Terrapin Flyer have long been respected for their Grateful Dead interpretations and their tendency to team up with impressive members of the extended Dead family. The Chicago cover group hit Portland’s Star Theatre February 11 as part of a Mardi Gras Tour, presented by the Grateful Web and day-glo’d by the Merry Pranksters, with old friends Melvin Seals (Jerry Garcia Band), and Mark Karan (The Other Ones, RatDog) helping to hold down two stellar sets of New Orleans-charged tunes.
It was a Prankster Party in true fashion. Zane Kesey and his merry crew dressed up the Star in a Furthur Bus-full of blacklight paint splatter, oil projection, psychedelic draperies, and purchasable blotter art, the obvious goal being to assault the senses just enough to rattle them open, and to set the tone for the band, who played seven West Coast shows in similar fashion.
They started off the night with Shakedown Street, as if to say, “Welcome to our party,” and played it long and bluesy, while balloons (strange ones) were passed out by pranksters, inflated, and left to bounce atop the crowd (and occasionally across Melvin’s keys). Vocalist Kara Cavanaugh sang a slow, soulful number after that, leading into an uplifting Friend of the Devil with Mark Karan on vocals. The first set bounced back and forth between upbeat and serene; Promised Land had Melvin practically screaming on the keys, followed by a slow and steady It Must Have Been The Roses sung by Terrapin Flyer founder Doug Hagman, then back to electrified with the Rufus Thomas classic Walkin’ the Dog. The set closed out with Jerry Garcia Band’s That’s What Love Will Make You Do, after which the band intoned, “Get your mind adjusted a little bit more towards this room, and we’ll do the same thing.”
In between the costumes (octopus wizard, or alien clown?) and the lights and the acid-test feels of the place, not to mention the face-assaulting balloons, the break in between sets was a party in and of itself, which was obviously the intention of this show and the tour. Zane Kesey wandered through the crowd with a lightsaber in one hand and a bubble gun in the other. Portland responds to energetically for opportunities to gather gratefully, and even on a Thursday the back patio of the Star was packed, plenty still feeling the Fat Tuesday vibes in masks, bright colors, and other freaky fare.
The band teased this year’s early Mardi Gras season at the opening of the second set with a dancey Iko Iko, most folks singing along. Things heated up with the band digging into West LA Fadeaway, with bass player Brad Ray on vocals. From there they played straight into That’s It For The Other One (Part II), into a lengthy jam, Johnny Reed shining on the drums, and then into a mournful Stella Blue. Then they surprised with Highway 61 Revisted, of course a crowd-pleaser, breaking it down in the middle into something spacey, then back to the Dylan, closing things out with Franklin’s Tower, because of course, that was the note to leave things on.
Zane takes his father’s legacy seriously, with February’s Mardi Grass tour the second iteration of a party thrown by him and some fellow pranksters last November in Eugene. The events’ continued success implies that similar hijinks will continue to make their way to town, Furthur bus in tow (weather permitting), and hopefully a similar cast of musicians on stage, ensuring our community keeps the torch burning brightly.