I was never much of a Grateful Dead fan and never really understood people's obsession with the band. Oh sure, I liked some of their songs and admired their skill as musicians, but there are a lot of bands I can say the same thing about and there have been plenty of others who I've liked a whole lot more. In fact I knew so little about the band, that although I recognized the name I didn't even know what instruments Mickey Hart had played for them until I first heard the Global Drum Project, the all world percussion group he founded.
All of which meant that I knew nothing of the history of The Rhythm Devils and how they evolved as a separate entity within the Grateful Dead. Hart and Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann earned the nickname The Rhythm Devils during their years with the band. During the band's live concerts, portions of the show would be given over to the duo, and any friends who were on hand to assist them, for a percussion set. Which is how they came to the attention of Francis Ford Coppola in the 1970s and were commissioned to compose music for his film Apocalypse Now. The Apocalypse Now Sessions was their first and only release as the Rhythm Devils while The Dead were still active.
In 2006 the Rhythm Devils got back together with some friends to do a series of concerts. Joining Hart and Kreutzmann were Mike Gordon on bass, Steve Kimock on guitars, Sikiru Adepoju on talking drum, and Jen Durkin handling the vocals. Former Dead lyricist Robert Hunter wrote them a handful of new songs, and the group set out on a short tour. Now, three years later, StarCity Recording Company has released a two DVD set, Rhythm Devils: Concert Experience, commemorating that tour. Packaged in a hard covered book featuring illustrations and the lyrics to the songs performed, one DVD is the concert while the second is a behind the scenes documentary with backstage and rehearsal footage.
As I said earlier I've become familiar with Mickey Hart's work with the Global Drum Project and was hoping to hear and see something of similar quality and style on this DVD. However, while there is no denying the overall skill and talent of the instrumentalists, the music was not of the quality that I have come to expect from Hart's other projects. While there were undeniably moments of musical magic during the concert, overall there wasn't much to get excited about. There was far too much of what sounded like directionless jamming where the same patterns are repeated over and over again during a song and nothing is ever developed to the extent it could be.