Word began to get out on the afternoon of Friday, February 1st, and quickly spread like a prairie fire: Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart and Bob Weir were getting together to play some music for the first time since 2004, in the service of a common cause: the presidential election campaign of Senator Barack Obama. At 5 o'clock that afternoon, tickets went on sale for Dead Heads for Obama, a benefit concert on Monday the 4th at The Warfield in San Francisco, designed to raise funds and get out the vote for Obama in the Super Tuesday primaries being held across the country on the 5th. Not surprisingly, the show sold out in a few minutes, but Dead Heads who couldn't get to the Warfield could avail themselves of a streaming video feed on iclips.net, or pick up the audio on Sirius Satellite Radio's Grateful Dead Channel.
Photo: Susana Millman
Just before the band took the stage, Senator Obama himself appeared in virtual form, in a video message recorded especially for the occasion.
The Senator's stirring words were immediately followed by music that was no less inspired and uplifting. From the first notes, it was clear that Mickey, Bobby and Phil hadn't lost a bit of their ability to read each other's minds and create a musical language unlike any other (as Mickey noted at the pre-concert press conference, "it's in our DNA"). They were aided by a great supporting cast, including Jackie Greene, Steve Molitz and the mighty, mighty John Molo from Phil's latest touring group of Friends, and the most welcome presence of unannounced guests Mark Karan and Barry Sless on guitar and pedal steel, respectively (alternating on some songs, appearing together on others to create a gorgeously orchestrated ensemble sound.
Photo: Susana Millman
We'll have more news and photos from this unforgettable evening soon. For the moment we'll just let you know what they played, and remind you to get out there and VOTE!
DEAD HEADS FOR OBAMA
San Francisco, CA
February 4, 2008
Playing in the Band*>Brown-Eyed Women†, Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo†>New Minglewood Blues*, Come Together*
Deep Elem Blues, Friend of the Devil, Deal, Ripple
China Cat Sunflower*†>The Wheel*†>The Other One*>Sugaree* Eyes of the World*†>Throwin' Stones*>Iko Iko>*†>Playing reprise*†
E. U.S. Blues*†%
Bob Weir, guitar and vocals; Phil Lesh, bass and vocals; Mickey Hart, drums and vocals; John Molo, drums; Jackie Greene, guitar, keyboards and vocals; Steve Molitz, keyboards and vocals.
* with Mark Karan, guitar; †with Barry Sless, pedal steel guitar; %with Hippie Bill, flag
Some Reflections on the Warfield Show…
By Blair Jackson
Many fingers in the air looking for tickets as we arrive at the already forming line outside the Warfield around 4:30, an hour and a half before the doors open. One person offers $300 for a single ticket… Cold winds are whipping down Market Street; many people are under-dressed for the chill… A couple of small, noisy pro-Obama marches go past the line a couple of times… With door opening at 6 and literally every person having to go through will-call, the odds do not look good for everyone getting through the ever-lengthening line by the 7:30 showtime… About half an hour before doors they decide to split the line alphabetically, A-J and K-Z, causing much temporary confusion and frustration and re-jockeying for position. We luck out and move ahead about 20 feet when all the K-Z’s in front of us depart… We get in pretty quickly and score an excellent spot on the first level behind the pit with some friends. We are surprised to see large TV cameras in the center spot right off the pit; we’re thinking the webcast could be pretty cool and call my teenage daughter at home to tell her about it…The place fills up very slowly, which could only mean one thing: the line is moving slowwwwwwly, with nerves on the street no doubt fraying as the 7:30 start time approaches…. But 7:30 is just a number, it turns out, and it’s a whole ‘nother hour before the lights finally dim, a screen lurches down in front of the Warfield’s big red curtain, and there’s Barack himself, on his campaign plane, saying howdy and thanking Bobby, Phil and Mickey for putting the event together. Lots of whooping and hollering; it’s a cool moment, though we all laugh when he tells us to sit down and enjoy the concert—obviously never been to a Dead show!
