigma which is America. Ending on a satirical note while the party goes on... leave it to the Dead to capture the spirit of the USA just right. But the last note of all was, aptly, Not Fade Away. Seeing as this was probably the Dead's last show of the year, it's nice to know that they won't be gone for good, and that the love they share will circulate and spread out from this moment.

To see these boys doing their thing and loving it was very contagious. I really enjoyed their song selections and came away feeling like I'd just ingested a 10-course, 4-h meal! Ultimate satisfaction was seeing the Dead at Rothbury. It was definitely worth the trip. Thanks guys, and keep on truckin!

7/4/09 Rothbury Setlist
* Sugar Magnolia
* Eyes of the World
* Estimated Prophet
* Loose Lucy
* Friend of the Devil
* Into The Mystic
* Help on the Way
* Slipknot>
* Franklin’s Tower

Set II:
* One More Saturday Night
* Shakedown Street
* China Cat Sunflower
* I Know You Rider
* Rhythm Devils
* Space
* Viola Lee Blues
* Morning Dew
* Throwin’ Stones
* Sunshine Daydream
* Donor Rap
* E: U.S Blues (With Fireworks)
* Not Fade Away

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