On Friday June 12, at around 9:25 I walked into Ashkenaz on San Pablo Ave, in Berkeley, to the sounds of the Dead Guise playing their opening set of acoustic Grateful Dead covers, in a style similar to the Grateful Dead’s early 80’s acoustic albums Reckoning and Dead Set. The members of Dead Guise include lead guitarist and vocalist Ken Younger, rhythm guitarist and vocalist John Heffernan, bassist and vocalist Mike Marino, and drummer and vocalist Bob Sicotte. When I got into Ashkenaz the Dead Guise had just wrapped up playing their opening song “Midnight Moonlight,” a song Jerry Garcia Band used to play at the Keystone back in the good old days when you could get in to see Jerry for just $3. Dead Guise were into covering some softer Jerry Garcia tunes in the Grateful Dead catalog like “Deep Elem Blues,” “Peggy O,” and “They Love Each Other.” The highlight of Dead Guise’s set was seeing them play “Black Peter,” one of the most painful and yet beautiful songs of The Grateful Dead’s Workingman’s Dead album. The Dead Guise captured the song beautifully with the soft acoustic playing, and the mellifluous Jerry voice sung by rhythm guitarist/ vocalist John Heffernan, “One more day I find myself alive. Tomorrow maybe go beneath the ground. See here how everything lead up to this day and it's just like any other day that's ever been. Sun goin up and then the sun it goin down. Shine through my window and my friends they. come around. The Dead Guise’s sound as they played “Black Peter” live was similar to the version on History Of The Grateful Dead (Bears Choice), even more acoustic then the version off Workingman’s Dead.
The Dead Guise seemed to enjoy singing songs that were sung by Jerry Garcia a lot more than the Bob Weir ones as “El Paso,” was the only Weir tune the Dead Guise touched upon. This all makes sense when you consider of all the members in the Grateful Dead Jerry Garcia was the one who showed the most affection for his bands folk and country roots, continually reintroducing them either with the band or in his side projects. With the Dead Guise’s selections of songs like "Jack-A-Roe" and "Deep Elem Blues" it is apparent they to are into the more into the folk material as well. The Dead Guise also played “Ripple,” a beautifully poetic Robert Hunter penned and Jerry Garcia sung tune off American Beauty that has always been an acoustic favorite, specifically on the Reckoning album recorded at the Warfield where it was the final encore on the album. The Dead Guise did a final encore of “Jack-A-Roe,” to the delight of the crowd who were demanding more after the captivating “Ripple.” Overall it was a solid performance by the Dead Guise who love doing the acoustic Grateful Dead classics, which serves as an excellent opener for Live Dead who would follow by playing a lot of electric psychedelic Dead songs especially in their second set like “The Other One” and “Viola Lee Blues.”
By performing songs like “Box Of Rain,” which they did at a recent show at the Starry Plough and “Ripple,” which they performed this time around at Ashkenaz, it is quite clear that Dead Guise are really into the 1970 year of the Grateful Dead’s music when they started exploring folk rock roots on albums like American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead, which was a huge change from their previous all out psych records like Live Dead and Anthem Of The Sun.
The Live Dead took the stage next with a burst of electric energy as lead guitarist and vocalist Steve Fundy, drummer Paul Scannell, rhythm guitarist and vocalist Shep Silver, keyboardist James Miller (who also performed with the Dead Guise), and bassist Chuck Stone launched into “Iko Iko” a rare live Grateful Dead cut. Live Dead had made it clear on their website prior to the show to expect the unexpected. The surprises delivered at Ashkenaz and they got that with a totally new set-list, which was completely different than it had been at the Starry Plough and three new band members Silver, Miller and Stone. Instead of focusing on more famous live standard Dead tunes like “Wharf Rat,” “Trucking,” “Uncle John’s Band,” and “Terrapin Station,” as they had at the Starry Plough, Live Dead chose to play some far out jams and rarer material.
