Grateful Dead

Blair’s Golden Road Blog— Phish, WSP, Derek and Other “Fellow Travelers”

I don’t dig Phish. Lord knows I’ve tried. Through the years I’ve had so many people attempt to convert me. I dutifully auditioned live CDs fanatical fans would pass to me. I checked out every studio album that came my way, wondering if this would be the Phish album that would have songs that actually resonated with me. I recall when one came out a number of years ago a Phish Head pal proclaimed it “Phish’s American Beauty.” Uh, no. I watched most of a live Phish DVD a while ago, wondering if perhaps the visual element would get me off. Nope. “But you gotta see a show, man!” No doubt. I’m still open to that. But at this point, I really have heard many hours of Phish and it just doesn’t do it for me. The songs don’t sing to my soul, and even though the musicianship is clearly amazing on a technical level, it doesn’t hit me emotionally.

I’ve been through similar scenes with other jam bands (and my friends who like ’em). I can at least understand why Phish appeals to people, but in the case of Widespread Panic I don’t have a clue. They sound completely ordinary to me. Again, I’ve given them multiple chances to show me something — live and studio CDs — but the song craft isn’t there for me, the guitar playing does not blow my mind, and they lack even that quirky dimension that Phish has (way too much of). I suppose I have to see them live, too. So, who’s got my 10th row-center miracle ticket for that show? ’Cause in this era, with ticket prices what they are, I ain’t spending my concert money on a headliner there’s a good chance I won’t enjoy.

But here’s the thing: I root for both of those bands, and really, just about all jam bands, because they are “fellow travelers.” No, not fellow communists, as that term was originally applied decades ago, but musicians out of the mainstream dedicated to playing improvisational music before spirited and adventure-seeking crowds. I like any crowd that will dance—sorry, just standing there doesn’t count; gotta shake it at least a little — and any band that will get people up and moving. To me, it’s the highest form of musical communion. The Grateful Dead completely spoiled me, because not only did they inspire you to dance, they had perhaps the greatest song catalog (originals and covers) of any band ever, so every part of your body-mind-spirit was engaged. At this point, I’ve learned to go to shows not expecting that sort of soul-elevating trifecta, so I am often pleasantly surprised when I get one or two, and if not for an entire evening, at least in spurts.

It’s not like I want or expect bands to sound at all like the Grateful Dead. Yes, I love Furthur—it’s those guys and those songs, brought into The Now. But, as I’ve noted before, Dark Star Orchestra, who sound more like the Dead than Furthur, don’t do it for me. Even so, I still want them to do well, because they’re fellow travelers fighting the good fight and providing a space for the people who like them to experience something soulful and true.

My favorite of the first wave of jam bands — moe.— doesn’t sound anything like the Grateful Dead. Nor does String Cheese Incident, who I’ve enjoyed intermittently through the years. SCI and moe. also have made studio albums I love: Untying the Not and Wormwood respectively, and have written many fine songs. A group that I’ve come to love the last few years who go to some similar musical places as the Grateful Dead but in a completely different way is Railroad Earth. Again, it’s good songs as vehicles for inspired jamming, but more from the bluegrass side. Yonder Mountain String Band is often lumped into the loose jamgrass category, too, but for whatever reason I have not gotten into them in the same way. But I root for them, too!

The other night I went to the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco to see the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and they totally knocked me out with their alternately tight and jammy rock, R&B and soul sound. The crowd was great — hanging on every wail from Derek Trucks’ slide, and movin’ to the big, big sound of a surprisingly flexible 11-piece band, with Derek’s wife, Susan Tedeschi, out front with gritty lead vocals that at times recalled Bonnie Raitt, Bonnie Bramlett and other belters. Opening for the TTB was the married duo Tim and Nicki Bluhm (he’s best known as leader of the Mother Hips and also toured with the Rhythm Devils last year), and they were definitely not a jam band. They played short, catchy, country-flavored original songs—just two voices and one acoustic guitar—but you could tell they were fellow travelers because you could hear their roots in folk and old-time music, feel that the characters in their songs were flesh and blood, and that as performers they were connecting with each other and the audience. It was real. They got a tremendous reception from a crowd that was there to rock—but also open to being moved.

When it comes down to it, I guess what I’m really looking for, whether it’s from so-called jam bands or a solo singer with one instrument, is some sort of connection. When you find it, you know it—you can’t miss it! And when you get it, you want more. So the search continues…

OK, jam fans — tell us who you like and why! (And yes, I will take recommendations for THE Phish or Widespread Panic disc or download I have to hear!)


