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The Dead at MSG. April 25th, 2009: What a long, strange, long (long) night it’s been; 2008 Best albums

Around the fifteen minute mark of “Shakedown Street” the Dead segued into “He’s Gone” -a song Jerry Garcia used to take lead, and the pastoral, countryfied and unique jam of the past hour defined itself: Weir sang “Nothing left to do but smile, smile , smile…” and he was right.
In the world of jam bands the Dead reign supreme: all the runner ups just aren’t in the same league. Entirely unique, entirely the same as they ever were, the Dead can noodle for 20 minutes and the Deadheads trance out and peace and love reign supreme.
This isn’t the nerd intricacy of Phish or the keyboard centered southern boogie of the Allman Brothers (though Warren Haynes plays guitar -and exceedingly well for both the Dead and ABB) or the, considering the genre, succint Gov’t Mule (does Haynes never go home?): this is a unique, improvised, ambient art form.
Yes, ambient. I was straight but I couldn’t concentrate on them for long patches: in the front of my brain was my thought of the back, in the back was the Dead. I went for a wander round MSG to check on the Deadheads in their natural habit and missed absolutely nothing I could tell.
So what are the Deadheads like: they’re fine, a mix of 60 something fat bliokes in pre-manufactured tye-dyed t-shirts and their children sharing a contact high. Lotsa folks hugging, two men puking all over the place, a sense of common perp for all God’s children. We are stardust, we are golden, indeed.
And yet… the Dead were really good. I guess improvisation saves them from nostalgia, I guess when the songs are this sturdy you can mess all you like with the insides. At MSG the songs were first rate country-rock, the jams not particularly indulgent and always with an internal tick tock your ears can hear. They are a five piece band and my bet is if they get themselves on the road for a serious amount of time (25 dates won’t cut it) the Dead will continue the Grateful Dead’s legacy.
In the second set they played “Uncle Tom’s Band” and I think we all smiled… Next: Branford Marsalis at Jazz Standards.
As a corrective to my most listened songs (and despite my promise to the contrary): the best albums of 2008
1) Conor Oberst (classic and timeless country rock, terrific at Other Music)
2) We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed – Los Campesinos
2) Evil Urges -My Morning Jacket (Southern Rock for the 21st century)
3) The Airing Of Grievances -Titus Andronicus (Best new band of the year
3) Vampire Weekend (new kids on the block)
4) 808s and Heartbreaks -Kanye West (People of good faith may differ: his best yet)
5) Cardinology -Ryan Adams (Blew Oasis off the stage at MSG)
6) Dear Science -TV On the Radio (Soul for the 21st century plus the best song about fucking since prince got religion)
7) Chinese Democracy – Guns N Roses (Worth the wait)
7) The Good Life -Justin Townes Earle (Daddy must be proud -terrific a t Joe’s Pub)
8) Pretty, Odd – Panic At the Disco ( Psychedelic and tuneful ie Beatley. What’s not to like?)
9) Nick Cave -Dig, Lazarus, Dig (the dead will rise again)
9) I know Your Married But I’ve Got Feelings Too -Martha Wainwright (Best legs)
10) Tha Carter III – Lil Wayne (Rapper of the year)
11) Tell Tale Stories -Bob Dylan
12) For Emma, Forever and Ever -Bon Ivers
13) A Guide to Love, Loss and Desperation -The Wombats
14) Solo Acoustic, Vol 2 -Jackson Browne
15) Kids Aflame -Arms
16) Get Awkward -Be Your Own Pet
17) The Virgins
18) Volume One -She and him
19) Circus -Britney Spears
20) Charlotte Sometimes -Waves And the Both Of Us
21)Alejandro Escavedo -Real Animal
23) The Hold Steady -Stay Positive
24) Taylor Swift -Fearless
26) Santogold

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