Rainbow Full of Sound Covered The Dead February 20 at Putnam Place
Puppies, Babies and Drugs Not Included
I don’t cover cover bands. My wife calls me an elitist. I say simply I’m spoiled. The closest I usually come is to see some storied musician himself cover another storied musician’s repertoire. Or when drummer Jim McCarty, the only remaining member of The Yardbirds reprised “Shape of Things to Come” at The Egg with a “reunion band” last year, I went home again to my youth.
It did not work for Rainbow Full of Sound at Putnam Place on Thursday night (February 20th). Oh, how I wanted to fly (Puppies, babies and drugs not included). The promise of Nirvana was palpable. This Grateful Dead cover band’s tour is being promoted by my friend Dennis McNally, close to three decades the Dead’s official historian and author of Long Strange Trip, a 700-page biography on the group.
I’d done an invigorating advance interview with band leader Waynard Scheller who explained that the band was replicating The Dead’s Europe 72 tour, concert for concert, song for song with a cadre of 30 musicians, five of whom he would drop in on any one particular show. We talked about The X factor, improvisation. Covering iconic band flights on artists like The Dead, Jimi or Stevie can turn flaming mercury into cement. This wasn’t going to happen here. Waynard had even worked with The Dead’s Bob Weir and Jorma Kaukonen from Hot Tuna.
I wanted to be transported back to when Dennis gave me and my sons tickets to the Dead shows. Back to a time when the party began in the parking lot. Back to a time when everyone at the show shared more with everyone else there than the music. Yeah, I know Jerry’s a quarter century gone. I wasn’t asking for that. But I did want liftoff. And for the hour I stayed, it didn’t happen. There were more people doing the Dead dance on the first number than on the fourth. That’s very telling.
There were several factors contributing to that. First of all, by design, Rainbow Full of Sound was sticking to the repertoire of one particular night of the Dead’s Europe ’72 tour, so the setlist was far from the kind of “greatest hits” that fire up today’s third generation Deadheads. I recognized “Bertha,” “Cumberland Blues” and “Deal,” but much of the repertoire in the hour I was there was unrecognizable to me as an old Deadhead myself. Jerry’s vocals were divided among the two guitarists, an unnamed young lady and Waynard on keyboards. There was one drummer instead of two. The lead guitarist, Andy Morse of local Dead Cover band The Wheel, did not try to replicate Jerry. He was strong but carrying a heavy load in that the bass player doing Phil Lesh’s parts and the second guitarist handling Bob Weir’s rhythm guitar runs were perfunctory enough to make me wonder if they’d done much rehearsing together.
Everyone knows the old saw about how you can never go home again. You can capture pieces of the vibes, snippets that trigger memories, some of which may have been romanticized with the passage of time. But the older I get the more problematic that exercise becomes when I put on my critics’ hat.
I’m going to see The Stones in June for I believe the 12th time since 1965. Lead guitarist Brian Jones is half a century dead. Bill Wyman quit three decades ago to become a photographer, spelunker, and occasional musician in The Rhythm Kings because he was bored playing the same bass licks for 30 years. But Mick still sprints across the stage even after his heart attack and Keith whose arthritic hands look like gnarly grapevines still duels with Ron Wood on guitar and for me, they continue to define the high-water mark in rock.
And between Mick, Keith and Charlie, there’s enough 100-proof juice left in their presentation to play my way back machine memory like an in-tune Strat. I can remember being tear gassed as I clung to the trunk of the Stones’ limo with my friend Bill Nowlin as it raced out of the Lynn Bowl in ’65. Seeing the Dead and The Stones within 24 hours of each other in ’81. Strains of Stones wafted through the air in ’89 as I drove through the Syracuse University campus on the way to see “my boys.” With my son Michael, I watched Keith almost cry as he expressed his appreciation at the audience response in Albany in the 21st century, the Stones’ first time here since ’64. Five years ago, the raw energy level in Buffalo made me a kid again at 75.
Vernon Reid’s Band of Gypsys Revisited covered a specific Jimi Hendrix live album a few months ago using his mentor’s material as a jumping off point for his own improvisations. Rainbow Full of Sound is far less skilled at the same game. But I have to keep reminding myself that I have been spoiled having heard The Dead live for half a century. Most of the crowd at Putnam’s Place, aren’t old enough to be so fortunate. And to paraphrase The Stones, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try some time, you just might find you get what you need.”
Rainbow Full of Sound returns to Putnam’s Place March 19th, April 30th, and May 21st.