Grateful Dead

The Dead's Musical Evolution

TL asks: How about a thread for discussing the continuing musical evolution of the Dead, that we've all been hearing on this tour? The new styles, brand new tunes, etc.

 So here it is.


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Joined: Jan 14 2009
I think that this is as good

I think that this is as good as it gets now and in many instances, is better than the last years of the Jerry Dead when the shows were uninspired, sloppy and boring. You must get past the notion that a lot of the attraction of the Dead and their music was the powerful personality of Garcia. No one will ever fill those shoes, metaphysically, but musically there is still room to grow and I think the 2009 Dead have shown they are capable of growing.

What I really like about this tour (or the parts I've heard) has less to do with the songs and more to do with the open-ended jams it has produced. I don't think this band can put on a three-hour show that hits as many high notes as, say, the 1988 version could. But then the '88 version paled in comparison to the '78 version. And as Branford Marsalis said, you have to primarily understand these guys are in their 60s.

I had a flash upon hearing the Charlottesville download that this, more or less, is what the band would sound like if Jerry were still alive. They were more meticulous but less energetic than 20 years ago but that's to be expected.

People drag on about how they don't like hearing Phil or Bob sing Jerry songs or this or that but what this group did successfully, IMO, on this tour was rediscover the magic of jamming to a new space together. Sure, there are tons of bands that do that now (and there were a lot back then) but this is the Grateful Dead and they can still put it together. And more importantly, we can still put it together as an audience and that means the shows go on till we all fall down.

If you don't like it, don't go to shows and stick with the old tapes. there's nothing wrong with that but there's also nothing wrong with the Dead and Deadheads still seeking all that's still unsung.

gratefaldean's picture
Joined: Jun 22 2007

I was at a Wilco show a couple of years ago, and Jeff Tweedy's stage banter veered to a poll of the audience's favorite Wilco album (after saying that their latest was their best). He counted down the albums backward chronologically, until he got to their first, "AM." Relatively healthy round of applause ensued, and he commented, "Really? What are you doing here? I thought we would have lost you guys years ago."

Ok, good point. The Wilco evolution wasn't as radical as, say, "Meet the Beatles" to "Revolver" to "Abbey Road," but it was close.

I'd think that the transition from Pigpen-era blues standards to the revolution of the Garcia/Hunter songwriting explosion would have shed a few fans, picked up some others. Each era has its proponents and detractors....but this is a band that as a band stopped evolving quite a while ago. The post-Jerry tours have been one-off affairs, quite a bit different situation from the (mostly) nonstop touring of the past. The edition we are seeing right now is the result of the core 4 evolving in their own projects separate from the other members of the band, along with the "outside" contributions of Jeff and Warren.

As for me, I've seen Ratdog enough times not to be off-put by Bobby's "phrasing" on Jerry songs -- you've got a couple of choices when covering someone else's song: pay tribute to the music by imitating it, or pay tribute to the music by making it your own. I prefer the latter approach, so good for you, Bobby. The band is having fun, I'm more and more impressed with Jeff each time I hear him, and as a Warren fence-sitter I've been finding myself wishing he'd do more on this tour, and not less.

Given the breadth of the music that's been on display on this tour, and the obvious limitations without Jerry (and Pig, Keith, Donna, Brent and even Vince), it's about as good a career retrospective as you could expect from a close to 45 yr old band.

It made me smile, and it made me dance. But then, I'm easily amused.

Sunshine-daydream1951's picture
Joined: Jun 5 2007
Jeff C

i think Jeff has a lot to do with sound of this incarnation of the Dead and sort of holds them together, he doesn't seem to get praise he deserves.

Warren seems to be more Dead like on thsi tour, not trying to sound like The Allmans like i think he has in the past, with dead and Phil.

I have really enjoyed almost all of this tour, which is something have not been able to say in many years, going back to later yeras of original band


- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Spanish Jam

tphokie1's picture
Joined: Jun 9 2007
Letting go

Her's one take from and "old timer". I've felt a tremendous musical loss since 1995. Hadn't been able to find anything to fill the post-Jerry void. Music lacked the "magic". A few years ago I decided to practice what I once learned from a book by Aaron Copeland, that some times you need to work at appreciating music. It doesn't all immediately grab you. With this in mind I started listening to new bands and putting forth some effort. As a result I have found some new and exciting music is out there. My favorite band I discovered through this process is Railroad Earth which feels closer to the original Grateful Dead for me than anything else I've encountered. Now on to the current Dead tour.

