Too Late to Stop Now
Day of the Dead
Reviewed by Neph Basedow, Fri., Dec. 16, 2016
Dropped amidst its subject's 50th anniversary, May's 5-CD Day of the Dead yields 59 contemporary takes on classic Grateful Dead. Curated and produced by the National's Aaron and Bryce Dessner, the set benefits the Red Hot organization for AIDS (revisit 1993 alt masterpiece No Alternative). Senegalese fusion outfit Orchestra Baobab, jazz banjoist Béla Fleck, and electronic noise wiz Tim Hecker stir the indie rock dominant roster, the War on Drugs opener "Touch of Grey" merging esteem with novelty while maintaining the single's skeleton and annexing the Philadelphians' own Knopfler-esque quirks. Mumford & Sons, meanwhile, interlope on "Friend of the Devil," stripping it of levity or risk. The National's "Morning Dew" hypnotizes, Matt Berninger's baritone romancing the Bonnie Dobson-penned tune's post-apocalyptic narrative and the Dessners' ethereal guitars replacing the original's folk strum. Stephen Malkmus' Jicks have forever channeled the San Franciscan mystics through jam leanings, and here the Portlanders take creative liberty while evoking the celebrants' spontaneous essence. Real Estate honor "Here Comes Sunshine," funneling the Wake of the Flood tune through their dream jangle filter. Flaming Lips uphold the Dead's psychedelic soul via 1968's "Dark Star," the originators' improvisational springboard. Deadheads don't require this or any other tribute, but connecting with at least a couple of the set's five hours comes easily. Its modern cast, too, may well bridge a generational gap to rouse new converts.