BITS AND PIECES OF THE GRATEFUL DEAD
THE MANY MOODS OF JERRY GARCIA
Sure, all good things must come to an end, or so they say, but even as such, any reports of the dissipation of the Grateful Dead must be taken with jaundiced eye, one colossal grain of salt, and a Heineken chaser, for the Dead are in truth forty-odd people, a cooperative functioning Gestalt group survival unit within which dwells the definitive live rock ensemble to have ever graced the earth.
So when told of any de-Deading, merely respond that after ten years people tire and it's time to advance backwards; time to go fishing. And anyone who does want them to keep it up is wanting them to drop dead on the spot through a collective weariness only a total change can combat.
Accordingly, Bob Weir's got solo projects, Phil Lesh and Ned Lagin are headed for the stratosphere by way of electronic cybernetic biomusic, the Godchauxs have a son, while Jerry Garcia's fishing trip is an electric combo with Merl Saunders, Billy Kreutzman, John Kahn and Wake of the Flood sax man Martin Fierro.
It's like scratching an itch; just like pedal steeling with NRPS, banjo with Old and In The Way, and playing on Starship and other LPs, taking this band on the road is. Good times still being the key to all of it, Uncle Jer's gonna do what he likes and little else, which is how it all came about anyway.
Cause there really ain't nothing Garcia'd rather do anyhow than pick guitar (or banjo or whatever) with musician friends; just playin' what's there, doing other's things to an extent the Dead never could, like reggae, r&b, blues, gospel, anything.
A good example is Fire Up, a Merl Saunders album with Garcia, Kahn and Tommy Fogerty featured. Two years old at least, it's a stellar example of upbeat and electric California jamming.
The Garcia-Saunders vinyl experience is Live at the Keystone, a two-record delicacy, truly live, where Jer and the boys get real loose and cook all night. It's one of those albums that really never ends, and as good a guide as any to what material they'll be playing this Saturday at the Tower Theatre.
But the point is that there is no predictability; Garcia's instinctual pursuit of a pretentiousless, fully artistic, unself-conscious life style precludes pigeonholing and explains the essence of the whole thing.
Not to imply that the Grateful Dead have ever been time-, style-, or anything-bound, but after ten years can "El Paso" possibly stay fresh? Assuredly no; the consciousness that is the Dead simply won't let it, it would stop everything first, and that is precisely what's happened.
So perhaps the principal vibe going for this band is not its musical expertise (taken for granted with Garcia anyway), but rather the absolute new and refreshing artistic maneuverability providing yet another opening to another space, room to move if you will; elbow and breathing room which became constricted over time as regards the Dead proper.
If nothing else, Garcia's best guitar playing of late has come not with the Dead, but in his further adventures. Garcia [the LP] lets him stretch mightily considering its frequently tight context, while Live At is essentially one scintillating guitar passage after another, far more fluid and relaxed than the staccato choppiness on Dead LPs of late.
Perhaps at once point rock's premier lead guitarist (and now if nothing else its most versatile), Jerry Garcia, and the rest of le Dead appear headed toward places that will only enhance the band and themselves; the drag energy will be eliminated.
Meanwhile, with a new Dead LP due spring-ish and a Weir as well, everyone's Earth Uncle truly keeps on keepin' on, getting back to his and other roots, making the fishing all the better and the eventual rendezvous inabouts a year only the more sublime. Prosit!
(by Richard Vaughn, from the Drummer/Daily Planet, November 12 1974)