Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
Like the first hints of color on an autumn tree, the beard of Jerry Garcia is flecked with gray. Garcia has become, over the years, the patriarchal figure of the Grateful Dead and ageless symbol of the counter-culture movement that flowered in the 1960s in San Francisco. Thursday night at the Capital Centre, an American flag emblazoned with a peace sign was the lone reminder of that age.
If rock groups have their seasons, then the Grateful Dead are in their autumn years. After the first blast of spring in the mid-60s, when they would play for free in Golden Gate Park, to the red-hot summer years of the early '70s when the group reached its musical peak, the Grateful Dead have now settled in for the fall.
The show, before a near sell-out crowd, lacked the spark of their old days.Many of the songs had similar tempos and rhythms which glided along with a monotonous similarity. Their intriguing blend of rock, blues and country motifs has become belabored and repetitive, and the musicians rarely seemed to be interested in what they were playing. After each song they would, inexplicably, huddle around the drums or idly light cigarettes and chat, seemingly oblivious to the ravenous fans.
Their extended improvisations, for which they were once justifiably famous, have become lifeless and dull, with Garcia's guitar taking the bulk of the solos. Therewas little interplay between the other instruments and, while Garcia is still an inventive and imaginative musician, these qualities seemed dissipated by overuse.
When the group did get on track, the music sizzled. Their old anthem, "Dancin' in the Streets," featured an almost disco-ish soul beat, out of which Garcia's electronically altered guitar danced with a funky glee.
The Grateful Dead are warm and fat with their success. Perhaps, a trifle too warm and fat. Fall is for some a glorious time. But at least for the moment, the Grateful Dead appear to be approaching a cold winter.