Shakedown Street channels the Dead at Belly Up Aspen
The Grateful Dead tribute band Shakedown Street has been at it for more than 30 years, meaning the Colorado outfit has been playing the Dead’s songs longer than the original Dead lineup was between 1965 and Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995.
Over the decades since it was formed in 1987 during barroom jam sessions in Manitou Springs, Shakedown has become a Colorado institution and one of the best regarded Dead tribute bands anywhere.
But you can teach an old Dead cover band new tricks.
Over the past decade years, Shakedown has made a habit of playing the Dead’s enormously popular triple-disc live album “Europe ’72” at Belly Up and elsewhere. More recently, they’ve been picking out specific shows from that vaunted tour and recreating the sets. Last year in Aspen they replicated the Dead’s concert at Tivoli Theater in Copenhagen on April 14, 1972.
“We’ve played the album so many times, so we wanted to change it up,” Shakedown keyboardist Joe Weisiger said during one of the band’s frequent stops at Belly Up, where Shakedown Street returns on Saturday night.
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The members of Shakedown Street all have soundboard recordings from the whole tour and study the intricacies of them as they’re preparing their own sets. Songs evolve through repeat performances, of course. So, for instance, solos on “You Win Again” in Copenhagen were completely different from those captured on the “Europe ’72” recording. It’s a new challenge for Shakedown, which in years past has been known to take audience requests and been less strict about its set lists. Musical mimicry is less important to Weisiger and his cohort than capturing the Dead’s spirit of improvisation and discovery in performances that can transport the Deadhead faithful back to iconic concerts of decades yore.
“We try to set up like they did at the time, we use the same equipment they used at the time and we all chat about it a lot,” Weisiger said. “But it’s impossible to play a show exactly like they did. I don’t even think they could do it themselves. But we try to be in the same mindset they were in at the time on those songs.”
Weisiger got into the Dead as a teenager and started going to shows and collecting tapes in 1991. He made it to 30 Dead shows before Jerry Garcia died four years later.
“A lot of people say that’s not very many, and some say it’s a lot,” he said with a laugh. “I guess it depends on where you come from.”
He joined Shakedown Street in 2005. The band has had a rotating cast of players through its three-decade history, but has had the same personnel for the past seven years. Rhythm guitarist Scott Swartz played with the band for five years in the mid-1990s, left, and returned in 2010.
Both Weisiger and Swartz attended the 50th anniversary “Fare Thee Well” Dead shows at Soldier Field in 2015. Those concerts didn’t turn out to be a true farewell, Dead and Company soon went back on the road. But they did capture the nation’s attention while invigorating and expanding the Dead fan base.
“The 50th anniversary changed things up a little bit, it gave it all a fresh start again,” Weisiger said. “More people are coming out and I attribute it to the anniversary and how it went a little mainstream. … The crowds are younger, which is surprising because the Grateful Dead hasn’t really been around since 1995.”
[This is an updated version of a story that ran previously in the Aspen Times.]
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