April 18th, 2009 was the second show in a two night engagement between me and The Dead, the latest name (at the time) for the remains of post-Jerry Garcia Grateful Dead. Just like the previous night in Albany, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart were joined by Jeff Chimenti and Warren Haynes but unlike the last show (which was really slow and drawn out to the point of boredom) this one was peppy and upbeat, if not utterly groovy.
I always enjoy myself at The Dead (or The Grateful Dead, or Phil & Friends, or Ratdog, or Further, or The Wolf Brothers, or anything else that features Phil Lesh and/or Bob Weir) and I did on this night (as I did the night previous, though to a lesser extent), but I’ve got to level with you…
(I’m sorry if this means we can’t be friends anymore.)
While Warren Haynes is an undeniably great guitar player and a heck of a singer besides, he just plain and simple does not blend well with The Grateful Dead*. Of course Warren grew up in the scene as a member of The Allman Brothers, a band that shared the same ethos, fan culture, and umbrella-genre with The Grateful Dead, but at the same time a band with a significantly different overall sound and trajectory than the Dead. Basically, the Allman’s were a hard livin’ drinking-man’s blues band whereas the Dead were a hard livin’ hippie-groovin’ party band. The two groups definitely had overlaps** – no question about that – but they had a very divergent sound.
Imagine (if you can) if Jerry Garcia had been a founding member of The Allman Brothers and Duane Allman had been a founding member of The Grateful Dead. Would the Allman’s sound more like the Dead? Would the Dead sound more like the Allman’s? Where would their sounds meet? Would neither band sound anything like what we know today?
I think the latter. It’s obvious to anyone who has done any serious investigation into the issue that both of these bands held perfectly unique combinations of players and personalities, and to replace any of them would be akin to switching out the bottom piece from a house of cards: the whole thing would fall before you even saw what it would have looked like. The mere fact that both of these bands not only rose to the top of their respective genres but were both in fact the defining acts of said genres proves that they achieved a particular level of perfection that no other bands achieved.
And of course this perfection cannot be attributed to any single member of either group; their successes were the result of having just the right combination.
And while we all have The Grateful Dead to listen to and appreciate, and it can be fun to hear someone (anyone?) pay tribute to the band, some people just don’t seem to be the right fit.
Which reminds me of a clip I recently saw on the internet of Zakk Wylde from Ozzy Osbourne’s band sitting in on guitar for an entire Allman Brother’s concert. Zakk was a huge Allman’s fan; he knew the tunes and he’s an astounding guitar player but c’mon now, the two just don’t mix. It was like listening to oil and water.
I won’t say that Warren’s style was as far away from the Dead as Zakk Wylde’s was from the Allman’s, but let’s just say I don’t think the two of them should start a band together.
Though The Wylde/Warren Band does have a nice ring to it.
*Though it seems to me that it was Warren who brought Van Morrison’s Into the Mystic into the Dead repertoire. I may be very wrong about that, but if I’m right, then bless Warren Haynes.
**Particularly: the audience.