The curtain rises and it’s a septet onstage, left to right: Steve Molitz, Bob, John Molo, Phil, Mark Karan, Jackie Greene and Mickey. They waste no time launching into “Playing in the Band,” with everyone hitting their marks nicely and a big jam ensuing, driven mostly by Mark Karan, who throughout the evening, is the guy who really pushes the envelope in song after song. So great to have him back, maybe better than ever. Phil is all smiles watching Karan get into it, and the rapport that Mark and Bob have had for years together in RatDog is instantly apparent… “Brown-Eyed Women,” with Jackie on lead vocals, Barry Sless joining the fray on sweet pedal steel, comes next. The sound is still coming together and even standing in front of Jackie’s area, I can’t hear his vocal too well. Karan, is a monster on this song, too…. “Half-Step” gets Phil up to the mic and this version really soars, especially the back half with the solos and the “across the Rio Grande-io” singalong…. After a bluesy Bob-sung “Minglewood” (with Jackie on organ, sounding good), the short first set closes with The Beatles’ “Come Together,” a RatDog staple for a while, but new to Phil and his band. Co-sung by Bob and Mark, it's chunky and snaky, with a nice little jam at the close… All in all, well-played, less tentative than I’d expected. The vibes onstage and in the crowd are good!
Phil comes out in front of the curtain a few minutes later to talk about how he’s fired up about Obama, and that he represents our chance to really change the direction this country if headed, a sentiment echoed by Bob and Mickey, who also come out briefly to talk about the importance of voting…. I call my daughter and she informs me she couldn’t get the webcast, a complaint, alas, echoed by many… A while later, the curtain rises again and the stage is set up for an acoustic set, with Phil and his stand-up bass looming in the center. Bob leads the band down to the mean streets of “Deep Elem,” then spearheads a spry version of “Friend of the Devil.” Jackie sings a rockin’ acoustic version of “Deal” and then the mini-set concludes with a lovely, poignant “Ripple,” with the Warfield Chorus of 2,000 helping out at the end, of course.
Set Three turns out to be the Big One, where it all falls together in that magical way we’ve seen so many times before--sound is perfect, everything is clicking… “China Cat” is sparkling and in the jam following the tune, Bob and Mark and Phil really get the thunder going… You can hear “The Wheel” pulling itself together for a long spell before it actually arrives, and this version is great, one of the real highlights of the show, with five guys in the band harmonizing, the playing powerful and precise, the peaks as big as you’d want ’em… That eventually rolls into an extended, heavily jammed-out “Other One,” which finds the guitar army onstage slashing and crashing and building and receding, only to build again, many times. At the close of the second verse, it sounds like they might go into the “Cryptical” reprise, but instead it drops into “Sugaree,” with Jackie on lead, about which I can only say, WOW! This has become one of Mr. Greene’s best tunes in P&F (and he’s been playing it with his own band, as well) and he freakin’ nails it at the Warfield. He and Mark and Steve are all magnificent soloing between the verses—in fact, after one of the last solos, the crowd erupted into a sustained ovation for half a minute or so before the last verse!... I love Barry on the steel for the loping “Eyes of the World.” In fact, I loved Barry on every song he played on; a great addition to the line-up… It seems somehow appropriate that Bob chooses to play “Throwing Stones” at what is ostensibly a political event (“Well, the kids they dance, they shake their bones/While the politicians throwing stones”), although he always said the song was anti-political--so is it ironic, then? Who knows… I totally assume that “Not Fade Away” will follow, but am pleasantly surprised to instead be treated to “Iko-Iko” (the night before the real Mardi Gras.) Mickey barks it with spirit and gusto and the crowd is in deep party mode by that point, clapping and singing along, of course… And then, to close the third set, the music meanders back to where it had started, as the “Playing reprise” emerges from some fascinating, dissonant extrapolations on the “Playing” riff before resolving joyously--as it must!... Encore is “U.S. Blues,” sung by Bob, punctuated by a grey-bearded guy named Hippie Bill running across the back of the stage waving a giant American flag on the first two choruses, and then, to wild cheers, a version of the flag with a peace sign where the stars would be; I think, “Yeah, that’s my flag!”
We rocked. And I voted...
Photos by Bob Minkin