I have heard 3 shows from this tour in their entirety. I excitedly downloaded an audience recording of the Greensboro show. Due to my low expectations I was pleasantly surprised. There was nothing great there, but it was competently played and there were a nice collection of songs played. I wonder if this show might have been more "planned" than some of the others.

Next I went to see the boys in Charlottesville. My expectations were higher after what I'd heard from Greensboro. The opening of New Speedway Boogie/Bertha/High Time had us all going, but after that the first set ran out of gas for me. I should point out that my reaction to the show was probably influenced by a friend who went with us who can't get past the fact that Jerry's gone and loves to repeatedly express his opinions when he gets negative about something. This can be a reeal bummer. One thing that I said to my son during the show was that I felt the sound wasn't good. We could barely hear Warren and Jeff and were able to carry on conversations in an only slightly louder than normal voice. Never a good sign at a show. Anyway, the second set had some nice moments. The Playing in the Band opener brought some energy back to the show. I felt the drums was the musical highlight of the night, I always enjoy St. Stephen/The Eleven and their encore choice of "Gloria" was a particularly magical moment for my youngest son and me. Still all of us (with the possible exception of my youngest son) left the arena disappointed. I had already prepaid for the download of this show so I downloaded it a few days later. The sound where we were in the arena had indeed been poor! This was a much better show than we had initially heard.

When I found out that Branford was with them in East Rutherford and saw the set list I had to get the download of that show. I put it on and was blown away. This was hands down the best show of the three. There was magic here virtually from beginning to end. The jamming was excellent. It sounded as though the band had really found their stride. Branford made a very significant contribution but the other guys were injecting some great ideas as well. I particularly enjoyed Warren, Jeff and Phil's contributions during this show. Wish I had been there! Hopefully this level of artistry is not solely dependent on Branford's presence. Time will tell.

I'm really glad to see Warren introducing some songs to the mix. I'm particularly fond of his interpretation of "Into the Mystic". I first heard him do it with the Allman Brothers. It's a beautiful haunting rendition. I must confess I prefer his version even to Van Morrison's which is saying a lot.

Warren and Jeff have both shown that they are worthy members of the band. I hope they come to see themselves as full members of the Dead and not just the "other guys" in the ensemble. I once heard an interview with Bruce Hornsby in which he said that he and Vince Welnick never felt completely part of the band and were hesitant at times to suggest ideas. If this version of the Dead is to survive Warren and Jeff need to be totally on board. They both have the chops to do it!

free idea's picture
Joined: Aug 11 2008
jamming styles

I think this band rises and falls by Warren Haynes.
When he is unable or unwilling to jam in the "grateful dead" style,
the band falls flat..
So, during the grateful dead jams, the jams all go nowhere.
The problem is, all grateful dead jams go somewhere,
even if that somewhere is often nowhere, it is an intentional
deconstructive nowheres-ville, not, "we couldn't find any direction to jam in,
now we are treading water, and charging $100 to watch
our rehearsals".
When in Boulder in the late 70's, I took a music seminar
where the band Oregon were the collective teachers.
The idea was to put two or three musicians who had never played
together in a room together for 15 minutes, then bring
them out on stage to play a piece for the other students.
One group came out and played a flute and cymbal piece,
it was pretty. But Ralph Towner the guitar master jumped out of his
chair down by the stage and began feverishly pacing back and forth in front
of the stage, obviously greatly agitated. He started to tell a story of a boy who
woke up in the morning thinking about an ice cream cone.
He got up got dressed, ate breakfast, went to school, came home , did
his homework, all the time thinking about that ice cream cone.
After dinner he asked his mother if he could walk down to the
ice cream stand and get a cone. His mom said, sure, and he set off to
the ice cream stand. As he approached, he walked right up to the counter,
then turned around and went home withou getting any ice cream.
. At this point Ralph is literally
tearing his hair out of his head, screaming, "
Get the ice cream cone!!! If you are going to get up, walk all the way to the
ice cream stand, GET THE ICE CREAM CONE!!!"

