Am I a Shred Head now? Is that what we’re called? Regardless of monikers, good ol’ Grateful Shred music has been steadily growing a following since they first got together in 2016. You might assume this is just another Grateful Dead cover band. But you’d be *dead* wrong.
The music of the Grateful Dead is having a renaissance at the moment. You don’t have to be a Deadhead or a music writer to notice, it’s everywhere— four original band members still tour regularly, though not all together. Martin Scorsese just made a documentary about the band and their history. These days it’s not uncommon to see a celebrity pictured in a stealie on Page 6. Tie dyes and GD apparel, that used to be made in someone’s basement and sold on lot, now fill the shelves of Walmart and Target. For several hundred dollars more you can purchase similar styles at Barney’s and Free People. For better or worse, the Dead has gone from counter-culture to popular-culture. I suspect there are more GD cover bands now than ever before. Every town or city has one, with varying degrees of talent. In a scene that has (IMHO) become over-saturated, it can be difficult to stand out, let alone sound authentic. But Grateful Shred does just that. How?
This past week the band returned to Brooklyn Bowl for a 3-night run, their 3rd visit to the Bowl since July 2018. Regretfully, I was only able to attend on night 3. But that Saturday night performance sent hips and feet in motion, a flurry of arms in the air and, looking around, the room was wall to wall with wide eyes and big smiles on every face.
Back to the “how?”. I made a list. There’s the tangible, the talent of these musicians is there, easily recognizable even if you’re not into the Dead. Shred and their core members— guitarists and vocalists Austin McCutchen, Clay Finch and Sam Blasucci, and Dan Horne on bass— possess an uncanny ability to sound like the band they emulate, in both their playing and singing styles.
The intangibles — vibe, heart and energy. I don’t know the guys personally, but one can’t help but feel they really enjoy each other’s company on stage (and probably off stage as well). They’re tuned in, comfortable, cracking jokes and tossing the lead back and forth effortlessly. They play with confidence but don’t take themselves too seriously, in a good way. It comes naturally. These are things that you can’t just pick up, it’s more than reading notes and learning the lyrics. At the risk of sounding like a cheerleader, they’ve got spirit. (Yes, they do!)
Right after the jam peaked in Truckin’, the audience erupted with cheers and whistles. I happened to be watching Clay in that moment. I was close enough to see the big grin spread across his face as he began singing again. They are having just as much fun as we are. That makes all the difference.
Fans at the Brooklyn shows got an additional treat, Adam MacDougall on keys. While MacDougall isn’t a regular member of Shred, Adam and Dan are band mates in Circles Around The Sun. Full disclosure, I am a huge Adam MacDougall fan– from The Black Crowes to the The CRB and, most recently, CATS. With Dan on bass and “The Wizard” on keys, Grateful Shred captured some of the sound and magic of CATS. One quick glance from Clay or Austin in MacDougall’s direction was his cue to take the lead. And lead he did, straight into another dimension, a different time and universe. Truly delightful.
For those who missed the Brooklyn shows, or just want more Shred, the guys are pretty active on Instagram and update their YouTube page with videos from shows regularly.
Sam and Clay will perform in Brooklyn again next Wednesday in their Mapache duo, opening for Allah Las. Don’t expect them to play you any Dead tunes. Instead you’ll hear music of their own creation— with acoustic guitars and perfectly harmonized voices, Mapache delivers soulful, psychedelic, folk songs that might make your heart ache a little. I would encourage anyone who’s in the area to buy a ticket and arrive early, they are not to be missed.