Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cubensis - Bringing the Dead Back to Life

A few weeks ago a few friends and I fell in for a routine Cubensis show at the Lighthouse Cafe in Hermosa Beach. It was "just another Saturday Night" in a way as we made the familiar drive, found a parking meter, and made our way inside the Lighthouse Cafe.

As we got some seats near the stage, there was a troupe of belly dancing ladies on the stage gyrating rhythmically. My friends and I ordered food and sodas as Cubensis loaded their two drum kits and numerous amps onto the cramped Lighthouse Cafe stage. We saw many familiar faces going back to the era of Grateful Dead tours (with Jerry). That is one of the nice things about going to a Cubensis show - I always run into someone that I never thought I'd see again...

Everything seemed just groovy as Cubensis started their show with a loose, free form jam (and belly dancers in tow). Things started to pick up steam as they played a few first set classics like Bertha and Operator. The bassist Larry Ryan was beginning to feel the groove and as he was rocking back and forth on the wooden stage his amp behind him was also thumping and swaying with the beat.

That Old Familiar Feeling

Midway through the first set, an old familiar feeling swept over me during the Cassidy jam. I was transported back to the magic and wonder of the Grateful Dead live experience - and all the adventures that surrounded the culture of being a Deadhead and going to the Dead shows. I was, in fact, experiencing such fond and forgotten memories spurred on by the swirling Cubensis jam that at the very moment that my friend Al turned to me and shouted "this is making me feel HIGH," I was choking back tears. I should mention that our group of friends have left our drinking and partying days long behind us so I assure you that Cubensis alone gets credit for my emotional retrospection and Al's elated state of mind.

Cubensis - The Best Grateful Dead Cover Band

I've seen a few Grateful Dead cover bands in my day and Cubensis is hands down the best.

Cubensis has been playing Grateful Dead music for over twenty years and I have been seeing them infrequently since my friends first took me to one of their shows at Looney's Tavern in Torrance in 1993. We were avid young Deadheads who just couldn't get enough of Jerry's music and the wait in between Grateful Dead tours seemed like an eternity. Cubensis shows were a godsend for us to go hear the music we loved and spend time with like minded souls. I used to go to "21 and Over" Cubensis shows before I was even 21 and just hang out in the parking lot, talking to other heads and listening to the strains of the music coming from inside the venue. These are great memories.

Through the years, Cubensis has evolved and added a key member to their lineup and now I would say they are absolutely in their prime. If you live in Southern California and like the Grateful Dead then you should rejoice because you can show up and experience Cubensis in person as they take you back in time and evoke the spirit of the Dead.

Five Reasons to Love Cubensis

5. Nate LaPointe

I'm not sure when exactly they picked up Nate LaPointe, but I do know that a few years ago when I moved back down to Southern California from San Francisco, I went to a Cubensis show after a long hiatus and there was a younger guy on stage with them who intrigued me.

I noticed that Nate LaPointe is a great guitarist in his own right but nothing was to prepare me for the laughter and enjoyment that my friend Eric and I would experience when Nate LaPointe would do his Bobby Weir impression. Nate's voice is spot on and he honors Bobby's every signature falsetto yelp and it is extremely fun to hear Nate do so. Nate LaPointe also has been featured on an instructional DVD of how to play Grateful Dead Music.

4. They Play ALL of the Grateful Dead's Music

One night at a Cubensis show as I was listening to their Keyboardist Tom Ryan sing a great rendition of Tons of Steel (he does a great impression of Brent Mydland's voice) and I thought to myself "I love Cubensis for reminding me that this song exists!"

If you are a fan of the late era Grateful Dead then you will appreciate that Cubensis plays a lot of "unheralded" Grateful Dead songs - and plays them well. Cubensis will play the classics for sure but you will always get a revolving lineup of rare gems like Picasso Moon, My Brother Esau, and others. They also play songs from the JGB repertoire which is always a highlight for me.

In fact, in my younger years back in the 1990s when it wasn't so easy to amass tons of Grateful Dead music by sharing digital files, I was introduced to a lot of the Grateful Dead's music at Cubensis concerts before I was able to hear it on those infamous "tapes" that would circulate. The first introduction I had to some songs like Loser and Saint of Circumstance were at Cubensis shows. By the way, if this looks familiar to you then you remember the era that I'm talking about:

[Interesting note: at the very moment I am writing this blog entry, a friend just texted me to tell me that Cubensis played a Terrapin ->Let it Grow -> Terrapin yesterday at the same venue - sound intriguing? It does to me!]

3. Vince Welnick played with Cubensis

I write this blog because I love the Grateful Dead but above all I am a Jerry Garcia fan. Jerry liked playing with Vince. I have heard some disappointing things about the treatment that Vince received from the remaining members of the Dead after Jerry's passing and he was not included in any of the "post Jerry" permutations of the Dead.

