Most tribute bands fall short of capturing the true essence of their musical pioneer predecessors. Rocky Mountain Grateful Dead Revue, a cosmic conglomerate of members of Shakedown Street and Dark Star Orchestra's Rob Eaton, reform the very art of imitation.
They weave an intricate, improvisational aural tapestry that diehard Dead fans wholeheartedly wrap themselves in. Like caretakers on an inherited plot of farmland, RMGDR nurture the brawny roots laid down by Jerry and the boys while managing to sprinkle some vibrant musical seeds of their own into every live gig. Splashing just the right amount of originality against a backdrop of tie-dye-infused Grateful Dead jams, they invoke memories of glory tour days for older Deadheads and foster new live-show fixes for up and coming music fiends.
This January gig, at Boulder Theater, had no shortage of synchronic moments between the crowd and these bestowers of burly sound. The Coloradoan quintet, devoted to keeping the Dead's legacy blooming, came heavy with the heady tunes and dreamy instrumentals that drift you into conscious soul slumber.
The set kicked off with 'Bertha.' From the first few intro chords and the opening line of "I had a hard month" cheers ignited and spread with the vengeance of a forest fire. Dave Kochman's vocals were in the same vein of Jerry, but still possessed a slightly different tone, blending novelty with nostalgia. Fans took advantage of the ample dancing room and fluidly moved, while the mural of a sun sheltered the pit as if to give her blessing on a tribe of smiling souls.
Otis Redding's shoulder swaying 'Hard to Handle' kept the dance floor a dizzying, Picasso-esque mix. The guys delivered this tune with an instrumental session packed right in the velvety center. Smokey Joe Weisiger worked the keyboard, his fingers holding down notes with fervor.
When the guys plunged into 'New Speedway Boogie' it was clear that this audience had all spent a little time on the mountain. Shouting out the chorus with arms outstretched, attendees let their love for the Rockies catapult to the rafters.
By this point, beer bottles and cocktail glasses lined the stage as if to frame the band in a semicircle of trust. The frothy adult bevs were like offerings of adulation to musical demigods. Fans tenaciously tapped on the stage's edge, providing yet another tribal hint amidst a night of raw self-expression.
The guys kept the momentum brewing by jumping into Buddy Holly's charismatically catchy 'Not Fade Away.' Next came, the vagrant's anthem 'Goin' Down the Road and Feelin' Bad.' The chemistry converged with the rich folky blues-laden 'I Know You Rider."
A goosebump-inducing "Jack Straw" transitioned into 'Brown-eyed Women,' with the effortless grace of a spider spinning silky strands.
After an enthralling rendition of 'Ramble On Rose,' the band members not manning the drum kit exited, giving way to Jake Wolf's manic drum solo. When the audience had reached the peak of this percussion potency, the three gentlemen migrated back and jammed out 'St. Stephen.' Toasty amber lights cocooned the band members' silhouettes, increasing the spiritual undertones of the performance.
'Morning Dew' was tranquilly refreshing and gave Rob Eaton countless opportunities to offer up guitar playing that trickled down spines and didn't let up till toes had been curled.
'Playing in the Band' was coated in irony considering the assortment of musicians, on stage, all work to keep the vibe of another influential band buzzing. Jim Allard's resemblance to Phil Lesh in both stature and bass skills reaffirmed that artistic recreation is indeed a genuine form of flattery.
This tune, segwayed into 'Box of Rain'—the "I'm here for you mantra" was played with sincerity, thickening the brotherly love buzz already fogging the venue.
Rocky Mountain Grateful Dead Revue closed the night with Chuck Berry's up-tempo, Johnny B. Goode, causing attendees to summon up all the energy they had left on the final stop in this musical journey. The twist-inducing song, about a backwoods musical prodigy, left us floating in a humming sea of palpable joy.
Twirling girls, with halo-like wreaths of flowers in their hair, appeared like graceful ghosts making 2009 morph into 1969. The very presence of these bohemian concertgoers, much like the musical buffet served up that night, reaffirmed that the Dead's music, overall style and message is free from any expiration date.
The Dead never perish. They simply reincarnate into other exquisite forms that make us stop, take notice and revel in the mind-altering grooves.
On this stellar evening Rocky Mountain Grateful Dead Revue's talent and uncanny ability to resurrect the spirit of these San Fran Godfathers of jam shined iridescently, like a headlight on a northbound train in the cool Colorado rain.