Can Jon Pareles and I think alike? the American Beauty Project

Probably not. But possibly. We both spent Sat night at the Winter Garden, where one could have observed the following:

That people born in December share many characteristics.

such as large heads.

Those born in May also can have large heads.

On Sat night in the Winter Garden, there were a LOT of Heads.

Cuz we were all part of the capacity “No one more will be allowed in!” bolt-the-doors-and-call-the-rent-a-cops crowd at Saturday night’s American Beauty Project, a celebration of the Grateful Dead at the World Financial Center Winter Garden.

A fest devoted to the Grateful Dead’s two 1970s albums, the project featured every song on Workingman’s Dead (Sat night) and American Beauty (Sun night) performed in order by a lineup of different bands, one band per song.

The crowd packed in. The Eckerd’s in the WFC featured a long snaking line of fans buying munchies and murmuring to each other “Did you go to Gathering of the Vibes, man? You have to go to the Gathering . . . it’s, like, in the desert somewhere.”

The WFC is not that kind of desert. Surrounded by Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, and other indoor mall aridities, the crowd sat on neatly arranged folding chairs and tiers of hard marble stairs – did this all contribute to the overwhelming effect of the evening? The sound SUCKED.

The song treatments blew no one away, including the hardcore fans. Ollabelle’s slow-paced “Uncle John’s Band” didn’t shed any light on this classic; nor did Larry Cambell’s (Dylan’s producer on the Neverending Tour) storytelling version of “Dire Wolf.” The Klezmatics

didn’t klezmerize the crowd with their Balkan Cumberland Blues – a shame since they can really get a crowd going, at least. I confess to complete lack of interest in Jim Lauderdale, “Black Peter,” Tim O’Reagan, and “Easy Wind” – by that time the crowd had begun to go home. In fact, back in an instrumential interstitial, when the klezmer clarinetist began an interminable noodling jam with some kind of Brazilan string thing nearby, a fellow stair sitter turned to me and said, “This is exactly the kind of shit I hate.”

The evening never seemed to get off the ground – partly due to the painfully inane and ignorant interstitials by WNYC host John Schaefer, who at one point expressed surprise that so many people had attended more than 100 Dead shows! Wow – who’d a thunk that. Only someone who had paid attention to the culture – and not even the GD culture. Paying attention to even the parodies of GD culture should have taught him that.

I was not a part of GD culture. Words similar to my fellow stair-sitter’s have passed my lips in more sour moods, tho’ I’ll admit to humming along to “Uncle John’s Band” on occasion. No more at the risk of marital and friend disharmony.

What I REALLY liked were Catherine Russell (daughter of Louis Armstrong’s music director -shouldn’t she have known better?)

and the Holmes Brothers.

The Holmes Bros have always been pretty great. Catherine Russell was excellent and clearly having fun with a soulful R&B kind of take on the GD.

Jon seemed to feel the same way. Ck out his NY Times review (thanks Ofer!)

Seems that Pareles carefully offers few, if any, judgments of quality here, but lots of workmanlike (ahem) solid musical observation.

I’m guessing he’s not a fan. Somehow a lack of enthusiasm wafts up from under the prose – see his note on the Klezmatics transplantion of their Dead tune to Eastern Europe: “where it could take on a hora interlude.” – successfully? Insightfully? Delightfully?

From the Pareles review:
“There was no discernible Dead content but plenty of sinuous melody in a long, modal, Greek-flavored improvisation allegedly based on ‘Uncle John’s Band.’ The banjo virtuoso Tony Trischka turned up with a Jerry Garcia rarity: a minor-key banjo tune, ‘Jerry’s Breakdown,’ from 1964.

Mr. Campbell on guitar and Rob Barraco on vocals (who have been in the band led by the Dead’s bassist, Phil Lesh) carried ‘Dire Wolf’ back toward ragtime picking.”

Hmm. A bit too much Botox in his prose for my taste. Smooth and flat as a starlet’s forehead.

Methinks we think alike, ol’ Jon and I.

Currently listening :
Eligible Bachelors
By Monochrome Set
Release date: By 27 May, 2004

1:54 PM – 5 Comments – 6 Kudos – Add CommentEditRemove


I have to agree that it was lackluster overall — enough so to prevent this (bald but not big) head from turning up again the next night for AMERICAN BEAUTY.

However, you have to give kudos to Railroad Earth, who did an admirable version of “Casey Jones” despite the awful sound. Of course, the Earth is used to covering the GD; they’ve played “Fire on the Mountain,” “Mississippi Half-Step,” “The Wheel,” and “When I Paint My Masterpiece” (a Dylan song the Dead covered often), among others.

Posted by twi-ny on Monday, January 22, 2007 at 5:58 PM
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You know of my deep hatred of the Grateful Dead genre, but it was well worth reading your post for the fabulous: “The Klezmatics didn’t Klezmerize the crowd.” !!!!!! Outstanding. Another triumph!

Posted by QueensGirl on Monday, January 22, 2007 at 6:04 PM
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the only time GD made any sense to me I was making no sense to anyone else, and it wasn’t cuz of Botox. Prose like a starlet’s forehead is a riot! I’m all for living with the dents in the door. Great Dead Heads!

Posted by neil on Monday, January 22, 2007 at 7:41 PM
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Delicious Wolf

A few Dead songs have a sentimental place in my heart… they make me nostalgic for simpler… more psychadelic times.  But I never could understand the whole tribute/celebration band phenomena… be it for the Dead or Pink Floyd or Motley Crue.

Posted by Delicious Wolf on Monday, January 22, 2007 at 8:10 PM
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Michael Mayham and the Mike

Ha! My favorite part is the intro to this review!!!  The heads! 🙂 Brilliant segueway into the actual review……just like a good Dead show itself!

Ok, here’s my two cents…..

I know there’s alot of this doing-gigs-of-classic-albums…..I think it was Phish (a band I’m not that conversant with) who started it off by doing the entire White Album on Halloween in the mid 90’s at some point, and -I’m not against it, I wouldn’t mind doing it myself, but- now it seems every week here in the city someone’s performing some classic album in its entirety!

Which brings us to “American Beauty”, “Workingman’s Dead” and The Grateful Dead in general.  Most Deadheads…and virtually all NON-Deadheads….will agree that making great albums was never Jerry and Company’s strong suit. So perforiming any of their albums in their entirety….to me, it doesn’t have the same kick as doing, say….a night of, say, Sgt. Pepper.  Though these two albums are generally considered their “greatest” albums (I would very much disagree), I don’t feel that they’re as potent as many other albums that were being made at the same time.  The SONGS are great…..but I prefer virtually all of them performed live, as opposed to the studio versions. So it sounds like it would have been better to have done just a night of Dead music, spanning their entire career,  and played by a bunch of different people…and not limit it to these two albums…which are pretty much strictly the “country Dead” sound. Alot of great Dead songs that only came out on Europe ’72 were written at the same time, and on Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir solo albums as well….it might have been better to have done this whole era of Dead…and limit it to country/blues/roots-rock’n’roll acts.  I wonder if all these acts loved the Dead so much, or if it was just a gig.

And John Schaeffer….love that guy but, just as you said….his cluelessness is a bit shocking! I wonder if the entire affair was plotted by non-Heads!

I’m going to be appearing next week, performing Beck’s “Odelay” album and Dylan’s “Blonde On Blonde” in their entirety at Arlene’s Grocery. (just kidding!)

Posted by Michael Mayham and the Mike on Saturday, January 27, 2007 at 2:23 PM
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