The Grateful Dead is two bands: the band when Pigpen is singing and the band when he isn’t. Pigpen sings in a recognizable musical form, the harshness and seediness of which is not fundamental to the Dead. The music behind him and all around him is so tasty (as in “Love Light” where the rhythmic structuring builds in unimaginable waves to melodic insensibility), so rich with quivering energy that Pigpen can almost always be overcome. Pigpen “fits” because the Dead choose to embody a generosity of spirit that won’t tolerate throwing him out. But the band is more magical because unnamable, less definable, without him.
Aoxomoxoa is the work of the magical band. Can you hear this music and not see them before your eyes? The music is so much the reality of their physical and spiritual bodies that seeing them is the wonder of seeing music. Phil Lesh’s intensity and total dispatch driving his bass surpassingly, threading solidly, commandingly, laying line over line over line into the expanding spectrum of physical sounds that they are illuminating. Bob Weir, the rhythm guitarist and sometime vocalist sounds better every night, looks healthy, is pleasing and unpolished enough to charm you, to put out the extra push of directness that makes you feel welcomed. Mickey Hart, the jubilant percussionist and his partner Bill, less rollicking but cheerful — both dynamic, resonant drummers. Tom Constanten, the keyboard man coming into his own with vibrant riffing and subtly chiming embellishments. And out front of these perfectly interweaving, very together people is Jerry Garcia’s luminous guitar stroking.
The singing is mostly Jerry — a dominant and exquisite person emanating serene unconsciousness and tenderness. Trembling, sensual, whimsical tenderness. Jerry is beautiful; not too serious, not too sweet, not too angelic, but not ordinary, not surrendered to a style. Jerry’s voice is emotional and musical in the same-non-verbal way that flesh is tender and loving real. If you can feel, he can reach you. The gentle choir, the dancing mountain harpsichording, the mystical aura of another consciousness — reflections of rain and sand and sitting mellow in warm sunlight smiling. Elemental and celebratory and they don’t need to fool you because they aren’t fooling themselves, they don’t need to. No other music sustains a life style so delicate and loving and lifelike.