A mixture of fresh creativity and stale covers.
Containing almost five-and- a-half hours of material, Day of the Dead, a massive Grateful Dead tribute album, lives up to its name in a purely temporal sense if nothing else. Organized by Ohio indie rockers The National for the Red Hot Organization, an HIV and AIDS charity, Day of the Dead certainly has an indie and folk-rock bias but, clocking in at a duration that would take up nearly a quarter of a listener’s day, the album promotes two modes of consumption.
A voracious listener may tackle the release from end to end, starting with The War on Drugs’ driving, optimistic take on “Touch of Grey” to The National and Bob Weir’s anti-climactic, drawn-out live version of “I Know You Rider.” Far more listeners, however, will likely give up after a few jams and scour the tracklist for favorite groups that make appearances.
Consequently, Day of the Dead plays like a vastly different album depending on which tracks pique the listener’s interest. A few groups distinguish themselves with radically transformative covers of Grateful Dead classics. Chief among these is noise group Marijuana Deathsquads’ heart-pounding cover of “Truckin’.” When Isaac Gale sing/screams, “Livin’ on reds, vitamin C and cocaine,” the line takes on a wide-eyed, visceral power absent from the song’s original version. Most covers, however, take two approaches to dipping into the Dead’s discography.
Some bands bring their unique sound to the table, and fit in Grateful Dead melodies and riffs where they fit. Such is case for Senegalese powerhouse Orchestra Baobab, who offer up energized, larger-than-life takes on “Franklin’s Tower” and “Clementine Jam.” Far too many groups, however, attempt respectful, but also toothless, approximations of the Grateful Dead’s style to a T. In the end, Day of the Dead contains two albums: one that features a riveting selection of reimagined cuts of the Dead’s songs, and another that sounds like the output of a proficient cover band.