Of all the members of the Grateful Dead, Billy Kreutzmann, really knew how to retire. Hanging out in Hawaii, he showed none of the predilection for road-warrioring into the sunset like his bandmates. Sure he'd play with the boys when they got back together for the full band gigs and after ten years on the island he started playing out more often with various old cronies, but he didn't have his name on the marquee with his band, his music, his beat. He was always the one behind the scenes.
When he met Garcia, working together at a music store in 64, he became the jazz drummer of Jerry’s and Pigpen's new band and that was the beginning of the long journey where Billy and Mickey became percussionists and turned rock and roll drumming into a tribal gathering and cultural anthropology showcase. But while Mickey was a Drummer, a Percussionist, a Voyager, Bill was your prototypical teenage jazz combo drummer catapulted into stardom as part of the rock era's greatest and longest lasting shared musical experience. He didn't get the spotlight, he didn't have his own tunes, but he was back there beating at every Grateful Dead show ever played
Now he's on the road with Max Creek's Scott Murawski and Allman Brother's bassist Oteil Burbridge, playing some Dead tunes, some Creek tunes, a few classics and some new songs that Robert Hunter wrote just for them. The show at the Fox was their last together for a while as Billy will be joining the rest of the Dead on the road this Spring. When I popped in line to get my tickets, Scott was actually standing in line with everyone else - seriously - making sure some folks he knew were all set at the ticket window, with people asking him if needed to tix to get into his show, kids coming up to their tix autographed, the rock star hanging out being rock fan.
Murawski has been a staple on the East Coast scene since the 70s, but playing out with the BK3, he is quickly making a new name for himself as one someone everyone wants to play with and one of the foremost jam guitarists of the last 30 years. At times the BK3 is his band, as he re-interprets the classic Creek songs for jazz rock trio. This night, playing his elegant Languedoc guitar, he sets a strong soulful tone for the show, coming out of the opening jam with Creek's Louisiana Sun. Kreutzman is back and center keeping the beat always the drummer's drummer. Oteil wears his musical heart on his sleeve, playing the six-string bass with equal measures of crunchy rock, soul, jazz and funk stylings.
Make no mistake; this is Billy's show, though. Like any good leader he takes the combo through a mix of the songs the crowd has come to hear, the new songs they want to make their own and the songs that each musician will seize as their showcase. As the first set pushes on Kreutzmann opens up. During Thunder he hits his full stride as the music takes on a ritual quality and the fans gladly move with Oteil’s thumping bass and Billy’s gathering beats. He lifts his head high and smiles broadly at his band and the crowd as they take the jam out of Thunder and blaze into Bertha to close the first set. The second set is as crowd pleasing as it gets for the Deadheads in attendance as the band sparks up China Cat to start it all off, before plowing through the repertoire as Help/Slip and The Other One shine. With many in attendance already big Max Creek and Murawski fans, Scott rapidly converts the rest to the fold with his masterful playing.
So here’s to the back beater turned front man. The jam band stalwarts playing stripped down jazz rock with their most familiar tunes to guide them. The bass player claiming his place as one of the most gifted and versatile of his generation. The guitarist busting his ass in clubs and festivals for three decades in the musical equivalent of Triple A ball, now rising late in the game to the top of his field. This is the Bill Kreutzmann Three playing at the venue that has brought so many rising stars to the next level. This is Bill Kreutzmann his name in front of the theater sharing his love for music with his buddies Scott Murawski and Oteil Burbridge and thankfully the grateful crowd at the Fox.
Set 1: Jam->Louisiana Sun->Jam, Yellow Moon->jam, Mr. Charlie, Pollyanna->Thunder->Jam->Bertha
Set 2: China Cat Sunflower->Jam->Chains of Life->Jam, The Other One->Jam->Fly Away, Help On The Way->Slipknot->Jam->Slipknot->Free Born Man
Encore: Murder Land