How Jerry Got Hip (Again)
It is an old division. “The Dead seemed more like a group of ex-folkies just dabbling in distortion (as their albums eventually bore out),” proto-punk critic Lester Bangs wrote in Creem in 1970. “It seems likely that The Velvet Underground were definitely eclipsing the Dead from the start when it came to a new experimental music,” he declared, delineating an early branching point in how rock would develop after the ‘60s.
Where both Lou Reed’s Velvets and the Dead took Bob Dylan as a primary influence, the Velvets loosened it into drone-punk and the Dead tightened it into dance music. (Both bands also initially called themselves ‘The Warlocks,’ perhaps demonstrating a subliminal genetic connection.) The Velvets spawned punk and, eventually, indie rock. The Dead, meanwhile, rode their wave into the ‘90s and out came the jambands. And when Kurt Cobain and Jerry Garcia died in 1994 and 1995—both, ultimately, victims of heroin addiction and the weight of being icons—their worlds seemed universes apart.
The revival, however, has arrived. Indie stalwarts have included Dead (and Dead-influenced) covers in their sets: Animal Collective (“We Bid You Goodnight”), Yo La Tengo (“Ripple”), Akron/Family (“I Know You Rider,” “Turn on Your Lovelight”), Of Montreal (“Shakedown Street”). Metric’s Emily Haines has sported a Garcia shirt onstage. Will Oldham—of whom Jeffrey Lewis sang, on “Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror,” “if you look at indie rock culture, you really can’t ignore him”—covered “Brokedown Palace” on a 2004 tour EP. In 2005, Eminem associate Proof released the full-length Searching for Jerry Garcia, and even Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco named-checked ol’ Jer last year (“Just Might Be OK”). In June, writing about the influence of the Dead’s business practices in his New York Times column, Princeton economist Paul Krugman concluded, “We are all the Grateful Dead.”
The Dead revival comes hot on the heels of the rise of freak-folk, the generally quiet and disputably named indie subgenre whose primary exponent is Devendra Banhart, a Natalie Portman-dating jet-set folksinger who looks not unlike an emaciated Charles Manson.
“The whole hippie aesthetic has definitely come back into style—beards and headbands,” says Brian Weitz of the sprouting hairstyles on the Brooklyn subway. Known as Geologist, Weitz is one-fourth of Animal Collective, a practically impenetrable electro-psychedelic band whose music buries beautiful Beach Boys-like harmonies amid chaotic self-sabotage, and who somehow incited a major-label bidding war. Steal Your Face logos have also been spotted on their gear.
“To me, there’s never been a band that really sounded like them,” says Weitz, who cites Animal Collective’s predilection for jamming between songs, rarely stopping, as coming from the Dead. “People are starting to realize how radical what they did was, musically and financially: their business structure, their live shows, everything. I think most kids of our generation grew up with the Dead being this institution and this very singular aesthetic, and never really stopped to think about it. I didn’t either, and I’ve been into the Dead since I was 14. I never stopped to think until I was an adult sort of how incredible was that it existed and got as big as it did and reached people the way that it did.”
Of Montreal leader Kevin Barnes, whose neurotic disco-psych is an archetype of modern indie rock, was recently turned onto the narcissistic crash of “Shakedown Street” and promptly covered it at this year’s Langerado Music Festival. “[It’s] sort of a scenster’s defense of his hood,” Barnes says. “It’s an unconventional subject to sing about. It’s a positive song but it has a little swagger to it.”
It was the Los Angeles-based Arthur magazine—early champions of Banhart and Joanna Newsom—that could be said to have launched the revival, however. “The May 14, 1974 ‘Dark Star’ performed in Missoula, Montana sounds like ‘In A Silent Way’ as interpreted by Sonic Youth but nearly every performance of ‘Lazy Lightnin’’ sounds like coke-snorting yuppies getting funky in tie-dyed Izods,” wrote Daniel Chamberlain in a 2004 Arthur article titled “Uncle Skullfucker’s Band.”
Another piece, titled “How to Dig the Grateful Dead,” ran in September 2005, featuring contributions from Geologist, Comets on Fire’s Ethan Miller, Brightback Morning Light’s Nathan Shineywater, and others. Two years later, glossy hipster bible The Fader published a double-covered May/June 2007 issue titled Jerry Garcia: American Beauty including commentary from Banhart, Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox, and The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn. Through the nine full-page photos included, only two featured Garcia’s iconic beard (and nary a gray hair). Likewise, only two included any other members of the Dead.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
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