Fare Thee Well

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - INDULGE - San­joy Narayan

IT WAS near about the end of the 1990s. I was at home play­ing Dead­i­cated, a Grate­ful Dead trib­ute al­bum, which was then al­ready eight or nine years old and had var­i­ous artists cov­er­ing the Dead’s songs. Suzanne Vega had two – China Doll and Cas­sidy; the late War­ren Zevon did Casey Jones; Dr. John had his ver­sion of Deal; there was Los Lobos do­ing Bertha; Elvis Costello on Ship of Fools; Jane’s Ad­dic­tion with a su­per ver­sion of Rip­ple; and many oth­ers. Any­way, the story is that while that al­bum was spin­ning and the Indigo Girls, a folk-rock­ing duo, were singing their ver­sion of Un­cle John’s Band, some­one ca­su­ally re­marked: “What a great ver­sion!” It led to a small war.

Present among my guests was a diehard Dead­head. The sort that lis­tens to 25 dif­fer­ent record­ings of Dark Star on a loop; the sort that re­mem­bers ev­ery time Bob Weir’s gui­tar was out of tune; the sort that will sit you down and launch into an in­tense mono­logue com­par­ing the keyboard licks of the Dead’s var­i­ous key­boardists – from Con­stan­ten to God­chaux to Myd­land to Wel­nick to Hornsby. To him, some­one sug­gest­ing even in­nocu­ously that the Indigo Girls did a good job of a Dead song was akin to blas­phemy. If I re­mem­ber right, ev­ery­one was on dif­fer­ent lev­els of el­e­va­tion that evening and in such sit­u­a­tions things of­ten rapidly take un­ex­pected turns. So be­fore it de­gen­er­ated into an out­break of fisticuffs, we man­aged to pla­cate both him and his pro­voker.

I re­mem­bered that nar­rowly averted brawl last month when an­other Dead trib­ute al­bum dropped. The Day of the

Last month, a new Grate­ful Dead trib­ute al­bum dropped – a 5-CD, 59 songs col­lec­tion by mu­si­cians across panoply of gen­res. And it’s epic!

Dead is epic: a 5-CD set with 59 songs per­formed by con­tem­po­rary artists. Pro­duced by The Na­tional’s Aaron and Bryce Dess­ner and Josh Kauf­man, the al­bum has Dead songs cov­ered by mu­si­cians across panoply of gen­res. When I say panoply, I’m not ex­ag­ger­at­ing. Check out Bri­tish art pop’s Anohni sing Black Peter; or hear Aus­tralia’s Court­ney Barnett as she turns in a stel­lar ver­sion of New Speed­way Boo­gie; or Niger’s ram­bunc­tious desert band Tal Na­tional whip out their ver­sion of Eyes of the World; or Bon­nie “Prince” Billy’s ren­di­tion of Ru­bin and Cherise. I could go on be­cause I can’t think of any of the 59 songs on Day of the Dead that didn’t hit the spot for me.

And here’s the thing. A hard­core Dead­head friend called up to un­grudg­ingly tell me how he loved Matt Beninger’s (The Na­tional’s singer) cover of Morn­ing Dew. And how Barnett’s New Speed­way Boo­gie blew him away. An­other pal, Dead­head of course, said he’d put the al­bum on con­stant re­play – all 325 min­utes of it – and that he sim­ply adored it. Com­ing less than a year af­ter the Grate­ful Dead cel­e­brated its 50th an­niver­sary with five sold-out con­certs, the Day of the Dead is a project that no Dead­head can af­ford to miss. And for those who may have (in­cred­i­bly) missed out on the Dead but are fans of in­die bands across a swathe of gen­res, this could be the al­bum that fi­nally in­tro­duces them to the mu­sic of the Grate­ful Dead. Not an in­die band fan? You dig jazz? Then check out Vi­jay Iyer, the jazz pi­anist and com­poser do a ver­sion of King Solomon’s Mar­bles on the al­bum. But if you ask me for my favourite tracks on the Day of the Dead, the list would have to in­clude (be­sides Barnett’s and all the tracks by The Na­tional – they’ve done three), the Cana­dian hard­core punk band, Fucked Up’s ver­sion of Cream Puff War (how they tear it up on that one!); it would also have Min­nesota noise band Mar­i­juana Death­squads’ ex­per­i­men­tal ver­sion of the Dead an­them, Truckin; and, not to for­get, The Flam­ing Lips’ ver­sion of Dark Star.

The Day of the Dead is an al­bum that most fans of the band should warm up to not only be­cause the tracks are great but also be­cause fi­nally in­die bands and artists are tak­ing note of the Grate­ful Dead. As mu­sic web­site Pitch­fork re­cently wrote: “Af­ter years of ig­no­rance or clos­eted fan­dom, it seems that, as the Flam­ing Lips long ago proph­e­sied, fi­nally the punks are drop­ping acid.” That is prob­a­bly a ref­er­ence to the Flam­ing Lips’ com­pi­la­tion al­bum from 2002, Fi­nally the Punk Rock­ers Are Tak­ing Acid. Just in­ci­den­tally, that too was a great al­bum.

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Pho­tos: GETTY IMAGES

HELP ON THE WAY

The Grate­ful Dead cel­e­brated its 50th an­niver­sary a year ago with five sold-out con­certs. But if you’ve missed out on the Dead, then Day of the Dead could be the al­bum that fi­nally in­tro­duces you to their mu­sic

FRIENDS OF THE DEVILS Pro­duced by The Na­tional’s Aaron Dess­ner (be­low, left) among oth­ers, the Day of the Dead com­pi­la­tion has Bri­tish art pop’s Anohni (cen­tre) singing Black Peter and a stel­lar ver­sion of New Speed­way Boo­gie by Aus­tralian Court­ney Barnett (right)

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