Novak (novak) wrote,

Musical: The Dead and Willie Nelson at Summerfest

Langers and I took in the The Dead and Willie Nelson show at Summerfest this year, on Tuesday 1 July 2003 (he promised to conjure up the tix and did so with little trouble, talking Groupie fluently with the right people). We also hit a Wilco show and plenty of other musical, artistic, architectural and other such wandering at Summerfest and throughout Milwaukee. I found myself rather more taken in by Willie Nelson's set, never having listened to him closely before, and not realizing that he was much more "Mississippi Blues" than "Country."

Willie Nelson's set included:
Me and Bobby McGee
Workin' Man Blues
Georgia on My Mind
City of New Orleans
Pancho and Lefty
On The Road Again
Will the Circle Be Unbroken
The Dead's first set, with Nelson coming in on "Mountains of the Moon" and playing for the rest of the set:
Cassidy >
Dark Star >
Mountains of the Moon (Phil) >
She Said She Said (Joan) >
Loose Lucy (Bob)
El Paso
Only The Strange Remain
Hell in a Bucket
The Dead's second set:
@Blackbird (Weir acoustic) >
Foolish Heart (Joan) >
Crazy Fingers (Joan) >
Brown-Eyed Women (Bob) >
Drums >
Space >
Black Peter (Phil)
Casey Jones (Joan)
Dark Star >
Cassidy Reprise >
Touch of Grey (Bob)
Like a Rolling Stone


The Dead lifeless with each inflated song
Posted: July 2, 2003

There are certain types of music you either get or you don't. Bebop is like that. So is gangsta rap. And so are The Dead.

Tuesday was my first chance to see the reconvened Dead since Jerry Garcia left the building, and some things remain very much the same. They're every bit as tedious and long-winded without Garcia as they were with him.

The Dead operate on the theory that if something works for three minutes, it'll be flat-out spectacular if you beat it to total exhaustion. Hence, Dead songs are often just getting started around the eight-minute mark. The Deadheads love that endless noodling. I think those songs amount to a particularly insidious form of aural torture.

It might be different were The Dead great jazz musicians who could carry the audience along on the excitement of their musical ideas. Instead they'll take even a great song and bloat it to point where it becomes too heavy to fly. They do lots of covers, and they're not even a competent cover band. The version of "El Paso" they did Tuesday drained all the danger and romantic doom out of Marty Robbins' classic.

There appeared to be some hope for this version of The Dead, since they're packing Joan Osborne on this tour, and one additional weakness in the band is that it has never had more than barely competent singing. Osborne is a dynamo and packed with talent. So The Dead did the only thing they could: They essentially ignored her and let Phil Lesh and Bob Weir do most of the singing.

They even brought co-headliner Willie Nelson out for several tunes and never let him sing. Mostly he just strummed his guitar in the sonic background.

In a way, the pairing of The Dead with Nelson seems strange because many Willie fans are not jam band aficionados. On the other hand, The Dead and Nelson share a common eclecticism and an appreciation of core American music values.

Nelson's set was a slightly tweaked version of his usual outing. The main surprises were the addition of "Me and Bobby McGee" and Merle Haggard's "Workin' Man Blues." Beyond that, it was the usual mix of Nelson flavors: outlaw movement classics, standards like "Georgia on My Mind"; Western sagas such as "Pancho and Lefty" and classic slices of Americana such as "Will the Circle Be Unbroken."

At this point, reviewing Nelson is a little like reviewing Mount Rushmore or the Lincoln Memorial. He has become emblematic of our national identity and resides somewhere in the ether above critical reach.

To their credit, the Deadheads loved him.

Deadline prevented a review of the entire show.

I am writing in hopes to generate ANY feedback about this show. I was disappointed. My "Other Ones" experience last November was very uplifting. And I've listened to live sets from the Fall Tour up to Valentine's Day. But this show seemed to come from another space altogether. The boys were not having an easy time finding a groove to hold on to and the experimentation left a lot of people waiting for something to happen. "She Said, She Said" was the highlight for me. Up to that point, it was all very uneven and hard to dance to (and that has always been the yardstick I use for a show). Everything was nice, new, adventurous, and coherent in this tune, however, with Osborne's voice really sounding like a good fit. I definitely got my walking groove on with "Loose Lucy." But the bulk of everything played was not groovy. Dark Star (my first) was uninspired, though appropriately spacey in the reprise. Everything in the end seemed to be a struggle or a muddle. Yes, I've been through this before with the Grateful Dead. But for the first time I began to wonder what relationship this crew is trying to maintain with the GD tradition. What's a dead show without a lot of bouncing? By the encore, I was ready to beat people to the exit. Like a Rolling Stone? I think there are moments that the band is sounds like nothing more than a "nostalgia" act and it hurts.

Barry Batia, Oak Park, IL

After months of anticipation, the day had finally arrived. I walked into the Marcus Amphitheatre full of excitment, and I managed to catch some of Willie Nelson's opening performance. An hour later, The Dead took the stage.

