A group of us were in conversation at the studio recently, talking about various music and bands. The usual. I don’t even remember who or what the topics were exactly. I do remember, though, that my nine-year-old, who was quietly absorbing the talk nearby, piped up when she heard mention of the Grateful Dead. This kid, who’s hung out with countless fresh indie heroes and a fair share of legendary musicians, who has nearly worn down the digital coating on Lou Reed, Talking Heads, Miles Davis and Queen mp3s on her iPod, who can give you details about the smile, the character, the clothing of members of Crystal Antlers, The Antlers, Mother Mother and hundreds of current, touring bands – this kid said, “Mommy, who’s the Grateful Dead?” Her question came as a certain shock, especially since I was a belated deadhead myself. So I decided to revisit some Dead – live from Egypt (the only tracks I had on hand) – while driving across town. It had been a while, but of course I still I knew all the words and I felt like I was right there, even though I never was. The remarkable thing about the Grateful Dead was their success in transcending the confines of descriptive categorization such as ‘blues’, conjuring instead a culture, a vibe you could tap by just thinking of their music.
With the exception of New Blue Stockings, which dresses more like a Doors tune with organ and a cutting, repetitive groove, The Donkeys from San Diego, with their spaghetti-surf folk-rock touched by the blues and occasionally swept into alt-country, who take their time like they’re waiting for a wave, joining in group harmonies and clever narratives, at times doodling on guitar, rambling invitingly – always in it together – evoke the essence of a time, a place and a lifestyle, much like the Grateful Dead but in their own original way. The fat collection of live tracks The Donkeys recorded in the studio unbelievably emit the sunshine of an afternoon outdoor concert. When I listen, my skin softens, it’s warm and bright, there’s no place I have to hurry off to, and perfection is in the moment.
Origins: Black Cat comes from The Donkeys’ self-titled, The Donkeys (Antenna Farm Records, 5/2006). Boot on the Seat, Dolphin Center, Downtown Jenny and Nice Train come from The Donkeys’ Living On The Other Side (Dead Oceans, 9/2008). Be sure to check out Hot Sauce, a fantastic instrumental perhaps previously unrecorded. The band: longtime friends and bandmates Timothy DeNardo, Jessie Gulati, Anthony Lukens and Sam Sprague.
Listen to the Exclusive Live Tracks (option/click to download):