Guitarist Warren Haynes, born in 1960 and a quick study when it came to absorbing rock, blues and country improv styles (he was working in David Allen Coe’s band while barely out of his teens) is one of few musicians with the chops to hold down several of the most exciting live gigs going right now – he plays with both The Allman Brothers Band and The Dead, plus his own band Gov’t Mule, and stays on the road most of each year. I caught him at the Oakland Fox Theatre on May 12th with Gregg Allman & crew, and with the reconstituted Dead two days later at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, CA. I was primed to have a fine old time, and I did.
Haynes doesn’t play the same way with each band, he sculpts his approach to the needs of the sound and style of the other musicians. He is more aggressive and funky, sticks more to the low registers, and plays slide more in the Allmans (his foil Derek Trucks is also a mean slide player, so they swap duties throughout the set). In The Dead he plays fewer notes, and manages (without giving up his own Southern Rock energy) to emulate Jerry Garcia’s brittle, high-end, ruminating and wandering style, bursting out for impassioned strumming when needed (his leadership on a dramatic “Morning Dew” was outstanding). Some critics (who to my mind aren’t listening too well) have criticized Warren for playing the same in both bands. I say baloney and give a big razzberry to that.
Gregg Allman has ceded about half the energy of the band to Warren and Derek, playing far fewer keyboard solos than in the old days, but he still nailed the soulful vocals for “Not My Cross to Bear,” “One Way Out,” “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More,” “Statesboro Blues” and other Allmans classics. His acoustic-guitar, second-set opener was “Melissa,” and he sang it like he just wrote it. Warren sang a brilliant “And It Stoned Me” in the first set, played the hell out of the instrumental “Jessica” to follow it up (I’ve almost forgotten the way Dickey Betts sounded with the live Allmans, but not quite) , and led a massive, psychedelic “Mountain Jam” to end the second set.
The Dead pulled out a dream first set: “Jack Straw,” “U.S. Blues,” “Mason’s Children,” “Ship of Fools,” “Friend of the Devil” and sandwich of “Terrapin Station” in between halves of “Standing On the Moon.” Given that the original Grateful Dead only played “Mason’s Children” live a mere 18 times during 1969-70, I thought the crowd might react a bit more strongly than they did to its appearance (Phil Lesh & Friends have been keeping it alive, but it’s still very rare). I looked around the audience, and began to wonder if the large crowd consisted of much more than dyed-in-the-wool Deadheads. Maybe there were lots of young first-timers who attended with their parents or grandparents, or people who’d never seen Jerry Garcia play and wanted to grab a last chance at the next best thing. During GD shows in the Bay Area, lines from “Standing On the Moon” that Jerry delivered always got huge ovations (“I see the gulf of Mexico/as tiny as a tear/the coast of California/must be somewhere over here” and “I’d rather be with you/somewhere in San Francisco/on a back porch in July/just looking up to heaven/at this crescent in the sky”) but at Shoreline there was a only a minor ripple of recognition.
Likewise, the crowd didn’t react much to terrific versions of the now-ancient “New Potato Caboose” and “Born Cross-Eyed” in the second set, but enthusiasm for the closing “China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider” and long encore of “Scarlet Begonias>Fire On the Mountain>Deal” filled the air with some “good ol’ Grateful Dead” energy. There were fire dancers cavorting on stage during the inspiring Drums/Space interlude, and I don’t think the band could have played any better as a unit, with keyboardist Jeff Chimenti and Haynes fitting right in with men who’ve been carefully listening to each other and stretching the boundaries of rock-jazz-country-whatever for more than 40 years.
And oh yeah, in the parking lot I got to see the Merry Pranksters’ “Furthur” bus!