Whether you saw the Apocalypse Now lineup or the one that's currently touring, it's all good! Talk about the Rhythm Devils here.
The Rhythm Devils are joined by The Grateful Dead's drummer on an interview session
so kute & luvin keep on shakin shakinit babies
I was less than enamored with the contemporary version of the Rhythm Devils. When I heard about the lineup of Mickey, Billy, Steve Kimock, and Mike Gordon (as well as Jen Durkin, whom I'd never heard of before), I was pretty psyched. That's a really solid group of improvisers, and I was expecting a band that could really go to some new places.
What I got, instead, was a band delivering some fairly pedestrian versions of familiar songs and some fairly pedestrian new songs. There was little to distinguish one new song from the next; each was built on the simplest of chord structures and none had any particularly distinct melodies or hooks. The GD songs they covered were also the ones that are the least challenging, and that feature little in the way of improvisation. The Rhythm Devils were a band that should have been working out on Playin' in the Band, Dark Star, and other material that could go to new places every night. Instead they offered up somewhat bland takes on FOTD, FOTM, and other somewhat simple songs.
I simply do not understand why the Devils did virtually no improvising. That makes absolutely no sense to me at all. what a wasted opportunity.
Don't get me wrong: I'm a huge fan of all the players in that band (except Jen Durkin. I'd never heard of her before, and wasn't particularly impressed by her. She wasn't terrible, of course, but she wasn't great either). I was thrilled when I heard that Steve Kimock was to play in the Other Ones way back in 1998; I had been a fan since 1988 when my crappy little band opened for Zero and I got to witness "Jerry's favorite unknown guitarist" for myself.
I'd first seen Mike Gordon in Phish back in 1989 in NYC, and have subsequently seen Phish a dozen times or so. I'm not a huge fan of Phish in the sense that I don't listen to them around the house, but I have always enjoyed seeing them in concert.
And then there's the Devils themselves. They were what first hooked me into the Grateful Dead in the first place. My first show was in 1986, and to be perfectly frank, I didn't "get" the whole Jerry thing the first time. I knew next to nothing about the GD at the time, and I only went because I knew a bunch of friends who were going. I couldn't understand why everyone was screaming and yelling over everything Jerry was doing, as he sounded kind of crappy to me at that first show.
As it turned out, he lapsed into a coma shortly afterwards, and around that same time I was beginning to explore his earlier performances. I realized that the Jerry that I saw at first was barely a shadow of what he had once been, which made me sad, but also served to explain why people were so enamored with him. That is also why I was so floored by him the following spring when he came roaring back to life. Though he was still somewhat diminished as compared to his earlier years, he seemed to get a real second (or third or fourth) wind in those few years around and after the release of In the Dark. 1989 in particular featured some really amazing performances by Jerry and the GD, and I am still eternally grateful for the opportunity to attend so many shows from 87-90.
But at my first show it was Bobby and the drummers who really grabbed me. I had never seen a band with two drummers before, and I was, frankly, delighted by the whole thing. I owned a drumset at the time, and I dabbled a bit, but I couldn't really play very well. I had a friend who was a GD fan and a drummer, and he and I began to play together constantly. I found it to be so much more fun to play with another drummer, and to this day I still prefer to play with two drummers, or to play percussion along with a drumset player.
So I had very high hopes for the Rhythm Devils, and I was pretty disappointed by the actual band. Mickey's side projects have been, for the most part, my favorite GD-offshoot bands. The Planet Drum/Global Drum Project bands are some of my all-time favorite musical ensembles. Mickey is so incredibly imaginative, and he constantly surrounds himself with some of the best players on the face of the Earth. When he plays with cats like Zakir Hussain or Giovanni Hidalgo or Sikiru Adepoju he basically winds them up and lets them go. That is what I expected from the Rhythm Devils: I assumed that Steve Kimock and Mike Gordon (and, of course, Billy, who is one of the greatest rock drummers and most interesting improvisers of all time) were going to take the music to all kinds of new places.
As it turned out, they basically played simple stuff, and did the songs the same way night after night. They had one new song, an instrumental, where Steve Kimock played a beautiful extended solo; that was about the most interesting thing they did. And even that was nothing compared to what he (and the rest of the band) is capable of. I really don't get it. it's almost as if they were selling the audience short, as if they presumed that the audience wouldn't be interested in hearing a bunch of wild improvisation and only anted to hear a bunch of familiar GD songs.
That's what makes me sad about the post-Jerry GD world: the clock is ticking. There is only a finite amount of time left in which these guys will be making music, and every time they waste an opportunity to really do something creative, all I think of is how little time they have left. They have done a few things that have interested me: I loved the Other Ones, for example. That band just arrived fully-formed, with their own sound, personality, and identity. Yes, they were playing the familiar songs, but they had a fresh take on the material that really appealed to me. Sadly, Phil and Bobby have now decided to hire a Jerry Garcia impersonator and form a band that sounds like a Broadway Musical version of the Grateful Dead.
I liked some of Ratdog; that band had its own personality and identity as well. There were a few Phil and Friends lineups I enjoyed, though most of them weren't appealing to me. He tended to surround himself with a bunch of "jamband scene" players like Warren Haynes and Jimmy Herring and Rob Barracco, none of whom are the kinds of musicians in which I have any interest.
Along with Planet Drum/Global Drum Project, I also like Bembe Orisha (which was a variation of the Planet Drum approach) and Hydra, which was basically Particle with Mickey on percussion.
After The Other Ones disbanded, I held out hope that the Core Four would someday regroup and hire some really strong players to flesh out the lineup. I remember the days when they were battling over Jerry's guitars, and Doug Irwin suggested that they would someday hire a Jerry Garcia impersonator. Bob and Phil, especially, were very vocal in their denials; they basically scoffed at the notion, and were quite insulting to Doug Irwin for suggesting such a thing. Fast forward a decade, and lo and behold, they hire the most famous Jerry Garcia impersonator for their cheesily-named new band Furthur. Not surprisingly, a lot of people like it. I'm not one of them, however.
Every time these guys trot out a Rhythm Devils, or a crappy version of P&F, or a lame lineup of The Dead, or a fake-Jerry-fronted Furthur, all I can think of is what they COULD be doing instead, and how little time there is left for them to make great music.
Sorry for the long-winded post; once I got started I couldn't stop.
I haven't seen Keller in years, so I'm not entirely sure what the Gizmo is, but from the description of how he played it, it sounds like a Korg KAOSS pad (Korg is the brand name; KAOSS is the product). Google it for images and to read about how it works. There are actually several versions, but basically they make funky noises of their own, and also work as a means of processing sounds that are channeled through them, like guitar sounds, etc. They have a small screen/pad on the front, and you slide your finger along the X/Y axis and points in between and around it to control the various functions.
"The dire wolf collects his due while the boys sing round the fire"
Rhythm Devils ROCKED The Gathering of the Vibes, just a wonderful show. I was lucky enough to get up front, from Keller to Mickey and Billy elevating us, with wild drumming to Davey Knowles vocals, and the Fire Dancers, the show was just magical ! It was fun to hear the reactions of people in the audience that never saw them before. They were blown away ! A FULL review coming soon ! OO play on- KEEP LISTENING, Liz
They were awesome at Vibe's!! Loved them! :)
Grate story and salute!
Caught the show in Flag - a real scorcher! I love this new line-up and hope they come back out west soon...It was obvious that the guys were all having so much fun at this show, and it translated to the audience so well in this small venue. Thanks to Mikey for the post-encore interruption "do you guys want some more?" Blistering version of Almost Cut My Hair - thanks, Davey! Catch these guys if you can!