Real True Confessions With Padre Pienbique

While cooling my heels in Japan (actually, sweating in a natural hot springs) I received an email from fellow Wuster Jason Fladager. He teamed up with some members of Minneapolis Dead band The Jones Gang to start a- you guessed it- Dead band to play weekly at the Suburban World Theater in uptown. The bass player they were using came across something too good to pass up and Jason wanted to know if I would care to play the bass.

Of course I accepted. But for one second, I want you to see this moment through my eyes: I look up from the email on the iPhone and see thousands of cherry trees blooming, and beyond that, crowning the horizon, Mt Fuji; the volcano that has captured the Japanese’ attention for 10,000 years and also heats the very water in my hot tub. Beyond that- far past where my ocular vision takes in visual data, I see Jason and myself playing Help->Slip->Etc, a little bit sweaty, but the fingers are moving fast. I look out into the audience, and the couple dozen people that are there are having a ball. I think “Fuck it…” and hit the distortion/octave pedal on my effects unit and start shredding with abandon because this is all in the name of fun.

Fast forward to rehearsal last Monday- In the room are folks that have played in several bands. We’re playing through (fill in the blank____) and I begin to see the pattern that repeats itself over and over and over in every city, every scene: Everybody here has played hundreds of shows. Everybody here is well respected in the music scene, save myself. Everybody has sat in with each other’s bands more than once. Everybody here knows almost all the material because we all know an ass load of Grateful Dead tunes.

I thought back to my vision from the hot springs in Japan. The majority of “jambands” from the Golden Era have called it quits. By “Golden Era,” I mean bands that were constantly referred to as a “Jamband” by interviewers before the term was accepted by musicians as a legit tag for their music. (If possible, go search for an article on your favorite jamband circa 1998. See if the subject of the interview balks when asked about being in a jamband.

I’ve talked this over with at least 101 musicians and we all agreed that we used to try and differentiate ourselves from the next guy by rejecting “jamband” as a category. Remember: The other guys are a jamband; We’re a sublime, yet tasteful mix of folk, bluegrass, country, rock, with the improvisational ethic of Miles Davis. Speaking of, Miles didn’t care for the term “Jazz.” He thought it to be an Uncle Tom word and wanted nothing to do with it. Now jazz is thought of as an authentic American treasure, and he’s still at the center of it.

Some of the other bands mutated into something else, and few of the originals are standing firm. Even though the Big Wu will play another show sometime in the future, it’s not a stretch to say we had our day… albeit several days ago.

And yes, some are coming back after… ummmm…. resolving issues: Phish is better than ever, SCI is at least calling themselves SCI again, The Dead/Other Ones/And Friends gets a pass to do whatever they want with the genre they created.

Which brings me back to my original point: When there’s nothing else going on, when a musician needs something to do, they can always count on that Grateful Dead band to bring everything back in balance. It’s the Sun that all the other planets gravitate around, and frankly, nothing really escapes its gravitational pull. Not even sarcasm.

If you’re walking around on a fine Summer evening soon, and you hear that there may be something going on for those in the know, go ahead and check it out. After all, the classics don’t get old, they get played…

Cheer and Amen!