Rhythm Devils Concert Experience
First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2008, Volume 15, #8
Written by John Metzger
Mon August 4, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
In the 13 years that have passed since guitarist Jerry Garcia died, the former members of the Grateful Dead have made several attempts to reclaim their once mighty magic. Initially, they referred to themselves as The Other Ones, and then, they toured simply as The Dead. None of these outfits, however, managed to last long enough to congeal into a single-minded entity. Instead, they seemed as if they were composed of separate subgroups, each of which had its own specialized agenda and thus was operating independently within the framework of the larger ensemble. In this regard, Rhythm Devils Concert Experience provides insight into Mickey Hartís perspective on the matter.
In 2006, Hart assembled Rhythm Devils, an outfit that consisted of drummer Bill Kreutzmann, bass player Mike Gordon, guitarist Steve Kimock, vocalist Jen Durkin, and talking drum player Sikiru Adepoju. Between the personnel that were chosen to participate in the project as well as the specific roles into which each of the musicians was placed, itís impossible not to view the group as a fulfillment of Hartís vision regarding what a Garcia-free rendition of the Grateful Dead should be. Although the collective didnít stay together beyond its fall tour, it did serve as the precursor for the Mickey Hart Band, the percussionistís latest ensemble.
It might seem strange that Hart has taken a more Westernized approach to his concerts of late, especially since he continues to create mind-bending rhythmic forays in the studio, such as last yearís Global Drum Project. On his 1996 set Mystery Box, Hart had demonstrated an interest in merging pop and R&B influences into his work, but the vocal arrangements that he had concocted for the outing were designed to feed directly into the materialís rhythmic drive. This isnít at all the case with the Rhythm Devilsí output. Throughout Rhythm Devils Concert Experience, Hart and his collaborators frequently are constrained by the more traditional song structures. Why he chose this particular route to follow very well may have had everything to do with its potential at the box office.
It isnít that Hartís approach to the Rhythm Devils is completely misguided. Itís just that the results of his pursuits are seriously flawed. In effect, the material on Rhythm Devils Concert Experience undoubtedly works better in concert than it does under the microscopic scrutiny of a home environment. Its presentation on video in 5.1 surround sound is meant to temper the collectionís downside, and to some degree, it does succeed in achieving its goal. From both visual and sonic standpoints, the set is spectacular, and one can witness the give-and-take between the band and its audience, even if it isnít always easy to feel the connection.
One of the biggest issues with Rhythm Devils Concert Experience is that front gal Jen Durkin, who is on loan from Deep Banana Blackout, clearly is out of her league. Her range is limited, and her passive presence isnít terribly charismatic. In fact, at times, she looks like an audience member who has been granted a unique opportunity to perform with the pros.
To be fair, Hart didnít give her much of anything with which to work. Aside from Next Dimension and Your House ó which sound as if they had been modeled after Stingís Love Is the Seventh Wave and the traditional Mardi Gras anthem Iko Iko, respectively ó as well as a cover of Youssou NíDourís 7 Seconds, the songs are lacking solid melodic foundations. Instead, they feel like the between-song jams through which the Grateful Dead stumbled during the 1980s and 1990s as its members pondered the possibilities of what should be the next tune to play. In addition, despite his usual reliability, the lyrics that Robert Hunter penned for the project are not on par with his masterfully grand, poetic pronouncements from the past. In a weird twist, opening number Comes the Dawn as well as the set-closing selection See You Again, which ought to be the strongest tunes on the endeavor, are particularly shallow from every possible perspective.
Nevertheless, there are some striking moments that emerge here and there throughout Rhythm Devils Concert Experience. Taken in full, these provide an indication that perhaps Hartís collective could have developed into something greater, if it had been allowed time to make a few adjustments and coalesce. Not surprisingly, Gordon oscillates with relative ease between feeding the funky rhythmic undercurrents and injecting melodic ideas into the jams. Likewise, Kimock wisely avoids drawing comparisons between his own contributions and those that Garcia might have made. Often, he favors color and texture over extravagantly lofty solos, and whenever he falls into the slipstream of a groove ó such as on the Talking Heads-inspired Fountains of Wood ó he sounds as if he, at least in part, is conjuring Adrian Belew.
In the end, thereís nothing on Rhythm Devils Concert Experience that is an essential part of the canons of any of the Rhythm Devilsí principal members. If it is approached with little fanfare or expectation, however, the outing can be a whole lot of fun.
Of Further Interest...
Rhythm Devils Concert Experience is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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