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Last night: The Dead at the Pepsi Center

Last night: The Dead at the Pepsi Center
Photo: Adam Perry

The Dead
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Pepsi Center
Better than:
a Grateful Dead cover band but at times worse than some of Phil Lesh's bands -- wait, the Dead kind of is a Grateful Dead cover band.

Singer/guitarist Bob Weir, always the wild-eyed youngster in the Grateful Dead, was in his late teens and early 20s when the Dead was first playing Ken Kesey's Acid Tests in the Bay Area and promoter Bill Graham was giving out free apples and beautiful hand-printed posters at 1960s Dead shows in San Francisco. Weir was only in his 40s when Jerry Garcia died and took the Grateful Dead with him, so you can't really blame the guy for telling a sold-out Pepsi Center crowd, "It's you who brought us back together" last night. Of course, $95 tickets (at the time of Garcia's death, it cost about $30 to see the band) and crummy $30 laser-printed posters might've had a little something to do with it as well.


Last night: The Dead at the Pepsi Center
Photo: Adam Perry

This version of the Dead is more effective than the last one; in 2004, the ensemble included Weir, Haynes and Jimmy Herring on guitar. Although Haynes and Herring are both world-class lead players, the three guitarists (plus the notably melodic and unpredictable Lesh) made for one big incomprehensible noodle-fest. At the Pepsi Center, Haynes -- who specializes in Southern Rock and brings that style to just about anything he plays -- effectively juxtaposed Weir's proficiently peculiar rhythm guitar and wielded his massive classic-rock leads, Nashville session-quality voice (and Garcia-esque shape) in leading the 2009 model Dead through '70s Grateful Dead staples. There just wasn't really any jamming, and what a lot of people loved about the Grateful Dead is that one minute Weir would be singing something ridiculous like "sure don't know what I'm going for/but I'm gonna go for it for sure," and the next, the band would be improvising on something that sounded like Sonic Youth interpreting Miles Davis.

Just the same, when the group did get "out there" last night (during the designated "Space" section of the second set) the audience talked to each other or went to the bathroom. Perhaps it was an off-night in terms of exploratory music - save for "King Solomon's Marbles," which had its moments - or perhaps this tour is just about old friends having a good time.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal bias: I toured as a drummer with members of the Dead and Phil Lesh's band.
Random detail: When Bob Weir twirls his finger to signal a change during a jam, the drummers roll their eyes behind his back.
By the way: Last night was drummer Bill Kreutzmann's 63rd birthday. He's pretty old.

Setlist:
05/07/09

I:
Feel Like a Stranger
Casey Jones
Loser
Easy Wind
Crazy Fingers
Lost Sailor
Saint of Circumstance

II:

Acoustic:
Deep Elem Blues
Me And My Uncle
Whiskey in the Jar
The Weight

Electric:
Space >
Happy Birthday Bill
Ramble on Rose
King Solomon's Marbles
Space >
China Doll
Cumberland Blues
Not Fade Away

Encore:
Ripple


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