EmptyThe Grateful Dead have a long and illustrious history at New York's Madison Square Garden, and its surviving members more than lived up to it Saturday night. Performing as the Dead, with original members Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart joined by guitarist Warren Haynes and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, the band resurrected the spirit of Jerry Garcia in a nearly four-hour (including intermission) show loaded with 1960s classics.
Although reports about the tour's earlier shows have been decidedly mixed, there's bound to be little controversy about this night, which sent the sold-out crowd into a (mellow) frenzy. From its opener, "Cosmic Charlie," to its encore, "Brokedown Palace," the Dead, touring for the first time in five years, seemed determined to reclaim the throne as king of the jam bands.
Haynes, who with more gray in his hair and hair on his face could be a visual as well as aural doppelganger for Garcia, anchored the proceedings with his supremely assured, blues-inflected guitar work and powerful vocals. The latter were quite helpful as Weir's and Lesh's seemed more than a little shaky, especially with a problematic sound mix that often rendered them unintelligible.
The first set, which included such songs as "Shakedown Street," "Ship of Fools" and the oft-performed "Sugaree," was strong enough. But it was the classic-heavy second set that really cooked. Featuring such numbers as "Other One," "Born Crossed Eyed," "St. Stephen," "The Eleven" and "Unbroken Chain," it roused the crowd into constant sing-alongs and joyous dancing.
Ten shows into the tour, the band members interacted with a confident ease that resulted in truly organic jams that rarely succumbed to self-indulgence. Perhaps the biggest revelation was Chimenti, whose jazzy keyboard solos on such numbers as "Sugaree" and "Ship of Fools" infused them with fresh energy.
The Dead will play the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., on May 9. (partialdiff)