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Joined: Nov 3 2010
Fellow Travellers at Red Rocks!

Good description of Wilco, thanks for that! Yep, Glenn Kotche kills it on drums and Nels Cline on guitar is a force to be reckoned with.

I never got to see the Grateful Dead at Red Rocks, in fact I've never seen any show there. Now this summer I'm seeing two nights of Wilco in June and two nights of My Morning Jacket in August! I can feel the synchronicity starting to brew already! I can only imagine what it was like to see the Dead there... must've been awesome!

I'm also gonna catch Tedeschi Trucks for the first time in Sept. I do love a soulful big band ala Delaney and Bonnie or Mad Dogs and Englishmen, I'm really looking forward to it.

Joined: Jun 4 2007
I concur on Wilco, see these guys live.

When I saw Wilco several years ago at the 10,000 Lakefest in Detroit Lakes, I saw many bands that week (WSP, DMB, etc) but I really enjoyed these guys, fine live show, dynamic mix, quiet to deafening, simple to almost (but not quite) frenetic, fun and personal lyrics, really Jeff Tweedy (lyric/music) reminds me of the personal songwriting/story telling of Neil Young and at times John Lennon (without much of the political stuff). Musically & arrangements reminiscent of Beatles Revolver/White ablum eras, with synth and prepared sound. Guitar work of course is top notch and lead guitar player Nels Cline is stratospheric, along with Tweedy and the other guitar player (who also plays keyboards about 1/2 the time) who are no slouches either. Saw Wilco more recently in that small theater in Kansas City 'The Uptown Theater'. Nick Lowe was their warm up (solo on guitar) and then later Lowe came out to play his 'hit Cruel to be Kind at the end of the Wilco set with Wilco playing as his back up band. Wilco has a loyal fan base who really to get into the shows.

Very good ensemble playing. Their drummer is a monster, the base player has been with Tweedy the longest (I believe) and sings harmony vocals very well, and Jeff Tweedy in his rumbled suit coat or crunched hat as the front man telling the story and taking us all along for the ride. Lead guitar player Nels Cline can play feedback that will make your jaw drop and at times he appears to be using a wood rasp for a slide. He can go from such sweet delicate finger picking to hammering the guitar ala Neil Young. Nels' leads really can soar. He can surprise you, and often then the band is swirling around him and they all do one of those 'lifts' and then crescendo, dropping back to a quieter more sedate play on the main melody, only to ramp up again, and whip the crowd into a frenzy. Wilco is playing a couple shows at Red Rocks (my favorite outdoor venue) in June.

Anyway, can you tell that I recommend Wilco?

"The bad news, is there is no key to the universe,
the good news, it was never locked".

Joined: Nov 3 2010
My Morning Jacket, Wilco and The Black Crowes

I didn't read all 15 pages of this thread so I don't know if they've already been mentioned, but for me right now, Wilco and My Morning Jacket are my favorite bands to see live these days. The Black Crowes, in 2005 and 2006, with the return of Marc Ford, were, IMO, at their peak and they, like the Dead, were torchbearers for almost every kind of good American music style in their originals and many covers. Seeing their 5 night December runs at the Fillmore 2008-2010 was a lot like going to see the Dead in that you'd run into people from the year before and make new friends all the time. And they'd do 5 nights with only one or two repeated songs, pretty impressive. They also got more and more "rootsy" and less hard rock in the last few years. My impression is that many Deadheads find/found them too "hard rock" and not soulful enough. Chris Robinson has become more and more of a Deadhead himself and he truly has an encylopedic knowlegde of lots and lots of music. His current band, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, is even more in the flavor of the Grateful Dead and appeals to the more hippie segment of Crowes fans.

Wilco are like the Dead in that they play ensemble rock, even though they don't jam, per se. The mood may be way too angsty for lots of Deadheads, but when they get cooking, especially with their three guitar mode, they are freight-train powerful (check out their live DVD Ashes of American Flags and particularly the song Impossible Germany). Bobby recently said he was way impressed with them live.

My Morning Jacket have a charismatic, passionate and shaggy leader in Jim James and they rock the f*%k out!! They seem to blend the spirit and style of the best of the 70s bands. They are super-tight and they have some trippy moods. The best way to get into them is their live DVD Okonokos.

Joined: Nov 2 2010
A couple of other faves...

