Now that Jerry Garcia has switched bands, gone to join that extended jam session in the sky, it looks like the Dead are just that. But what luck: Just as the Grateful have decided to bow out gracefully (for the fall tour, at least, though once the boys stop cashing those tour checks anything's possible), here come the annual try-outs for replacement bands hoping to fill the shoes of America's favorite pedestrian jam band. H.O.R.D.E.--it supposedly stands for "Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere" (oh, yeah), but it spells tie-dye and weekend hippies and smells like decade-old patchouli oil mixed with sweat and pot.
This year's traveling circus of living memories is a bizarre, eclectic amalgam--the highlights of the 1970s as performed by bands of the 1990s, dead (or Dead) sounds resurrected for a new decade of hemp-lovers and revisionists. What, after all, are the Black Crowes if not a reincarnation of the Faces and the Stones, a band whose albums contain more echoes than actual notes? And who is Ziggy Marley if not a sanitary, safer reincarnation of his revolutionary father? It is indeed the 1970s all over, filtered through the '60s (when, no doubt, audiences found Taj Mahal's blues-funk-folk fusion jam interesting) and watered down for the '90s (where Blues Traveler is an inexplicable hit and John Popper an annoying MTV hero). Even the wonderful Wilco recalls '70s-era Stones, their "Casino Queen" more than harkening back to "Honky Tonk Woman" (not to mention "Casino Boogie"); and there is the obvious, occasional nod toward the country-rock of the Flying Burritos and Gram Parsons.
But what separates Wilco from the other headliners is a love for the pop song--the brilliant short spark of music that does not meander into endless soloing and pointless riffing; Jeff Tweedy's band, born from the ashes of Uncle Tupelo, is a top-notch rock and roll band that embraces Muddy Waters and Hank Williams and the Sonics, so good in concert it makes you grind your teeth. On the other hand, the Black Crowes' Chris Robinson probably endorses the legalization of pot so his audience will be able to freely inhale and convince themselves the Crowes are interesting.
The H.O.R.D.E. Tour with Black Crowes, Blues Traveler, Ziggy Marley, Taj Mahal, G. Love and Special Sauce, Wilco, Morphine, and Mother Hips takes place August 30 at Starplex Amphitheatre.