They started off with a nice jam and went into Cassidy. After jamming for a while they moved into Dark Star. Phil, Joan, and Bob each sang a verse then they all came in together. It was beautiful, and they moved into some great jamming before settling in to Mountains of the Moon. Phil's voice sounded fantastic, and this was one of his best Mountains that I have heard. After another bit of jamming, they moved into the Beatles cover of She Said, She Said. This was Joan's first chance to show her stuff, and she sounded amazing. What a powerful voice, and Rob sounded great on the keys and backup vocals. The highlight of this song was Jimmy Herring letting it loose and ripping off a sweet solo.

Just as Loose Lucy started up, Willie Nelson walked on stage with his beat up old guitar. Loose Lucy was a lot of fun, just an absolute rocker. Willie was pickin' away, and Bobby was belting out the vocals. This song really got the show going for me. They followed it up with a fun version of El Paso, as the crowd sang along for the chorus. Bobby sounded fantastic on this tune. In fact, I was impressed with his vocals the whole night.

I was very happy when I heard the familiar sounds of Only the Strange Remain. I was even happier when I beat the crowd to the bathroom and didn't have to hear Mickey sing a single note. What a treat. I made it back to my seat just as they kicked into Hell in a Bucket. Did I mention that Bob was on in this show? It was a great rocking close to a very nice first set.

The second set started with Bobby onstage by himself to do an acoustic version of the Beatles tune, Blackbird. It was a pleasant surprise and a fun way to start off the second set. Although not my favorite songs, both Foolish Heart and Crazy fingers were well played with Joan on lead vocals. Another jam led its way into Brown-Eyed Women. I saw The Other Ones do this tune in Chicago last December and I was hoping to hear Rob take the lead vocals again, and I must say that I was a little disappointed when Bobby stepped up to the mic. Although I was skeptical, Bob really nailed this one and they moved into drums.

Let me just address one subject right now. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a warrant out for Mickey's arrest, because he flat out raped that beam during drums. I thought this was a PG show, yet here is Mickey sprawled out atop the beam. Well, whatever he was doing to that thing; he was making some crazy sounds. Out of drums came Black Peter and it was a treat, especially Phil's singing. He brought out the character and emotion that I love about his voice.

OK, so I have read a lot of opinions about Joan in general, her singing, and her strutting around the stage. I got my chance to see all of this firsthand during Casey Jones. Although I wouldn't want her to be moving around the stage all night, for one song I loved it. She has such a booming voice and she let loose on this one. They sped it up for a nice finish to a great song. Next, they went back into reprises of both Dark Star and Cassidy. Solid, but not great. They closed out the set with a nice version of Touch of Grey. As an encore, the band came out to do a quick version (they were getting close to curfew) of Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone.

Wow. This show was fantastic, and it lived up to all my expectations. Go check this band out if you have the chance. I know I am counting down the days until I see them again on August 3rd in Sommerset. I can hardly wait!

Andy, Minneapolis, MN

This was a magnificent show from start to finish. Best post-Jerry show I've seen to date. And a special note about the sound system: it is as good as advertised. Possibly the best sound I've heard at a Dead show in almost 25 years of going to them.

Highlights: A harbinger of a really good show--I'm thinking of the first one at the Kaiser this past December--seems to be an absolutely hot opening combo. This one had a spacy, thoughtful "Cassidy," which found it's way into a "Dark Star" that swung, swung, swung. "Mountains of the Moon" featured Phil thoughtful, emotional, and on-key, and "She Said She Said" with Joan on lead vocals was brilliantly played in a way only the Dead can do it--spacy *and* rocking--and you'd have to say Joan does indeed know what it's like to be Dead. She already fits like a glove with the boys. "Loose Lucy" was a great, drunken singalong setpiece and seemed to be intended to finish off what Ebbie Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh would refer to as "announcing their presence with authority."

"El Paso" (!), "Strange Remain," which has become a wonderful Herring workout, and "Hell in a Bucket" were almost valedictory in nature, and I mean that in the best way.

The second set, more problematic at a lot of shows these days--they *are* getting up there a tad--was at least as good as the first. It began with Bobby all by himself on "Blackbird," with the rest of the band trickling in towards the end, then burst into a brilliant, heartfelt, jamming version of "Foolish Heart" with Joan on lead vocals. "Crazy Fingers" was delicate and subtle--it's one of those tunes that Jerry struggled on vocally and Joan nails--and "Brown-Eyed Women" was a rollicking good time. Post Drums/Space, featuring the conclusions of "Cassidy" and "Dark Star," was probably the weakest part of the show, but still quite good, and "Touch of Grey" to end it turned out to be just right, and it was crisp as all hell. "Like a Rolling Stone" as an encore was similarly just right, and Phil sounded great again. It seems to me that him not overreaching--singing too often or tunes with too much range--is a real key for him. So to speak.

A final note: Herring was great. Great. Great. Great. He really fits and even makes the band now. This is going to be a lot of fun.

