Grateful Dead Still Alive…sort of (and coming to Tucson)!

February 23, 2013 |

Bob Weir

Ah, the Grateful Dead…love ‘em, hate ‘em , ignore ‘em…whatever your personal feelings, they refuse to go away.  While their reputation as the quintessential Frisco jam band may not be everyone’s cup of herbal tea, for 30 years, this group had been fertile ground for a creative process that has spawned hundreds of original tunes, many exquisitely crafted as evidenced by the likes of the Indigo Girls, Elvis Costello, Los Lobos, Burning Spear and many others who have covered their songs.  Unfortunately, with some notable exceptions, the recordings and live execution of much of their work, have left many who have not drunk the kool-aid (metaphorically and literally), to wonder aloud,  “What’s the big deal?”

Well, to the millions who had consistently made them one of the highest grossing concert acts in the world, it was always about the songs and the jams, or as some folks in the education world like to put it, “content and delivery.”

When lead guitarist and band icon Jerry Garcia died in 1995 it was if a fast and smooth running train had been derailed.  The Dead were playing 80-100 shows a year, averaging three hours plus in length and a different show every night.   And while there were many jokes made about tour junkie Deadheads now being forced to “get a life”, the symbiotic nature of the Dead’s relationship with its fans meant it was only a matter of time before the band, either individually or collectively would find its way back onto the road.

Since that time there have been a handful of reunions amongst the four original surviving members—Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzman and Mickey Hart.  First came The Other Ones (a couple of tours and one great recording) and then a single tour under the moniker The Dead.  Now there are periodic shows and short seasonal tours with Weir and Lesh fronting the group Furthur.  While these shows have provided a relatively authentic GD experience, it’s been the band members’ various solo projects that seem to have captured most of their imagination and interest.

Much can be written about the Phil Lesh and Friends experience, but it is the impending arrival of the Mickey Hart Band and the Bob Weir shows that is currently piquing interest.  Weir’s principal post Dead project has been Ratdog, a group he founded with bassist Rob Wasserman shortly before Garcia’s death.  While that group has undergone various transformations in substance and style (there’s that content and delivery again) it has evolved into a terrific Grateful Dead cover band with Weir actively working to keep Garcia’s legacy alive by continuing to sing many of his songs.

Weir’s last Tucson appearance was a few years ago at the Rialto with Ratdog, where that theater’s vastly improved sound system helped make for a memorable night.  This time, Weir heads down the block to the Fox Theatre which should also provide the perfect backdrop for his solo acoustic show.  While this show will be free of improvisational jams, acoustic arrangements will allow listeners to experience the music as it was created and before songs morphed into jams.   It’s also a given he’ll also include tunes written by Garcia and Robert Hunter.  Jonathan Wilson will open.

Mickey Hart

In sharp contrast, drummer and percussionist Mickey Hart, with a band, returns to the Rialto where he rocked the house more than ten years ago with a band that not only covered the Dead but offered some creative rearrangements as well.

Since the death of Garcia he has recorded and toured with various ensembles including the Planet Drum experience as well as the superb Mickey Hart’s Mystery Box.  While Hart has bravely attempted to handle vocals on previous tours, he appears happy to be giving up these reigns to others better suited for this, most notably Crystal Monee Hall and Joe Bagale.  While there will be plenty of drums and percussion, this is a full-on electric 8 piece band which will be augmented by opening act the African Showboyz from Ghana.

Bob Weir plays at the Fox Theatre on Wednesday, February 27; The Mickey Hart Band is at the Rialto on Tuesday, March 5.