Sometimes there is something special about Grateful Dead music. Of course, they’re special even when the singing is out of tune, when they fall off the horse and you experience them getting back on. Their flaws only add to the fun and joy of being among their millions of fans. So . . . there is almost always something special about Dead music.
But by “sometimes” I am referring to times like the Dead & Company June 8 concert at The Gorge at George, Washington.
As to this particular sometime at the second night’s show, and those endearing and frequent human and awkward flaws that bedevil, bewitch, and be bop (a-loola) Dead music—when they are full on ‘on,’ the flaws fall away, and somewhere amongst the mix of psychedelia, funk, blues, reggae, EDM, space, drums, jazz, rock; the place where genres truly join up and touch each other; the swaying and dancing and tripping tuned-in crowd; and the unnamable’s—a moment emerges that can go on for an hour, where the music plays the band, where all is surrender to some greater force that just plain tickles.
And here at The Gorge, in the throes of an epic sunset, That Gorge laid bare the Skin of the Earth, and the River Columbia, the sun, the clouds, the air, the music all come in harmony and we return to nature, to joyful connection and remembering that existence itself is fun.
Not just a special show, but an experience that one hopes can integrate us humans, being alive and being nice to each other, appreciating our earth, where appreciation is an active verb, feeling the call to steward such enormous beauty. We are in fact a part of this beautiful earth, and summoned to the challenge of saving and sustaining life. Feel it!
The second set was particularly wonderful. Dead setlists almost don’t matter. It’s how swinging and groovy they’re playing at whatever moment in whatever song. Most all their songs serve as worthy launching pads for whatever emotional and musical adventure they might pursue. To highlight the peak chunk of this consistently powerful show, and for those who are familiar with the songs, they played Deal > Viola Lee Blues, and then on to an otherworldly jam. Deadheads call it Drums and Space . . . but that doesn’t do its transportive and transformative powers justice. The Gorge is all about playing music with the earth itself as witness, and when all is in tune, the earth itself as lover.
After that jam segued into The Wheel, we fell back into our earthly souls with Bob Weir giving his all to Bob Dylan’s historic reminder, A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall. Bandleader Weir sang with fervent passion, paying the dues Dylan’s sadly-still-relevant prophecy demands…and he didn’t even forget any of the words!
Again, save mother earth, na na na-na na. Love mother earth.
This was one of the best shows ever. In fact, more than a show.
The previous night, I learned through pictures but no words that something was up with Mac Rebennack, known to those who bought his records and went to his shows as Dr. John.
And God love you, Mr. Rebennack. At The Gorge, they were putting up pictures of Garcia playing and mugging with him. I hadn’t heard the news. His dress was more conventional than the hoodoo voodoo getup, kind of like a blazer and tie. So I wasn’t certain it was him. but, yeah, I would’ve nailed it in a flash had they put this up:
So I’m sayin’ to myself, what’s up? Is that Dr. John? Did he die or something?
Yeah, he done died.
Death Don’t Have No Mercy In This Land.
We knew we were on to something special 53 years ago, at the birth of the Dead. We wondered where “special” would go after Jerry Garcia died. The Grateful Dead had survived and then thrived despite the major loss of Ron “Pigpen” McKernan in 1973, but Jerry’s death could have been a deal breaker. We wondered, but we also knew that there was a torch burning and it could be passed.
Through several iterations with various surviving members, the Faithful kept on twirling and had many good times. But this current lineup and approach of Dead & Company, with even a different musician rappin’ that bass (Oteil Burbridge, who also does a great job singing Garcia’s most plaintive ballads) and possibly the Dead’s best keyboardist ever (Jeff Chimenti), has grabbed that torch, recruited an exceptional guitarist and singer in John Mayer, and listened to how others playing in this 21stcentury . . . and we’re all doin’ the Half Step Mississippi Uptown Toodleoo. S’Wonderful. Buy the ticket and take the ride.
And as to that whole who’s alive and who’s dead thing, Weir has this to say: “I think death means more to most folks than it does to me. I take it fairly lightly. I don’t know how much of a divide death puts between us and the hereafter—if after is even an applicable adjunct there.”
Hello baby, I’m gone, goodbye.