Mickey Hart Band
Compound Grill, Phoenix, Ariz. December 6, 2011
Space is the place… It always has been in some form with the Grateful Dead, and it’s where drummer Mickey Hart currently finds inspiration. And that’s space in the literal sense. Hart has been working with NASA and the National Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory to collect light waves beaming in from the far reaches of the galaxy and turn them into sound waves.
“You are listening to the Sun,” Hart announced during his recent performance at the Compound Grill in Phoenix, Ariz. “Next you’ll hear Star Cluster 2278 from deep in the cosmos.” The oscillating rhythms and pulses were not unlike something Hart might have created during the “Space” portion of a Grateful Dead show, but here these sounds served as a jumping off place for inspired jams and new songs slated for an upcoming album.
The show opened with the funky New Orleans vibe of “Aiko Akio” with Hart on vocals (Has anyone else noticed Hart cannot play and sing at the same time?) and Tim Hockenberry adding some heavy trombone licks and punchy keyboard fills.
This was followed by “Let There Be Light,” with Hockenberry sharing vocals with Crystal Monee Hall. The effect was intoxicating as the band found and held a powerful groove. Relatively unknown guitarist Gawain Mathews added some spicy riffs and pointed jabs. One of the older new songs in Hart’s catalog, Mathews had his part nailed. And while he did add some fine guitar throughout the night, his indie-rocker style of playing frequently cut more than flowed with the groove-oriented songs — even those venturing closer to free jazz territory.
Naturally, all the music packed a heavy percussive element utilizing talking drum/djembe player Sikiru Adepoju and drummer Ian “Inx” Herman — along with Hart on his expansive kit. Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools held down the bottom end on bass, though he frequently looked a little lost (it was only his third show with the band), and a couple times was caught running his fingers through his hair while looped bass patterns sufficed.
Whatever the scenario on stage, the crowd of approximately 300 were fully engaged. While Hart was the instigator — the draw the brought people to the venue — it was Hockenberry (who also played keyboards) and Hall that really commanded attention. Hall often held two microphones, alternating for vocal effect as she belted out soulfully-charged lyrics, while Hockenberry never stopped moving and used his trombone in a highly creative manner.
More than anything, the show, which featured a handful of re-imagined Grateful Dead tunes like a bluesy “Brokedown Palace” and funky “Fire on the Mountain” among the new originals, was about energy. Be it from the band, the audience or outer space, there was more than enough bouncing throughout the room that when the band closed out with a rollicking “Not Fade Away,” the audience continued to sing the refrain for several minutes.