Well, Vince played with Cubensis for a little bit and I am glad that I got to see him and meet him before his unfortunate passing. I am glad that Vince was able to be appreciated by Cubensis and their fans and I hope he had a great experience being a part of the Cubensis family before his untimely death.

Vince Welnick, R.I.P.

2. Cubensis is a Cool and Humble Group of Guys

Craig Marshall is the guitarist and de facto leader of Cubensis. He is very kind and approachable to chat with before and after shows. Craig sends out the Cubensis emails and he always responds if you give him a shout back. Cubensis' keyboardist and bassist are brothers (Tom and Larry) who are obviously devoted to delivering quality Dead. The drummers are also nice family guys who play Dead music for the love of Dead music.

A year or so ago, Craig sent out an email announcing the change of Cubensis' name to "High Five." This kind of rubbed me the wrong way but of course he sent out a follow up e-mail a day later to announce that it was an April Fool's Joke. Most rock bands wouldn't joke around with a topic as serious as changing the band name. That is just one example of Cubensis' sense of humor - they don't take themselves too seriously.

On that note, when I point out to Craig that I prefer seeing Cubensis to the current various "post Jerry" Dead projects, he always acts incredulous and sheepishly deflects the compliment. He tells me "you're entitled to think whatever you want."

1. Cubensis Fans

Not only are the guys who play the music nice, but there is a great scene of Deadheads that surrounds Cubensis. Every time I go to a Cubensis concert I remember something I had forgotten about the Grateful Dead experience. Maybe it will be the way that someone is dancing, or maybe it will be a scent in the air that takes me back.

The Cubensis fan base likes to party and dance and have fun. By the time Cubensis was done playing their gig at the Lighthouse Cafe that recent Saturday, they had the venue completely packed full of people all dancing to Sugar Magnolia. When the audience made it clear that Cubensis was not getting away without an encore, Cubensis came back on stage and played Loose Lucy. How cool of a choice is that for an encore?

I like the Cubensis crowd because there are some really fun loving party people who wear what they want and act the way they want to - regardless of what society deems appropriate or acceptable. In Orange County where I live and work it seems like the culture is becoming increasingly superficial, homogenous, and boring. During my daily grind, I feel like I am a long way from the Grateful Dead tours stops at Shoreline and Las Vegas that I remember very fondly. So it is really nice to show up to a Cubensis show and seem some lady wearing a crazy purple high school dance outfit and boogie around for several hours straight.

Cubensis - Even Better Than the Real Thing?

When I convince a Deadhead friend to come with me to a Cubensis concert, they are usually agreeing to go because I speak of the Cubensis experience in the highest terms. I feel like Cubensis is very effective at evoking the true spirit of the Grateful Dead when it was at its peak. I think Cubensis' devotion to the Dead music is unequaled and I think that nothing I have seen since Jerry's death has really "taken me there" like Cubensis does regularly.

I would include in this comparison the current Dead incarnation with Warren Haynes and the various projects like Phil Lesh and Friends, Rat Dog, etc. These projects just don't really "do it" for me (the one exception would be The Other Ones Concert on 2/24/1998 at Shoreline with Steve Kimock - that show was pure magic).

Most people who come with me to see Cubensis for the first time seem doubtful that Cubensis can live up to the hyperbole I used to describe them. However, I've noticed that every person is utterly blown away by Cubensis and they always want to go again to see Cubensis and hear what they'll play next. People will always talk about "the experience of seeing Cubensis" because it is more than just the music.

When it comes down to it - if I want to feel the spirit of Jerry and the Grateful Dead's music, there's only one place I can find it and it is at a Cubensis show.

Summer is coming and Cubensis has a lot of great shows coming up including some outdoor festivals which should be especially fun.Visit their website at cubensis.com to find out when to see them play. I've included a video below for you to see a sample of Cubensis in action.


Anonymous said...

Man I love that cubensis is being recognized for who and what they are. A sincere recreation of the grateful dead experience in its entirety. I love these guys for all they do. I feel at home at their shows!! Head2head was awesome guys. A party definitely went down at dean creek. See you soon boys. Gdf1369@Gmail.com

Anonymous said...

Still the best Dead band in the land!pbheadon@aol.com

Anonymous said...

So great to see these guys get their due. I felt that same sense of "coming home" when I first saw Cubensis over ten years ago. Love and miss them now that I live in the PNW.... Tour anyone?

GDmike said...

Cubensis is literally the best show around for GD nostalgia... when I was at Further last year and sitting through "new song" after "new song" I couldn't help but wish I was at a Cubensis show.