A 2-DVD set and 24-page hardcover book featuring Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann (Grateful Dead), Mike Gordon (Phish), Steve Kimock, Sikiru, and Jen Durkin (Bomb Squad, Deep Banana Blackout). The ultimate jam band! With original material from Robert Hunter along with their own compositions, this experience is unlike any other concert. Sit back, relax and take a magic ride through time and space. Recorded at The Chicago Theatre, Chicago, IL, and The Starland Ballroom, Sayreville, NJ. Book includes photos, lyrics, and artwork.

Back in 1979, Grateful Dead beat-meisters Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann created a soundtrack of exotic percussion and jungle ambiance for Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. The subsequent album, The Apocalypse Now Sessions, was released under the moniker Rhythm Devils.

(In the 80s, the Dead’s second set drum workout was frequently referred to as “Rhythm Devils” before taper lists shortened the mid-set improv to simply “Drums,” followed by “Space” – an improvisational freak-out by the rest of the band.)

Billy and Mickey decided to join forces in the spring of 2006 with a solid band consisting of Mike Gordon of Phish on bass, Steve Kimock on guitar, Sikiru Adepoju on talking drum, and Goapele on vocals – soon to be replaced by Jen Durkin of the band Deep Banana Blackout.

Armed to the teeth with a repertoire of Dead tunes, a few Phish tunes, some classic rock and R&B rave-ups, and most notably, a brand new set of tunes co-written with longtime Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, the supergroup made its official debut at the Gathering of the Vibes on August 19th (with special guests Bob Weir and Donna Jean Godchaux). They toured extensively that fall to receptive crowds. After their appearance at the Vegoose Music Fest on October 29th, there was one lone West Coast appearance on December 1st at a Rex Foundation Benefit show in San Francisco, but no further concerts were announced.

Rhythm Devils – The Concert Experience is a great-looking DVD of performances of selected nights on the tour. The catch is that only the Devils’ “originals” are featured here. In any of the Dead family configurations, the melding of the new with the old has become a key component to the concert experience, so it’s a shame that we’re missing out on the incendiary versions of “The Other One,” “The Wedge,” and other tunes that the band often cranked out in concert. But rather than try and pin these new songs down in a studio setting, why not record them live? Rather than another live CD, why not put visuals to the experience? Oddly familiar cartoons, public domain visuals and computer generated mandala-scapes blend in and out of the live footage. It is all pro-shot and not just a “stage cam” feed.

The music is good. The material is strong with real emphasis on Jen Durkin’s soulful vocals and the three-man percussion assault. Steve Kimock, a guitar deity in his own right, doesn’t get that much to work with here. His playing is solid, but I kept wishing he had more opportunities to soar on his own more. Gordo’s playing is effortless, a fluid and constant bassline that provides the dynamic undercurrent for these tunes. “Comes the Dawn” and “Your House” are fun and bouncy. “Arabian Wind” is a nice and long ethno-ambient piece that touches on some of the same territory as Mickey’s latest Global Drum Project disc. “Fountains of Wood” and “Next Dimension” are solid, groove-driven tunes with some worldly funk and some serious hooks.

The second disc includes some rehearsal footage, interviews, and the usual bonus feature shenanigans. The whole package comes in a nice little colorful hardbound book with lyrics. It will fit nicely on the shelf between your copies of Planet Drum, Deadbase X, and Drumming at the Edge of Magic.

After the Rhythm Devils’ fall tour, Bill Kreutzmann focused his attention on his new “power trio” with Oteil Burbridge and Scott Murawski, while Mickey Hart, Jen, Sikiru and Kimock toured as “The Mickey Hart Band” working out the same Rhythm Devils material. Now that 2009 is bringing a full-blown Dead reunion, the future of any of Mickey and Billy’s solo projects is uncertain, but thankfully this little DVD here is a nice example of some grade-A lightning in a bottle.

the Rhythm Devils page at the Live Music Archive

the Mickey Hart Band page at the Live Music Archive

the Deep Banana Blackout page at the Live Music Archive

Check it out kids. Good luck scoring Dead tickets during the pre-sale and I’ll check you out here next week.