The opening song “Iko Iko” was a clear example of this, a rare Dead tune I had never even heard off a live Grateful Dead recording or a studio album. The second song was “Bertha,” a favorite among Dead Heads but a song not any average fan of the Grateful Dead might have picked up on. It was sung by Fundy in a classic Jerry Garcia voice. Shep Silver helped out singing the chorus, “I had to move, really had to move. That's why if you please I am on my bended knees. Bertha don't you come around here anymore.” “Bertha” was followed by “Good Lovin,” which was sung in the style that original Dead keyboardist Ron (Pigpen) McKernan sang in and not the way Bob Weir composed it on the Shakedown Street record. It sounded quite good and had lots of Dead Heads at Ashkenaz singing along and dancing just as they probably had when they saw The Dead play the song themselves last month on May, 10 at the Shoreline Amphitheater. Shep Silver introduced the next song exclaiming it had already been played earlier that night by the opening band the Dead Guise. The song was “They Love Each Other,” a fantastic Jerry Garcia song off his third studio record with The Jerry Garcia Band Reflections. Shep Silver really showed the audience his strong onstage presence with this song and it was incredible as the fact sweat was pouring off his face didn’t seem to bother him in the clubs sweltering-hot atmosphere. Hearing songs like “Good Lovin” and “They Love Each Other,” being played by Live Dead was like being transported into a time warp back into the mid 70's when the Dead did open some of their shows with these two songs in the first set.
Live Dead only continued to get better as the night wore on, as they tore through the first set with some of the best Dead songs to be heard live such as “Jack Straw,” a song I heard the fist time I saw The Dead at Bonnarroo 2004, in Tennessee, which really opened my eyes to how amazing a band The Dead were. Live Dead really tore through song, as Silver, Fundy, and Miller all sang the opening verse in unison, “We can share the wine. We can share what we got of yours' cause we done shared all of mine. Keep a rolling just a mile to go. Keep on rolling, my old buddy you're moving much too slow.”
Live Dead played another Europe 72 classic when Shep Silver also sang “Brown Eyed Women,” which really got the crowd going as they sang along with Shep, “Brown eyed women and red grenadine the bottle was dusty but the liquor was clean. Sound of the thunder with the rain pouring down and it looks like the old man's getting on.” Live Dead repeated only two songs in their set at Ashkenaz from what they had played at the Starry Plough, (“West L.A. Fadeaway,” and “Eyes Of The World.”). West L.A. Fadeaway” came near the end of the first set and got the ladies dancing wildly as Fundy handled the lyrics and his lead guitar quite excellently as he soloed back and fourth with Silver, while new bassist Chuck Stone along with drummer Paul Scannall did a great job keeping the beat. The final song in the first set was “Shakedown Street,” which is a perfect example of the late 70s classic era of the Grateful Dead, at the tail end of the Arista years.
The crowd really responded well to the late 70s material presented by Live Dead, and there was plenty of that to go around as the second set opened with “Scarlet Begonias,” going into “Fire On The Mountain,” even diving back into “Scarlet Begonias” at the end in a great combination of songs This led straight into “Eyes Of The World,” which was one of the highlights of the night as Dead Head ladies utilized the whole Ashkenaz floor to dance all over the place in typical Dead Head fashion. The guys were into it also, and I have begun to see a lot of the same faces at these Live Dead shows; it makes me feel good to be among fellow Dead Heads. Paul Scannell did a superb job on “Drums,” leading into “Space.” Live Dead came back onstage and slowly began jamming into “Bird Song,” an improvisational jazzy-ballad wonder that was originally written by the Grateful Dead about the death of their friend Janis Joplin. The lyrics sung by Fundy were extremely powerful, “All that I know is something like a bird within her sings. All I know she sang a little while and then flew off. Tell me all that you know I’ll show you storm and rain.”
Live Dead saved their biggest psychedelic jams for last as Shep Silver took charge of the set again with a short version of “The Other One,” but with the band pressed for time as it was now getting passed 1:00 AM it made sense to shorten the song. Live Dead followed “The Other One” with “Viola Lee Blues,” a song that is still being played by the Dead forty-two years after it was released off their debut self-titled album in 1967. Live Dead did justice to “Viola Lee Blues,” playing it loud, and in unison, as all the musicians seemed like they had been rehearsing the material for weeks prior to playing it.
Live Dead did a final encore, playing another rarity “Hey Pocket Way,” which was originally sung by Brent Mydland, the third Grateful Dead keyboardist, who died in 1990 of a speedball overdose. The song has never appeared on any Grateful Dead album, yet everyone in the crowd seemed to recognize it, proving how much Live Dead fans really know about the complete history of the Dead’s music. One must also compliment Live Dead’s improvisational playing which they mastered all night, from the opening chords of “Iko Iko” to the closing encore of “Hey Pocket Way.”
For more info on Live Dead go to www.myspace.com/livedeadband
THE DEAD GUISE Setlist
Deep Elem Blues
They Love Each Other
Jack A-Roe (Phil Zone Version)
LIVE DEAD Setlist
They Love Each Other
West L.A. Fadeaway
Brown Eyed Women
Fire On The Mountain
Eyes Of The World
The Other One
Viola Lee Blues
Hey Pocket Way