When the Rhythm Devils come to town Saturday night, expect a one-of-a-kind concert.
"It's all in the moment. I wouldn't want to play anything the same way twice," said Mickey Hart, the Grateful Dead drummer and the driving force behind the Devils.
Joining Hart on the Stranahan Theater stage will be fellow Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann, former Phish member Mike Gordon on bass, Steve Kimock on guitar, Nigerian percussionist Sikiru Adepoju, and vocalist Jen Durkin.
Hart and Kreutzmann provided the dual drum power for the Grateful Dead for nearly three decades, coming to a halt after the jam band lost its legendary leader, guitarist Jerry Garcia, from a heart attack in July, 1995.
His new band, one of many musical projects that Hart spearheads, was founded when Hart and Kreutzmann were co-hosting the Jammies Awards in New York City in January.
"We thought while we were there, Mike Gordon might as well play because he was accepting an award," Hart said in a recent interview from his home in Bethlehem, N.Y. "It was a big gig and a lot of fun. After it was over, I made a few calls and everybody wanted to do it again, but we needed a place to rehearse. We decided to do it at a club, as a gig, and so we rehearsed in front of a lot of people. The people reacted enthusiastically, to say the least."
Kreutzmann, 60, was an original member of the Grateful Dead, which formed in 1965 in San Francisco, and Hart, 56, joined the group in 1967. The duo's polyrhythmic explorations gave the Dead a distinctive and powerful propulsion.
Through his Dead adventures, Hart became enamored with the drums, percussion, and rhythms of different cultures and has studied with many of the top players and drum instructors from throughout the world. His group Planet Drum earned a Grammy Award in 1991 and released an album that stayed atop Billboard's World Music Chart for 26 weeks that year.
"I'm a work in progress and never, ever will know all there is about the rhythmic styles of the world," Hart said. "You could study for 100 years with a stream of researchers and never learn it all. Every culture has a percussive tradition. There is no culture that does not have its own music."
And it's not really about drums, he added. It's about vibrations.
"It's a vibratory world for me and the most important thing going on now in music is the neurology of rhythm - how rhythm affects brainwave functions," Hart said.
Only in the last few years has technology and medical science made it possible for researchers to see how rhythms affect the brain, Hart said. Rhythm and vibrations are found in everything from the Big Bang to the beat of a heart, he said, and he expects to see them used to treat neurological disease and trauma in the near future.
"I've been studying the art of rhythm, and it works. It's mysterious and loose. But science is now trying to crack the code. I compare it to the Human Genome Project," he said. "Rhythms and vibrations can reconnect broken neural pathways and help people start talking, remembering, moving, and coming out of the darkness. You'll be seeing doctors prescribing certain rhythms along with medicines, and insurance companies and HMOs will pay for it. I think it will happen within our lifetimes, maybe within five or 10 years."
In the meantime, Hart continues to explore the art of rhythm as the leader of the Rhythm Devils and his many other musical projects.
Asked how many percussion instruments the Devils bring on tour, he said he has not counted them "but it's massive. You can count on that."
That's because each percussion instrument creates its own sound, he added."The drum set is not like a keyboard, where you've got 88 keys at your fingertips, or a [guitar] fretboard," Hart said. "If you want 80 sounds, you need 80 drums. I'm talking about the archaic world of wood and membranes. There's also the electronic world."
A drum programmer touring with the Devils records and then loops the rhythms each night, creating multiple layers of percussion that are unique to that particular show, Hart said. The programmer also creates electronic samples of Durkin's vocals, building a wall of voices from one singer.
"Jen sounds like a vocal armada with real-time processing. They feed it back to us and we play with it. It's completely experimental and totally improvisatory," Hart said.
The Rhythm Devils will play some of the songs Hart wrote with the Grateful Dead, including "Fire on the Mountain," but the group members feel honored to have Robert Hunter, longtime lyricist for the Dead, writing for them. Hunter has contributed nine new songs to the Rhythm Devils.
"He's the prince of words and we're blessed to have him as a lyricist," Hart said.
As for the Grateful Dead, what are the chances of a reunion with surviving members Hart, Kreutzmann, Bob Weir, and Phil Lesh?
"The way it is now, the dust is settling and time is healing," Hart said. "So our disagreements are becoming possibilities now and we're becoming friends again. And I hope that healing process will continue as long as we're above ground. I don't see why it won't happen someday.
"We all love each other deeply and now we've just got to get the details sorted out. It's petty stuff - 'I like this, I don't like that.' They're kind of falling by the wayside now and I can see the four of us getting onstage someday."
The Rhythm Devils will be in concert at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Tickets are $28.50 and $36 at the box office, 419-381-8851.
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