Let’s state this right up front: the Dead could not have pulled off a Baker’s Dozen. The Phishes’ almost-completed MSG run is a feat, however you feel about their music. 13 shows with no repeated songs, not to mention new covers and weird classic-rock mash-ups and a capella memes. No matter how many dreary articles Newsweek runs about the band, they cannot be accused of plastering on a fake smile and plowing through the same old bullshit like most acts.
Logistically, the Dead were incapable of this. They tried doing residencies in 1980–one in San Francisco and the other in New York–but the shows were tepid. Also, the band became confused playing shows every night without traveling; Bobby kept driving himself to the airport.
In terms of numbers, the Dead technically could have pulled this off. They played 501 songs live. Technically, they could have pulled this off. Realistically, they only knew a hundred songs at a time, and that’s the maximum. The Dead knew a dozen songs in 1969. Maybe 15. In ’74, they couldn’t play the old shit and hadn’t written all the later shit. In ’86, Garcia was in a coma. You see my point.
The Grateful Dead also could not have pulled off a Baker’s Dozen because it’s not a Grateful Dead show if Bobby doesn’t sing a cowboy song, and the band refused to learn more than three of them.
We also must be honest and say that Phish has done multiple times this run what the Dead almost never did, which is turn a non-jam song jammy. We take the Lawn Boy jam. (For the Phishphobic: they have a song entitled “Lawn Boy.” I don’t know why you would call a song that, either.) I have been informed by reputable sources that Lawn Boy was, previous to the other night, jammed once. Lawn Boy has been performed 206 times, and if you do the math (and I did, instead of trying to improve my life) you find that a song played at the equivalent frequency from the Dead’s catalog would be Casey Jones. Did the Dead ever jam Casey Jones? Not really kinda no. On 10/2/77 in Seattle, they got as close as they were gonna get when Garcia forgot the words and started soloing, perhaps out of frustration, but that was not jamming; the band just played the verse a few extra times while Garcia went deedlydeedly for a while. Not a jam.
We even have a one-to-one comparison in The Mighty Quinn. The Dylan tune from the Basement Tapes (?) was made into a hit by the Manfred Mann Man-Band and later played by both Phish and the Grateful Dead. How can we compare the two renditions?
- Phish looked at the trifle of a song and saw potential. A training montage ensued. Phish made Quinn run in the snow, and fight a bear, and learn accounting so Quinn would have something to fall back on. He was then strong, Quinn, and he was powerful, Quinn, and the identical twin hippie chicks at the rail said, “Whoa, Quinn’s the fucking man now, son,” because that Quinn was so rock-hard and yet so very jammy.
- The Grateful Dead sullenly choogled through the tune; everybody cheered at the line about doses; they got in the van back to the hotel.
The ability to pull this stunt off stems from character. Phish are try-hards, and the Dead were lazy. I rest my case.
You were making an argument?
I was making every Deadhead’s favorite argument: the band I love is terrible.
Well done, champ.