Live Dead were quite the frequenters of the Starry Plough in the Spring and early parts of the summer of 2009. During a short hiatus away from Berkeley the band toured other parts of California such as South Lake Tahoe, Eureka, and the famous Brookdale Lodge in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It was wonderful to see drummer Paul Scannell, guitarist/vocalist Steve Fundy, guitarist/vocalist Shep Sliver, keyboardist/vocalist James Miller, and bassist Chuck Stone return to Berkeley to lay down a majestically and electrifyingly long three set night at the Plough. The show was on the same night of Bob Dylan, who was playing the first of two nights at the Greek Theatre. Much of the Plough crowd arrived after the first acoustic set, updating me on set details of Dylan.
Live Dead opened the set with “Deep Elem Blues”--Fundy with his spectacular rhythm guitar strumming along with Silver. These two make quite a dynamic combo on guitar just as Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir did for The Grateful Dead for so many years. The first set highlighted some of the best songs from The Grateful Dead’s live acoustic Reckoning album recorded at The Warfield, such as Weir’s cover of George Jones' “The Race Is On” and also his spectacularly written “Cassidy,” which Fundy performed his best acoustic solo of the night, ripping into a surrealistic improvisation that sent everybody’s heads spinning and bodies dancing into the night. Another prime moment in the first set was seeing Live Dead play a rare cover of Buffallo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.” Later I noticed the song wasn’t even on Live Dead’s set list, so it was a last-second toss in and worked wonderfully. Buffallo Springfield are one of the greatest folk rock bands of the 1960s, and despite their short reign at the top of the sunset strip along bands such as The Byrds, The Doors, and Love, they shall never be forgotten as they paved the way for everything else that was to come. Other highlights of the first set included the final two songs Live Dead played “Jack-A-Roe” and “Ripple,” both timeless tunes that seems to be perfect for the acoustic guitar.
The first electric set began with a surprise Buddy Holly cover “Not Fade Away” (that The Grateful Dead used to be famous for playing in the latter half of the set.) In this first electric set Live Dead covered an large array of The Dead’s material that you could not solidify or pinpoint as reminiscent of a particular era in The Grateful Dead’s history; but more scattered pieces of the puzzle. This is more fun for a fan like myself to watch as I don’t get pinned down to one point in time, but instead can jump through the years in a single span of three sets, recalling different stages of what The Grateful Dead morphed into and sounded like in different eras. After Shep Silver sang “Not Fade Away,” he again took the lead for “All Over Now,” a song that never really appeared on a Grateful Dead album but was a live staple in The Dead’s 1970s touring titan hey-days.
Steve Fundy took center stage for “West L.A. Fadeaway” undoubtedly one of The Grateful Dead’s more poignant and powerful 1980s classics. Fundy spit out the lines “Looking for a chateau twenty four rooms but one will do. I don’t want to buy it just want to stay here a minute or two. West L.A. fadeaway, west L.A. fadeaway. Little redlight on the highway, big green light on the speedway.” The soloing by Fundy and Silver combined with Chuck Stone’s heavy bass and Scannall’s rhymic bashing drums keeping the beat, while James Miller ripped through the keys just like he was Brent Mydland himself. The band’s onstage power reached a peak hear and the audience felt it as they danced fluidly with each electrifying beat of the music. “Hey Pockey Way” followed, which was the one Brent Mydland song the band usually covers with Miller singing other than “Never Trust A Woman,” which is my all time Brent favorite.
The best part of the first electric set is when the band went into “Ramble On Rose,” a Europe 72 classic that Fundy sang, sounding just like Jerry would in the younger days with that sad but innocent tone. The lines written by Hunter kind of describe Jerry who had lost both his parents at a young age, “Goodbye, Mama and Papa. Goodbye, Jack and Jill. The grass ain't greener, the wine ain't sweeter either side of the hill. Did you say your name was Ramblin' Rose? Ramble on, baby. Settle down easy. Ramble on Rose.”
The first set closed with Live Dead returning into “Not Fade Away,” as they came full circle with the Buddy Holly song that was perfected by the band back in their early 70s tour de force times.
The second electric set began with a crowd pleaser “Shakedown Street,” which got everyone in the crowd dancing just as hard as they did for “West L.A. Fadeaway.” The best song of the set though was the following psychedelic-tinged jazz of “Crazy Fingers” which Steve Fundy perfected on guitar mixed with his stellar vocals, the lines he sang written by Robert Hunter capture the true Grateful Dead spirit. “Beneath the sweet calm face of the sea swift undertow. Life may be sweeter for this, I don't know. See how it feels in the end. May Lady Lullaby sing plainly for you. Soft, strong, sweet and true.”
Live Dead also covered “Estimated Prophet” with Shep Silver taking the lead and singing as he does with all the Bob Weir songs. “Estimated Prophet” is a deep song about a man waiting for his time in the world to come. The song written originally by John Perry Barlow was a classic staple in Grateful Dead live shows beginning in the late 1970s after the release of the album Terrapin Station, which the song was featured on. Silver sang in a Bob Weir like husky masculine voice, “My time coming, any day, don't worry bout me, no. Been so long I felt this way, ain't in no hurry, no. Rainbows end down that highway where ocean breezes blow. My time coming, voices saying, they tell me where to go. Don't worry bout me, no no, don't worry bout me, no. And I'm in no hurry, no no no, I know where to go. California, preaching on the burning shore. California, I'll be knocking on the golden door. Like an angel, standing in a shaft of light. Rising up to paradise, I know I'm gonna shine.”
The band closed the set at around 1:00 AM with “Eyes Of The World” a Grateful Dead live classic that always brings the house down whenever they play it at The Starry Plough. It was a great night for Dead vibes as the autumn chill was rolling in and despite the “summer time come and gone, my oh my,” was it a good time.
LIVE DEAD Setlist:
Deep Elem Blues
On The Road Again
The Race Is On
Me & My Uncle
Dupree’s Diamond Blues
For What It’s Worth (Buffalo Springfield cover)
Electric Set 1
Not Fade Away
All Over Now
West L.A. Fadeaway
Hey Pockey Way
Big Railroad Blues
Wang Dang Doodle
Ramble On Rose
Feel Like A Stranger
Not Fade Away (Part 2)
Electric Set 2
Eyes Of The World