Dead Set is a project that is inspired by the music and the way of making music and the repertoire and the body of music by the Grateful Dead.
For Robert the lasting appeal of The Grateful Dead is the music’s non commerciality.
‘The music is still revolutionary in that they blended so many different styles of music, they are pan-genre even though their roots were rock n roll and country’ says Robert Grayson. ‘They listened to the jazz improvisers and Jon Coltrane and incorporated the culture of jamming and improvisation into the music and when you make music that is different every night and has that edge of interaction of listening there is more juice in it. More life energy left in it then something that is played the same every time.’
Stepping into that as a musician Robert says ‘it’s much more exciting. It pulls something out of you to be responding to human beings without competing or selling. I think when Jesus said when two or more are gathered in my name he meant if you aren’t beating each other up or trying to sell each other stuff magic will happen. Music back then (In Grateful Dead time, not Jesus time) was about building a community and setting a tone where people can stretch out and enjoy and in some cases if people wanted to imbibe substances that enhanced their experience they were in a setting where they were safe.’
The other thing that characterised the Dead was that they were the house band for the LSD Haight Ashbury Acid Tests.
Grayson laughs, ‘We are so ready to play the Ayahuasca nights! Just no vomit on the guitar pedals!’
Grayson may not be performing standup comedy at the moment, but comedy is never far from his lips.
His journey back to music came with his return from the northern rivers to New York four years ago.
‘I went back to New York caring for my dad, I was wondering what fall down and get down buttons to use. At night I started to strum guitar and sing and it became like a medicine to me, and the tunes that really spoke to me were the Dead tunes. I think they have a repertoire as amazing and fantastic as the Beatles but the Beatles can be translated, the Grateful Dead is about community – when you try to explain it its like trying to explain Burning Man.’
Robert did a couple of recording sessions with Aussie musicians who hadn’t heard Grateful Dead and was surprised how easily they put a fresh take on the music.
‘I was surprised how many people were responsive to playing the music and embraced it as strong stuff.
‘I first connected with Rod Coe, whom I knew from the country music industry, then happenstance took me to Azo Bell and Alan Park. Azo was repairing one of my guitars and I said Azo do you know any good guitarists? And he said: I play guitar. And then I reached out to Vasudha as the female backup vocalist and she sings a couple of leads and we found some other songs that really suit her husky voice.’
So what to expect from the Dead Set set?
‘We have worked songs from the Grateful Dead set; a couple of songs we have mashed up and funked up. A couple of songs we have pretty well left as they were and a couple of songs we have stripped back. Within the lyrics of the Grateful Dead there is little co-dependency or blame or bullshit – they are kind of stories and life lessons..’
Robert believes that playing the music of the Dead is the ultimate way to connect and uplift the audience.
‘One of my drum teachers said the consciousness you play the music from goes into the music and it can uplift people.’
Dead Set present music of The Grateful Dead at Coorabell Hall on Saturday night with a support set by Robert’s comedy song crew The Fun Nuggets.
‘Think of as ecstatic dance with a live band doing good songs you have never heard before.’
8pm Saturday at Coorabell Hall.
Tickets $10/15 online at deadsetband.com or at the door. Food by Heart & Halo – bring your dancing shoes.