Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mickey Hart's Big Bang

Photo by Michael Weintrob
Mickey Hart Band
featuring Tim Hockenberry, Crystal Monee Hall, Vir McCoy, Ian “Inx” Herman, Gawain Mathews, Greg Ellis, and Sikiru Adepoju.
Tractor Tavern, Ballard, WA
December 1, 2011

I didn’t need any convincing to go hear Mickey Hart and his new band play a tiny brick warehouse in Seattle last Thursday night. Only 200 people? To hear this legendary seeker and world traveler, who made 22 albums and performed 2,300 live concerts spanning 30 years with the Grateful Dead? Not surprising, the entire crowd was dancing and cheering from the first note on. There’s always a magical “je nais se quoi” around the music and members of the Grateful Dead.

In an article I read recently, Mickey explains his theology. I think it explains his reason for being, and his special passion for music:

“Speaking as Mickey Hart, Rhythmist, it's about the rhythm of things. Everything is interlocked. The world is rhythm. Everything in the world has a vibration. Anything that's alive and moves has a vibration. And if it has a vibration, it has a sound. And if it has a sound, there's an effect emotionally that it can have on you, spiritually perhaps. Whether it be through brain-wave function or something that makes you dance, it's all interconnected. Music is just a miniature for what's happening in the universe and deep space, from the beginning of time 13.7 billion years ago.”

Mickey has been digging deep inside his psyche to explore the frontiers of the cosmos for many years. Some of the Dead’s drums/space jams are legendary for his polyrhythmic sound sculptures. Like this one from June 14, 1989:

Grateful Dead Drums/Space June 14,1989

The show last Thursday night featured an amazing electronic drums-synthesizers cockpit, at the core of which Mickey buzzed, tapped, and pounded, all the while intently commandeering the sound. His set took up half the stage; the other half featured three fine--and previously unknown to me--musicians: a lead guitar player, a fabulous male singer (who did The Other One), and a rich soprano who made a few of us cry when she sang a slow, heartfelt Brokedown Palace. In the background hulked a Shrek-like bass player who at some key moments stole the show with his Lesh-like symphonic stylings.

The Other One from the other night

The band gleefully and comfortably stretched out to explore the vibrations of the Universe. Recently Mickey explained how he actually gathers sounds from space:

“I'm working with NASA and scientists like George Smoot, who won the Nobel Prize in 2006 for his discovery of the big bang. Pulsars, galaxies, supernovas, black holes, stars, planets—they all have a vibration. And since space is a vacuum, there's no sound. The only way those vibrations can travel is through light waves. Once we've gathered those with radio telescopes, I take the algorithms and make sound out of it. And that's what this band I'm touring with now is about. The band will be playing these sounds and having a conversation with the universe. You'll be hearing sounds that no human has ever heard before. The sounds that spawned you. These vibrations that are your ancestors.”

OK, heady stuff for sure. And very cool in theory. In practice, I was a bit relieved to find that the sounds were a lot more accessible cerebrally than I thought they would be. In fact, strangely familiar and danceable. Rich and multi-layered, and very interesting. Distant cousins of techno-world-jazz-fusion-rock. It was also interesting how these primordial sounds so easily slipped into recognizable songs, like a seal into water: did Mickey know some of my favorites are Scarlet Begonias, The Other One, and Brokedown Palace? Or do they just have the vibrations that Mickey (and I) resonate with most?