Summoner's Tales
Columbus, USBuckeye Lake

Sting & The Dead at Buckeye Lake...

The grand era of the outdoor rock spectacular may be over for good, but the venerable Grateful Dead did its best Friday night to keep the spirit alive in a concert marathon at Buckeye Lake Music Center east of Columbus.

The sold-out show drew more than 70,000 people to this hilly field in rural Licking County, and there were probably 25,000 more ticketless Deadheads camped out in the far-flung parking lots looking for a way to get inside. This was big-time rock in every sense of the word.

The scene recalled those huge rock festivals of the 1960s and '70s, complete with the tie-dye, traffic jams and topless women. It didn't hurt that their opening act, Sting, could probably fill a few stadiums on his own. But this was the Dead's show from start to finish, and they made the most of it musically.

Lead guitarist/vocalist Jerry Garcia, his gray hair blowing in the wind, kicked things off with a little Grateful Dead-style boogie early in the set, leading the band in a couple of newer, up-tempo tunes, including 'Foolish Heart', from the band's 1989 'Built to Last' album.

Garcia was showing no ill effects of his recent bout with exhaustion. In fact, he bounced around the stage like a kid on several occasions and wailed on his guitar solos. Highlights included his slide guitar part on 'The Same Thing' (a slow struttin' Lightning Hopkins blues that was given addled sizzle by guitarist Bob Weir's throaty, on-the-edge vocals) and his rockin'-pneumonia lead on Chuck Berry's 'The Promised Land'.

Garcia also jumped into the role of Jimi Hendrix during the second set, cooking up a mean groove on the solo in Bob Dylan's 'All Along the Watchtower'. The band is known for its Dylan covers, and it delivered the goods on two others Friday night in the form of 'Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues' and 'When I Paint My Masterpiece'. Weir was particularly effective vocally on 'Masterpiece', his rough croak in perfect keeping the desperation of the song's narrator.

Bassist Phil Lesh was a little too rough (and out of tune) on 'Tom Thumb', but the band cooked through the rap-like rhythm of the song, giving it a powerful edge. The band debuted several new tracks, including the countryish 'Lazy River' and the ride-the-rails folk song 'So Many Roads'.

The only down point of the evening came during the traditional Dead drum solo, an exercise in rhythmic psychedelica that is probably appreciated more by those Deadheads in an altered state of consciousness. It's bearable at five minutes, but Friday the drummers went on for almost 15, then were joined by the band, which funneled feedback and sound blips through their guitars like some ''Close Encounters of the Third Kind'' mother ship gone awry. But that's a quibble. The rest of the show was vintage Dead, a groovy, jam-happy mix of rock, country, blues and jazz brewed together in a delicious, listenable stew.

The pairing of the Dead with Sting is not as strange as it seems, especially when you consider that the former lead singer of the Police has been jamming and improvising with his bands from the very beginning of his solo career. Friday night, he was backed by a crack group of musicians, all of whom worked with him in the studio on his latest album, 'Ten Summoner's Tales'.

There was Dominic Miller on guitars, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums and the incomparable Dave Sancious on keyboards and guitars. A shirtless Sting led them through a tight, rocking set of tunes, including 'Fields of Gold', 'Seven Days' and 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You', from the new album.

He offered up 'Roxanne' and 'King of Pain' to Police fans, then rounded things out with a cover of the Beatles' 'A Day in the Life'. His best tune of the day, however, came during the sound check, when he launched into a blistering rendition of the Rolling Stones 'Satisfaction'.

(c) The Plain Dealer by Michael Norman