It’s really hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since the Grateful Dead closed out their final concert at Soldiers Field. I used to have a pretty good tape of that show and its sentimental value always weighed heavily upon me, especially the double encore of "Black Muddy River" and "Box of Rain."
But, luckily for all of us the music he inspired didn’t stop with his passing. It only got louder and no one was able to clone what they did; the sound or significance. Sure, String Cheese carried part of the bluegrass/jazz torch, Panic had that greasy electric blues sound and Phish seemed to embody the more experimental aspects of the Dead, but nobody could do it in full. And it was too bad.
After all, the Grateful Dead left behind a huge song catalog that meant a great deal to many people. So it was not too surprising when bands did begin appearing in the late 90’s as Grateful Dead tributes. Groups like The Dark Star Orchestra recreated complete Dead shows and down in Athens, Georgia a band called Cosmic Charlie added their own twist on paying tribute to The Dead. They set themselves apart from other Dead cover bands by offering clarity and well thought out song selections. Even their website highlights that fact.
So with that in mind I set out towards Smith’s Olde Bar on Sunday, keeping in mind that it was Jerry’s birthday. I was expecting to hear some great Garcia tunes Charlie did not disappoint.
The 1st set was acoustic with lots of favorites like “Friend of the Devil” and “Beat it on Down the Line” though the highlight for me was “Here Comes Sunshine.” This wasn’t something that the Grateful Dead performed in an acoustic setting too much, if ever, but it really did lend itself to the unplugged setting. This song also gave way to some of the evenings first exploratory playing and the jam after the 1st verse built up steam before breaking down into what I thought would be the next verse, while actually creating a launch pad for a second improvisational buildup. The set ended with a gentle take on “Ripple” and was a great tribute to Garcia, who always shone brightly in the acoustic setting. Before leaving the stage Cosmic Charlie announced that because it was a Sunday they would have to have an earlier night than usual, but on the upside that shortened the set break to just a few minutes.
Set two was quite different from the chilled vibe of the previous set. Things started with a very strong “Help>Slip>Franklin’s Tower” and immediately all of the folks who had been taking it easy sitting at tables and alongside the bar got up for an extended dance during this popular combo. “When I Paint my Masterpiece” came next with vocals by the bass player and a great piano break.
Then, you know, it just wouldn’t be Sunday without a little sermon from “Samson and Delilah.” This song featured some red hot guitar work and broke down into a great “Drums.” Cosmic Charlie’s version of the Rhythm Devils allowed them to set up the next song and walk into the familiar Bo Diddly-style beat of “Not Fade Away.” I thought this was a nice sentiment directed towards the late great Garcia, which they added to by breaking in down into a slow and heartfelt version of “Wharf Rat,” delivered with emotion and clarity. The churchlike organs during the “I’ll get back on my feet someday” lyric sent chills down my spine and the final guitar solo built back up into a reprise of “Not Fade Away.” After a brief break Charlie returned for yet another reprise of “Not Fade Away,” driving home the point that even though he’s gone we will never forget Jerry Garcia.
Cosmic Charlie - Live Review of Atlanta show