Okay back to the story of this band rising and falling by Warren.
When he picks a bluesy song, he knows what to do with it, and the
band follows along, but that is Warren and the Macadamia Brothers,
not the Dead. At MSG, when they tried to lift the spaceship
off the ground, they skipped it off the pavement hard repeatedly,
until finally Mickey got sick of it and took control. Seeing him
jumping up and down on his kit once they got it and kept it
aloft was the most inspiring moment for me. Mickey goes after,
and gets the ice cream cone, Mickey obviously likes ice cream..

Cons: incompatible jamming styles re: ice cream cone getting.

Pros: really attacking the material, at MSG they attacked a lot
of the difficult material and didnt shy away from it. Phil, Mickey
are both at the top of their game!!
Warrens hardworking approach is the real inspiration. Although I may be critical of his
inflexible jamming style, his approach to the music is an example for all musicians.
"Play it like you mean it!"
At Philly, Branford whipped them into shape, and showed them what they
could do, and how, and they did it.
I would say second night Worcester, first night Branford, and second night
Philly were Dead shows. The rest I would have been embarassed to take money
for. That is just me.

Oh, and Jeff, best I can do is declare you second best musician on stage,
sorry, you understand.. : )

two suggestions for better gd jamming: put jeff over on warrens side,
it sounds best when warren plays "with" you all, out to us. Once he
starts playing "to" you all, standing and facing the musicians instead
of the audience, the music drops a notch.
Also, are the two full members of the Dead or hired guns. I think making them
"Dead" members would help the music, they have certainly earned
their positions this tour. I think of them as "Dead" members.

free idea, who likes his ice cream cones!

pomo1's picture
Joined: Jun 5 2007
Interesting topic

I certainly have mixed feelings about the tour.

Of course, those of us from the "old days' miss the Grateful Dead and Jerry.
But, if you realize that the Dead is never going to be the Grateful Dead and have an open mind, there is no reason why you still can't enjoy the shows.

To me, seeing Phil and the drummers having so much fun and really getting into it was well worth my time and money. And while I certainly felt that something was "missing," I still had an amazing time and I was dancin most of the night. I like the fit with Warren, and I hope they keep this configuration in the future. I would also like to see Bobby stay away from singing some classic Jerry ballads. Also, I will likely not add any of these shows to my collection and will continue to listen almost exclusively to pre-81 shows.

However, I will never mock or tell the newer generation that the music is no good without Jerry, because when I first started all I heard was that the music is no good without Pigpen. In fact, I was totally thrilled seeing a whole new group of people getting into the scene that largely shaped who I am.

If they are loving every song and think the Dead are amazing, I just smile and feel happy for them.

Folks, the only objective fact is that the music is different-- not better, not worse, for those concepts are purely subjective.


"One watch by night, one watch by day
If you get confused, listen to the music play"

marye's picture
Joined: May 26 2007
what TL said, gonzo

I don't personally see it that way, and while I tend to agree with those who said some of the noodling and spectacle went on a bit long on Sunday, from where I sat the power could not be denied. Why yes, that was my geriatric self hollering along to Gimme Shelter and lurching along to St. Stephen.

It feels to me like they're rediscovering their canon and taking possession of it anew with the view to further exploration. Works for me. Might very well not seem that way to someone else, and that's okay too as far as I'm concerned. With or without the mod hat on.

TigerLilly's picture
Joined: Jul 2 2007

gonzo! Is RUDE to boo someone for saying what they think and feel!
It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine

lamagonzo (not verified)
Wheel is turning...

... and you can't slow it down! Really good topic. I hope we get to hear some honest opinions across the spectrum instead of just cheer-leading. Honest means you may not agree with what some people think.

Phil & Bob are professional musicians who are continuing their journey with their own bands. The music they are playing these days as The Dead is old and tired. I don't know why they can't get that juiciness back, let alone the "phat" sound that just makes you feel young again and want to shake your bones.

Everything is in a process of growing and evolving. There comes a time when you have to realize it is the end of a cycle. The thing about listening to live music is the raw honesty of it -- no place to hide.

That said, opinions about music are an extremely subjective thing. One man gathers what another man spills. I know I'll get booed for this opinion. I still love The Grateful Dead and still miss Jerry.

gratefaldean's picture
Joined: Jun 22 2007
Into the Mystic

I think is a Warren thing. I heard him do it with the Allman Bros last fall when they were touring with Phil + Friends. The musical roulette wheel has definitely been spinning hard and fast, though, gotta love it!


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The Dead's Musical Evolution