On Friday the 30th of November we went to Berklee Performance Center to see Dead On Live, Marc Muller's "Grateful Dead tribute band." The theme of their live shows has been to recreate Dead records, and though this was billed as their '71-'72 show, we weren't sure what songs to expect. We'd never seen them before, in fact we just heard about them a few months ago when I got a BPC email about this show. I got tickets right away and we were in the front row at that great hall, which was only about a quarter full if that.
Can/should people be criticized for playing or going to see a re-creation of a musical performance? I don't think so. This was a scholarly endeavor, though that isn't required to my mind. Lots of people get lots of joy out of Frank Sinatra or Elvis re-creations. A conscientious person looks for sincerity as opposed to artificiality in recreations, and Dead On Live impressed me as entirely sincere in that they cared very, very much about getting the sound right, they played with spirit and enthusiasm, and they dove right into and reveled in all the phrasing and effects that a rock band in '71-'72 would use.
So there we were in the front row after a nice burger and some fine craft beers at Bukowski's, and the Deadheads and looker-ons started to filter in a bit. Some people were there just to see a curiosity and some were truly Deadicated. We were a curious mix and there weren't that many of us. Muller and band got right into it ... opening with a note-for-note take on Bertha, what else? Muller eventually introduced everyone in the band, but if he really wants to share credit and not seem like a hobbyist he needs to flesh out his website some. Tom ?? was fantastic in the Bobby role all night and started us off right with the ringing rhythm of Bertha.
They stayed with Skull and Roses after that and did Mama Tried, Me and My Uncle, Wharf Rat, and Playing In the Band. It was the eeriest feeling ... I'd heard this record before! And it was somehow really, really comforting and somehow bizarre to hear them get every inflection right. I could see right in front of me who played what in this bridge or that chorus and it was fascinating.
After that they changed gears a bit and did Garcia's first record, which I feel is an overlooked masterpiece and so am perhaps a bit touchy about being treated respectfully. They did Deal of course and then went out on a limb and did To Lay Me Down, which I've never heard done perfectly (and was definitely not done perfectly on [first] Garcia). They got the album version right though, and then covered the more accessible Loser before doing a superlative recreation of An Odd Little Place into The Wheel. That was worth the price of admission!
Back in the time machine for another quick adjustment, and then we were in Europe '72 with He's Gone and Jack Straw. Strange to speak of those tunes as pieces that could be evaluated unto themselves, but those two songs, though note-perfect, were somehow lacking in panache. But they followed that with China/Rider and they sure kicked out the jambs with that one, especially their drummer (who looked familiar but whose name I did not catch). Back to the textbook with Tennessee Jed, but then ...
Another quick jaunt and we were in Ace's studio listening to the throbbing bass of Greatest Story Ever Told. They got some Berklee students out to play the horn charts and fell apart a bit on Mexicali Blues, though this had some excellent spirit. The next one was great too, as they rocked the covers off on Saturday Night, even though it was Friday.
They were feeling good and had the crowd in the palms of their hands ... this was really enjoyable, how could you not like professionals doing their sincere best to cover these great songs? But then they went a bit over their head and though they started off well with Weather Report Suite part 1, they then showed a lack of practice when they segued into the great Eyes Of the World, which finally included some original jamming. Oh well, I'm sure they'll have it together when they come back to Boston with their next show, which I will definitely attend!
Time to go a bit off-script and they got us all up dancing with the ending Good Loving. Again, how could you not love this?