Nothing like the GD, but two other groups who are surely in "the transportation business" are Antibalas for a seriously sweaty Afrobeat/funk show and STS9 for a more electronic dance/groove show.... Great musicians in both groups, taking wildly different paths to make people get up & move. Improvisation, tension/release, a bit of the unexpected - all of the good stuff that sends me home with a smile on my face....

I've sen Phish a number of times since back in the day when they were playing colleges around New England, and never got 'em either. Always had a good time, but never more than that. Just felt too much like an "in joke" that I didn't get.

Mr.TheEleven's picture
Joined: Nov 28 2010
Ain't gonna happen

Blair, PHISH obviously doesn't "speak" to you and in all likelihood, never will.
I think you can safely stop trying.
I tried for years to get my wife to love the GD - and it ain't never gonna happen. At best, she tolerates them, likes a couple songs, dug The Dead when I took her to see them in 2004 I believe, but if she never heard them again, that would be just fine with her. Like you and PHISH, she just doesn't "get" them.
As far as other improvisational music I like, it's basically prime Allmans and a whole lot of jazz.
Saw Lee Ritenour's "smooth" jazz band last night - freebie tics no less! - and they were awesome - tight and improvisational at the same time.

Once in a while you get shown the light
In the strangest of places if you look at it right.

ds smith's picture
Joined: Jan 2 2008

Sorry you can't get into Phish. They are the best out there now. They have enough fans. I don't have to point to a particualr show to covert you. I would just say...go see them live the next chance you get and go in with an open mind. WSP isn't the same. Herring seems to have taken over the band. JB is great but Phish is where it's at nowadays once again.

Gollum's picture
Joined: Nov 22 2010

Thanks for the Jaimoe link jonapi- nice call! Love "Freedom Jazz Dance". I remember my first time hearing it on an old Garcia-Saunders boot tape. You inspired me to dig out some of my old Zappa CD's. I was always partial to "Burnt Weeny Sandwich" and "Weasels Ripped my Flesh"- also the "Shut up and Play Yer Guitar"- no doubt Frank was a fine guitarist!

JackstrawfromColorado's picture
Joined: Jan 2 2009
Ahh but there is a difference Blair

In reference to a comment back on May 28th, a large and dedicated fan base is a sign you are doing something right whether it is WP or Brittany Spears. The difference however is that WP has been selling out 3 nights a Red Rocks for well over a decade, year after year (even Furthur couldn't sell out the 3rd night at RR last year), I doubt Brittany Spears has a fan base that dedicated. Plus, like the Dead, new generations can get into this music - young and old, while Brittany's music is geared towards females and young ones at that. It is useless to debate on which band is worthy enough to be liked by the majority at, if you like a band that's all that matters in the end.

"It's got no signs or dividing line and very few rules to guide"

jonapi (not verified)
after an English rain...

Turlock, my dear fellow; just came across this -
maybe the brass section could do with a wee more grit, but picky-ness be damned!
Can always rely on Jaimoe, man.

jonapi (not verified)
the poodle bites....

Oh yes, those Plugged Nickel recordings are mighty fine!!
What i've always loved about Zappa is that variety; he truly was a one-off and no mistake. Completely opened my young, impressionable eyes. Found his book a while after my first encounter his music, "The Real Frank Zappa" in my local library, decades ago. He thinks like i do! He has absolutely no boundaries! He loves noise! Anything can be music! Surreal is a way of life! Improvisation is to be encouraged!
Suffice to say, i was never the same again, much to my parent's dismay. There's a "before and after" me. Those jump-cuts between styles is something i always wanted to hear; i actually heard it! In my own head, all through my junior years, but believe me, NOBODY felt the same way in my small, conservative, English suburban community. Nowhere-land. Beginning to think i was an alien there for a while..... A pleasure to be introduced to you, Mr. Zappa. Where the hell have you been?!!!!!! Led to free jazz, avant-garde classical composition, undulating waves of guitar feedback, rhythm and blues, tape-splicing, BRUCE BICKFORD!!!!!!
A one-off alright.....

I too saw an interesting Zappa live experience, many years later. An intriguing combination of some original members (Napoleon Murphy Brock, Mike Keneally), with an orchestra and the mighty X-Ecutioners (superlative turntable trio; Rob Swift is an amazing artist; god bless you, the late Roc Raida, SORELY missed).
Not altogether successful, but had the occasional moment; but worth a try, right?, every time.


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