Grateful Shred with very special guest Howlin Rain
1234 West 7th Street
Los Angeles, CA, 90017
Doors 7:30 PM / Show 8:30 PM
This event is all ages
I know what you’re thinking.
Another fucking Grateful Dead cover band? Really?
The thing is, Los Angeles-based Grateful Shred manage to channel that elusive Dead vibe: wide-open guitar tones, effortless three-part vocal harmonies, choogling beats, and yes, plenty of tripped out, Shredded solos. The look, the sound, the atmosphere. It’s uncanny.
“It’s more of a ‘take’ on the Dead than a tribute band,” says bassist Dan Horne. “We end up sounding almost more like the Dead because we approach it in this free-spirited way; in other bands, they’ve got the perfect tones dialed in, they practice the drum parts, they’ve got their ‘Jerry.’ We just play.”
Founded one night in 2016, the band came about almost by accident. Singer/guitarist Austin McCutchen had a residency at The Griffin in Atwater Village; his band was out of town, so he drafted some friends to play a set of Dead covers, and the four founding members (Austin, Sam, Clay, and Dan) have been together ever since. Sam Blasucci and Clay Finch (of country-folk revivalists Mapache) handle vocal and guitar duties, rounded out by bassist Dan Horne (of Cass McCombs, Jonathan Wilson, and the estimable Circles Around The Sun, who provided the incidental music for 2015’s “Fare Thee Well” concerts, the last shows played by the living members of the Dead). Add a rotating cast of drummers (like Richard Gowen of The Growlers) and keyboardists (like Lee Pardini of Dawes and Jerry Borgé of Ziggy Marley), and you’ve got the essential formula.
Jams convene at Liberty Hair Farm in Echo Park, the Shred’s HQ/commune/studio. It’s at the Farm where they live, breathe, and record. Just watch the hallucinatory footage of the band tearing through “St. Stephen” (filmed live in their backyard) or “Shakedown Street” (those harmonies!). Grateful Shred is the sound of 5+ guys who aren’t afraid to learn from the masters, but who know to explore beyond the pale, searching for the sound. “Never the play the same thing once,” as Phil Lesh says.
Far from being a historical re-enactment, Grateful Shred’s laissez faire vibe infuses the band with a gentle spirit, warmth, and (dare we say it) authenticity. From their killer merch game (look for a new line with Dead revisionists Online Ceramics) to their eminently watchable YouTube channel, they’re clearly having a rad time and spreading the love. Strangely enough, in a world overflowing with wax museum nostalgia and Deadly sentimentalism, we need the Shred, now more than ever.
The Shred’s Top Picks
Austin McCutchen (guitar/vocals) Song: “Jack Straw”
Album: Workingman's Dead
Show: Dane County Coliseum 2/3/78
Clay Finch (guitar/vocals) Song: “Ripple”
Album: Anthem of the Sun Show: Veneta, Oregon 8/27/72
Dan Horne (bass)
Song: “China Doll”
Album: From the Mars Hotel
Show: Berkeley, California 9/81 (or any show where the bass is loud)
Sam Blasucci (guitar/vocals) Song: “Pride of Cucamonga” Album: American Beauty
Show: Fillmore East 4/71
Since their debut in 2006, Oakland, California’s Howlin Rain has seen as many highs, lows, and wild adventures as any great American rock band. Led by singer/guitarist/lead howler Ethan Miller (co-founder of blistering psych rockers Comets On Fire), they’ve performed to worldwide audiences, enlisted a megastar producer and label, moved on from said megastar producer and label, and ultimately embraced a DIY spirit.
With their new LP The Alligator Bride, Miller’s merry band of pranksters deliver their fifth full-length set of swampy, ragged, and unapologetic rock ’n roll. “The guiding principle for The Alligator Bride was to create ‘Neal Cassady Rock,’” says Miller. “Which is to say, high energy, good-times adventure music, driving the hippie bus, shirtless and stoned, up for four days straight, and extremely fuzzy around the edges.” It’s their first release on Silver Current Records, the artist-run label owned by Miller, who carefully oversees all curation, recording, graphic design, and distribution.
The Alligator Bride is gleefully indebted to classic rock formations such as the Grateful Dead’s Europe ‘72, Mountain Bus’ 1974 burner Sundance, and Free’s masterpiece of atmospheric, minimalist blues, 1969’s Fire and Water. But there’s a wider context to the Rain. At any given moment, Miller pivots between several projects, each a different facet of his sun-scorched California vision. From the pastoral psych jams of his celebrated Sub Pop band Heron Oblivion, to the scuzz punk freakouts of Feral Ohms, to the sprawling, analog ambience of The Odyssey Cult, to his various books of poetry, Miller cuts a renaissance figure in madman’s garb, howling at the moon and cranking out handmade masterpieces.
Which brings us back to Howlin Rain’s latest. Tracked over three days by Eric “King Riff” Bauer at the Mansion in San Francisco, The Alligator Bride is the sound of a full band playing live to tape, cutting the material in first and second takes. (It also marks the second installment in the band’s Mansion trilogy. First was 2016’s Mansion Songs, a less raucous affair, with the gentle touch of Espers/Heron Oblivion’s Meg Baird on vocals, among other contributors.) Miller attributes the magic to the vibe of the Mansion studio, the same space that gave birth to modern garage-psych classics by Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees, and Mikal Cronin. “Because it has the word ‘mansion’ in it, people are like, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize it wasn’t an actual mansion.’” says Miller. “It’s a basement in Chinatown. It’s a mansion of the mind. It’s a creative castle. It’s not a literal, San Francisco mansion.”
From the first notes of opening track “Rainbow Trout,” Miller’s guitar choogles out an inescapable riff, a sly reference to the sky spirits of Norman Greenbaum and ZZ Top. The riff – that riff! – unabashedly grounds The Alligator Bride in the classics, but reaches for the stars. Daniel Cervantes’ bottleneck slide guitar eases into place along with Miller’s tuneful-yet-ravaged lead vocals, followed by Jeff McElroy’s bass and Justin Smith’s charging drums. Title track “Alligator Bride” soon crashes the gates like Crazy Horse in all their ragged glory, telling a carnivalesque tale of American splendor, a parade of creatures across time and space. And final track “Coming Down” slow-burns its way through eight minutes of indestructible twin guitars, blazing to a heroic, acid-damaged finish.
“We’re in a vortex of futuristic events,” ruminates Miller. “At this present moment, we can still remember the way the train whistle sounded in the middle of the night, rolling through the dark on the outskirts of town. An old America before we walked on the moon, before TV, cell phones, and the internet. The song (and perhaps the entire album) ‘Alligator Bride’ is about standing in the eye of that tornado of time – between the past and the present – in America.” It’s a fitting vision for the band: torn between eras, an epic perspective on what’s come before and what lies ahead, woven into a cosmic tapestry of riffs, rhymes, and resonant frequencies.