Jeff, Oakland, CA

I am a longtime fan but I have to say a deerly miss the Jerry Licks. It seems that Bob and Phil leave very little for Jimmy to Jam. I am a huge Jerry fan, and his licks seem to be fading. Also what was the deal with Rob B. They kept switching keys and had no jams. Drums was very, very good. I will say they really like to JAM.

Spike, Milwaukee, WI

As I entered the Marcus Ampitheatre on the Summerfest grounds, the crowd had already began to fill in and Willie Nelson had already began his set. I had never heard Willie Nelson before and was excited to see his set. He played a few songs I recognized, Me and Bobby McGee, City Of New Orleans, and On the Road Again. He was very impressive for a seventy year old. Eventually, he surrendered the stage around 7:00 and the Dead began to set up.

The band took the stage around 8:00, and when Weir walked out, he got an extra ovation. Weir proved to be the leader all night and his vocals and guitar were most excellent. The band opened with Cassidy that featured Bobby and Joan taking the vocals. The jam flirted with greatness, but for the most part never reached the zone. Slowly, the band wound Cassidy into Dark Star. The opening riff was played so subtley that I did not even recognize the song until the lyrics began. All i can say is Wow Phil, Joan, and Bobby each took a verse, and the jam smoked. During Dark Star Bobby's daughter came onto the stage wearing a green dress. She sat next to Bob throughout all of Dark Star. Dark Star had more cohesion than Cassidy and showed that the band was out to kill. Jimmy and Phil led the song through about ten minutes of improvisation. Slowly, the band moved away from Dark Star and into Mountains of the Moon. Phil sang Mountains and his mysterious peek-a-boo voice actually sounded good on this number. I am not a big fan of Phil's vocals but they shined on this song and his thumping bass line lended a good deal to this tune. After Mountains, the set took a turn for the best. Joan stepped up to the mike and sang lead on She Said She Said. It was absolutely rockin everybody was dancin and swingin there butts off, and nobody stoped gettin down with Loose Lucy comin' next. Bobby sang Loose Lucy, and with no offense to Winwood's voice, I would rather see Bobby sing it any day. And sing he did. He nailed the song perfectly. Willie Nelson stepped onto the stage at this point and remained onstage for the rest of the set. Now onto El Paso with an acoustic duet between Weir and Willie. Willie's bluesy "Trigger" blended perfectly with the country-western sound of Bobby's guitar. A great classic that I was really looking forward to. The set rocked to a close with Only the Strange Remain, and Hell In a Bucket. Weir sounded sharp again on Bucket and led the band through the song on that jazzy rythm guitar. Overall, the first set gets an A+. It both rocks and jams in ways i could never have imagined.

I have seen the Dead at the Alpine Reunion Shows and the Chicago show on last year's fall tour, and neither of those shows can come close to the energy of the first set. I only hoped they would stick around for one more. I was not let down. Bob walked out onto stage about twenty minutes after he left with an acoustic guitar strapped on. What followed got everybody cheering. Weir sang Blackbird solo acoustic to begin the set, and everybody listened. This was clearly for Jerry. The song was perfect and shocked evrybody,. This is a moment I will not soon forget. The band returns and they jump into an impressive pre-drums segment. Joan sings both Foolish Heart and Crazy Fingers. Both song are tight, sweet, jazzy, and smooth. I was happy to see that Crazy Fingers still has that Mideastern feel to it. The band then surprised everyone with a second set Brown-Eyed Women. Usually a first set staple, the song got extra treatment and fine vocals by Bobby. My only complaint is that Rob did not sing at all during this song. In fact, it appeared as though Rob and Jeff were rotating on keys throughout the show. The band wound there way into Drums>Space segment which was amazing, and that is definitely an exception. Take a listen to this, as it was truly mind blowing. At one point Mickey played the Beam with his whole body! Again Wow.

After Drums>Space, the energy returned once more with a soulful Black Peter sung by Phil, and a rockin Casey Jones sung by Joan as she danced around stage. The band returned to Dark Star and Cassidy which added some superb jamming to the second set, and closed the set with Touch Of Grey. The encore of Like a Rolling stone sent us tumbling into the Milwaukee night amazed at the power of this band. We knew it, the band knew it, this show was awesome.

YES, they still have it and they can still play those old chesnuts as well as songs of there own. These guys will only get better and I cannot wait to see them again during the second leg of the tour.

Matt, Riverside, WI

I flew up from Florida to meet frinds and go to Summerfest. I saw the the Other Ones in Chicago last December and thought they sounded good. With that in mind, I thought that this show would be an extention of that and looked forward to see it for a couple of months. When all was said--and I hate to say this--the show was simply awful. I'm not going to go into detail with each song but they would have been better taking the night off. I'm going to see them in Sunrise FL at the end of July and I hope it's better. But like they say, seeing the Dead at their worst is better that your best day at work. Peace

Alan Kaufman, Hollywood, FL
Tags: friends-notre dame era, milwaukee, musical, personal, setlists

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.