The Grateful Dead is the undisputed original jam band. Phish, led by Jerry Garcia-inspired Trey Anastasio, is the undisputed current champion of the jam-band scene. Boulder-based DeadPhish Orchestra combines the music of these two great bands, creating a new dimension of improvisational rock music that Ark Valley residents can enjoy at 9 p.m. Friday at The Lariat in the band’s Buena Vista debut.
Prior to forming DPO, guitarist Paul Murin and drummer Chris Sheldon played in a band called Phix, a Phish tribute band. We wondered about the pros and cons of playing in a tribute band, and Murin shared his experience: “At the local level, it does give a band a certain advantage because it’s an automatic draw. A venue can book a tribute band, and it’s pretty likely that it’ll bring a decent crowd out. The venue makes money, the band gets paid, everybody’s happy, and it becomes a viable thing.
“But of course, at the same time there’s probably a ceiling to what a tribute band can accomplish ‒ I’m not sure we’ll see DPO headlining Red Rocks like our hometown friends Elephant Revival, for example. But in the process of doing something like 1000 gigs between DPO and Phix over the years, we have all become much better musicians, have gained a ton of onstage experience and have built up an incredible network of friends in the business. That has probably been the biggest plus for me.”
It has to help that the quartet of Colorado musicians is comprised of close friends who have played together for many years. While the idea to merge the music of the two foremost jam bands may seem like a no-brainer, the musical styles are quite different.
Murin elaborated, “The bands are very different rhythmically. The Dead have a lot of loping shuffle grooves with a lot of folk/country/blues influence, and Phish has more tight funk/rock grooves with slap bass and that kind of thing. So it can be hard to make a seamless transition from one to the other at times.
“Also, for me as the guitar player, managing the way my guitar sounds can be a challenge. Sometimes I’ll have to be Trey (Anastasio), Jerry (Garcia) and Bobby (Weir) all in the space of 5 minutes, and each of them plays so differently and has such a different sound that I feel like I’m constantly messing with my sound to keep up.”
Anyone who’s listened to DPO’s music knows that Murin has no problem “keeping up,” but we wondered if the combination of Dead and Phish music might not restrict the musicians’ creative freedom.
Murin thinks not. “We definitely feel like it opens up new possibilities. By combining the two bands, it sort of frees us from having to faithfully sound like either one. So we’ll sometimes take a Phishy approach to a Dead song, or a Deady approach to a Phish song.
“And when we improvise it’s pretty much pure improv, at least when we’re on top of our game. So it does give us some room to be creative with it, which I’m sure is why we still have so much fun with it.”
Murin said he and his bandmates are looking forward to their inaugural Buena Vista gig. “I’m really glad to know there’s a venue in BV! I have been doing gigs around Colorado for longer than I’d care to admit, and this will be the first time I’ve played in BV. I’ve always loved playing in the mountains, and I’ll be psyched to do it right in the heart of one of the most beautiful parts of the state.”
As we wrapped up the interview, Murin expressed his gratitude for being able to follow his musical passions, expressing “how thankful we are that we get to do this, and how much fun it is for us. We are grown adults, and we still get to go to beautiful places and play rock and roll and freaky psychedelic jams while people boogie down. Seriously, who gets to do that?”
They must be doing it well, like how “Daddy made whiskey” in the Dead’s “Brown-Eyed Women.” Otherwise, DPO wouldn’t be traveling around the country and performing at events like Northwest String Summit in July.