Rhythm Devils Show Review
Inside Bay Area reviewed what looks like was a stellar show:
Grateful Dead members resurrect Rhythm Devils for charity
By Jim Harrington, STAFF WRITER
Inside Bay Area
THE MEMBERS of the Grateful Dead were known for taking long, strange trips. Even by the standards of those legendary psychedelic pioneers, however, the journey that brought the Rhythm Devils to San Francisco's Warfield Theatre on Friday night was extraordinarily lengthy and bizarre.
The band's origins stretch back to the'70s, when director Francis Ford Coppola was looking for inspiration for the soundtrack to 1979's "Apocalypse Now." He found it at a Dead concert and later asked three band members — percussionists Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann and bassist Phil Lesh — to go into the studio to record musical accompaniment for the film.
Some of that music made the actual film soundtrack, but the lion's share was released on a separate album credited to the Rhythm Devils (reissued by Rykodisc as "The Apocalypse Now Sessions" in 1991).
On a lark, Kreutzmann and Hart resurrected the Rhythm Devils name to play what appeared to be a one-off ensemble gig with former Phish bassist Mike Gordon and Zero guitarist Steve Kimock at the 2006 Jammy Awards.
The four players had so much fun at the Jammys (the jam-band equivalent to the Grammy Awards) that they decided to invite some more friends onboard (including vocalist Jen Durkin) and take the show on the road.
That brings us to Friday, when this version of the Rhythm Devils finally made its Bay Area live debut. The concert was a benefit for the Rex Foundation, the Dead's charitable arm that has donated more than $750,000 to worthy organizations during the past five years.
Hart's Planet Drum ensemble, which also features Indian tabla phenom Zakir Hussain, Puerto Rican conga guru Giovanni Hidalgo and Nigerian drum master Sikiru Adepoju, opened the show.
One has to like percussion — really, really like percussion — to dig Planet Drum. Most fans seemed to enjoy the set, yet nobody seemed disappointed that it was shorter than what one gets when Planet Drum headlines a show.
There's always a major jolt of excitement that courses through the crowd whenever some Dead vets take the stage — especially at a place like the Warfield, a venue that played such an important part in the band's history. That was certainly true Friday as Hart and Kreutzmann climbed behind their kits, and the Rhythm Devils opened their two-set show with a superb take on the Janis Joplin classic "Piece of My Heart."
Durkin, a 12-year veteran of the jam-band scene best known for her time with Deep Banana Blackout, sang lead on most of the tunes and did her best work with the bluesy selections like "Piece of My Heart."
Gordon also did a fine job at the mic, especially during the band's funky take on the Dead's rambling country cut "Cumberland Blues," and it was too bad that his vocals weren't used to a greater extent.
The bassist was a terrific match for his percussion pals and seemed to push Kreutzmann and Hart in ways that were clearly reminiscent of Lesh's best years with the Dead. Kimock managed to sound somewhat like Jerry Garcia's double without really taking over a song in true Jerry-like fashion.
The ensemble kept growing throughout the night, to the point where the entire Planet Drum group was onstage and pounding through such Dead classics as "Scarlet Begonias" and "Fire on the Mountain."
Bob Weir even showed up and joined his fellow Dead mates for solid takes on his old band's "New Speedway Boogie" and "The Other One." Weir was in fine voice, but his greatest contribution was his rhythm guitar work — which seemed to serve as the missing link between Gordon and Kimock.
For those who missed the concert, the good news is that the Rhythm Devils show no sign of slowing down. Dead lyricist Robert Hunter has written a bunch of new tunes for the band and rumors swirl that a 2007 tour is in the works.
In other words, the trip should grow even longer, and possibly stranger, for the Rhythm Devils.
Write music critic Jim Harrington at firstname.lastname@example.org
Read Harrington's blog at http://www.insidebayarea.com/music
Photo by Josh Baron