While every state has their bevy of Grateful Dead cover bands, Colorado is proud to put Shakedown Street at the top of their list. Playing shows all over the Front Range and Rocky Mountains, they’ve built themselves into the beloved act they are today. Even Rob Eaton of Dark Star Orchestra plays with members on occasion when jamming around Colorado. With a name that completely implies that they’re a Dead cover act, they already draw a fair amount of fans, but once you hear how tight of an act they are, they garner those who are were stuck on the fence concerning the thought of another Dead act and what they could really offer.
I walked into the Boulder Theater Friday night to the familiar thumping of “Shakedown Street,” and yes, I mean the song. This was a special night for the band and fans, as Jerry Garcia Band veteran Melvin Seals hunched over a big old Hammond organ that was prevalent in the mix. His very presence brought the rest of the band to a level I’d never seen them reach before, and he was especially appreciated on the solo Jerry material they covered.
After a funky, disco-Dead jam, the band bled into “Feel Like a Stranger.” The midi and rhythmic chirp of Scott Swartz propelled the band and Melvin and keyboardist Joe Weisiger discovered a natural, happy medium that ignited the interplay between them. Christian Teele, the lone wolf drummer wearing a rather large pair of headphones, was pure march madness as he clomped along while Scott howled about it being “A long, long, crazy, crazy night.” I remember them coming to a premature ending before the rhythm section snapped them back into the groove, finishing in the appropriate manner for the song with the collective last note of each individual member in sync.
In classic Dead fashion, the boys wandered around on stage tuning and altering their sound before and after nearly every song of the first set. Not in classic Dead fashion, they launched into a duo of Jerry songs, playing “They Love Each Other” and “Row Jimmy” back to back. Melvin dominated these songs instrumentally, waling away while the rest of the band simply stood and watched him roll. Josh Rosen can really replicates the Jerry harmonics, and his close-eyed shred face left more than just me chuckling.
Feeling the need to share the wealth, they broke into a cowboy combo with “Me and My Uncle” and “Mexicali Blues.” The first always gets a good response, with its lyrics touching upon Colorado. The heavy Brent Mydland era organ coming from Melvin met the honky-tonk electric piano of the Keith Godchaux era, and fused the two worlds of Grateful Dead music together. Melvin also did a fine take on the polka of Mexicali, which was the first song without a minor or major pause in action preceding it.
With a wook must hanging on the air, the band launched into a slow grooving “Bird Song,” which saw some head to the bar, some to the bathroom, and some to their pockets to smoke the fragrant ganja that plumed into the room in waves during the slower songs.
Allowing the thematic duos to continue, they next paired “How Sweet it Is (To Be Loved By You)” and “Cat’s Under the Stars,” both songs played primarily by Jerry’s solo bands, before leaving the stage for setbreak.
What transpired next was a series of songs weaving in and out of one another that would have made for one of the more epic Dead sets (on paper) that was ever played. Kicking it off with the crowd favorite combo of Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain, the place was full of people shaking their bones as the band intricately jammed out the pair before pausing and breaking into the rare and oft-forgotten, “My Brother Esau.” This is one song I’ve been dying to hear live for years, and while it wasn’t the core four of the Dead performing, I was still thrilled with their ability to command that song after such a powerhouse combo. The shock didn’t end there, though, as they went straight into another classic pairing, “Estimated Prophet>Eyes of the World.” While I expected them to continue the magnificence of the second set, I didn’t expect to hear “Uncle John’s Band” or another Jerry staple that the Dead only touched a couple of times, “Mission in the Rain.” Being able to weave between Dead songs and Jerry Garcia Band songs makes Shakedown Street not only a Dead cover band, but keepers of the torch. Add that to the players they have and the addition of Melvin Seals, and you’ve got the best representation of the Grateful Dead in Colorado.
The evening came to a close with a Johnny B. Goode encore, and as we wrestled with the crowd into the night, I tried my hardest.