Concert Review: The Dead in Worcester, MA 4/18/09

Concert Review:
The Dead
Saturday, 4/18/09 (night 1)
DCU Center
Worcester, MA

To listen to the show click here (thanks tapers!)

The Setlist

(Set 1)
Feel Like A Stranger>Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad. Mountains of the Moon>Dupree’s Diamond Blues. Althea. Bird Song>China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider

(Set 2)
Dancing In The Street>Milestones>Terrapin Station>Drumz>Space>Days Between>Bird Song Reprise>One More Saturday Night

(Encore)
Johnny B. Goode

Mitch’s review:

When The Dead first announced their 2009 reunion tour I was both excited and apprehensive. Excited because it’s always a treat to see the core four members of the Grateful Dead perform together (even if two of them are drummers); apprehensive because tickets prices were uncharacteristically high and they opted to basically reprise the so-so 2004 line-up (minus Jimmy Herring). I was really hoping that this wasn’t a “pad the retirement account” tour.

For the official record, the 2009 Dead line-up adds guitarist/singer Warren Haynes (Government Mule) and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti (RatDog) to the Bob Weir (guitar, vocals), Phil Lesh (bass, vocals), Billy Kreutzmann (drums) and Mickey Hart (drums) foursome.

The Dead have played in Worcester many times over the years (my first show was at the Centrum in 1988) and yet the city was sadly unprepared for the onslaught of wookies and metalheads (there was also a metal festival at the Palladium). Everything was painful – parking, pre-game food and beers, bathroom lines, etc. But with the right attitude the craziness can become part of the fun, too, and it was great to hang out with friends, friends of friends and random strangers that made (and backed-up!) unbelievable claims. The energy was high and positive all night long.

In fact, the big difference between your average Phil or Bobby show and The Dead was definitely the sheer number of people and the intense level of energy. This wasn’t a show – it was an event.

Now, the music: Saturday night started off on a promising note with a sloppy but fun Stranger. The band kicked it into high gear with a GDTRFB and could you sense that the crowd was ready to explode. It was an early highlight. Inexplicably, instead of capitalizing on the crowd’s energy, the momentum came to a full stop with a very rough Mountains, definitely the low point of the night. Luckily, a really fun and bouncy Dupree’s picked things up again. Althea was okay, but I honestly don’t think that anyone has really done that song justice post-Jerry. Bird Song was decent but the jam at the end was somewhat of a trainwreck.

On jamming: the weird thing about the 2009 Dead is that everyone looks and sounds great individually but they’re not quite clicking yet as a unit. We know from the Q that Warren and Phil play well together so I suspect that Weir and Warren are the problem. Weir just doesn’t seem to mesh with Warren as well as he does with Mark Karan or Steve Kimock. They sound nice when they trade versus vocally but something is just a little off between those two in guitarland.

The first set finished up with a solid China Cat and a very good Rider. In total, it was a decent yet unspectacular set, with GDTRFB, Dupree’s and Rider being the highlights.

The second set kicked off with an unremarkable Dancin’ in the Streets but quickly picked up with the nicest Jazzy Goodtimes jam of the night on Milestones. I have to give credit to Warren – whom I’ve often slagged off the past for his tendency to solo like he’s playing in a hair metal band – for his tasteful and tuneful guitar playing.

The true highlight of the night, Terrapin, came next and the boys really nailed it. They were finally in the groove. Drumz was excellent and Billy and Mickey should be commended for their solid playing all night long. They add so much depth and texture to the music and it was a treat to hear the rhythm devils in action again. I also want to compliment the dude doing dance tai chi in the aisle during Drumz. You owned it, brah!

Next up was a rough double-header of Space and Days Between. Both were fine musically but they posed a big survival challenge for the heads. I paced myself well on Saturday, but I know from past experience that an extended second-set slow jam can take down even the heartiest of partiers. The Bird Song Reprise was actually better than the original Bird Song and the OMSN was expected and wonderful as always. Fate cursed us with a Johnny B. Goode encore to close out a really fun night.

While I can’t in good conscious call the night “epic” (even though I really would like to) the good news is that the band will undoubtedly get tighter as the tour progresses and the setlists will keep changing. They’re playing hard with a lot of positive energy, busting out some old chestnuts and it looks like they’re having fun up there. Hopefully they’ll keep playing as a unit for a while and will return to the east coast for another run next year (at the Boston Garden, please).

Kenny B.’s review:

The moment that was most impactful for good or bad (spoiler: it was bad) was during “I Know You Rider” when Phil was taking the “wish I was a headlight on a northbound train” verse. He makes a hand motion directly back to Mickey as if to say “hey, back off I’m not going to do the big, Jerry-esque climax here.” Mickey and Billy were both looking at him and just kept pounding away (quite nicely I might add). The climax came and went but it wasn’t impactful at all.

So why does that moment stand out? All of the members of the Grateful Dead have said in interviews, books, etc. over the years that their performances were (I’m paraphrasing) non-verbal, musical conversations between them. If Jerry wanted to go somewhere with a song, the others followed. If Billy wanted to speed things up to change the direction of the show, the others followed. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t, but the musical dialogue between them never stopped. That’s what Grateful Dead shows were; a nightly experiment in musical communication. I guess that’s why when Phil made a hand motion and a look back I questioned a few things. First, why is the hand motion necessary at all? Shouldn’t Phil have followed the flow of the show? Or if he really did want to hold back, shouldn’t he have started doing that (holding back) a few seconds or minutes before which would have been his musical signal for the others to follow his lead?

And that’s really what the problem is. These guys lived on the road for 30 years and played with each other hundreds of times a year. Now they don’t know each other musically at all. They NEED to have verbal signals and hand gestures in order to get through transitions and to regulate the tempo and mood of the show. So what kind of product does that leave? It leaves a nostalgia act that is nothing more than a mediocre cover band…except that they’re not covers.

I knew we weren’t getting vintage a vintage ’77 show. I didn’t even want that. I just wanted a nice evening of well-played music by the same guys that used to “Wow” me at times and leave me wanting more. I didn’t expect anything beyond hearing some good music by some of my favorite musicians. What I got was the feeling that everything that was the Grateful Dead, the buildup, the flow, the psychedelic jamming into god knows where, was all gone.

Even the song choices were bad. Stranger into Goin’ Down the Road was great but then the momentum just came to a screeching halt with Mountain of the Moon. The second set had the same issues. Terrapin quickly got the crowd back into a frenzy and just then they killed it again by going into “Drums/Space“. Once they came back into “Days Between” there was no emotion good or bad emanating from the band or the crowd. Even the “One More Saturday Night” failed to really light the party fuse as it almost always did, and still does with Ratdog.

Overall, an unbelievably disappointing night, and as a final note, the businesses in and around the DCU Center should be absolutely ashamed of themselves for being grossly underprepared for a concert. To show up in Worcester 2.5 hours before the show and not be able to get some dinner ANYWHERE (and barely being able to get a beer) is just appalling! Shame on you Worcester.

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