Friday, November 8, 2002

Dead music lives in Huntington Beach

By BARRY KOLTNOW
The Orange County Register

On Dec. 6, 1995 shortly after the death of Jerry Garcia the surviving members of the Grateful Dead made the following announcement: "After four months of heartfelt consideration, the remaining members of the band met yesterday and came to the conclusion that the long strange trip of the uniquely wonderful beast known as the Grateful Dead is over."

And with that statement to the media, the band that began life in 1963 as Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions, morphed into the Warlocks and eventually settled on the name the Grateful Dead, was gone.

But certainly not forgotten. And certainly not forgotten each Tuesday night at a Huntington Beach club called Kozmos. On that night, vans full of "Deadheads" converge on Kozmos to groove to the sounds of the band Cubensis, an L.A.-based group that plays the music of the Grateful Dead. The Dead, and nothing but the Dead.

Craig Marshall is the leader and founder of the band, which took its name from a sly reference to a psychedelic mushroom from the 1960s.

"We thought it was amusing when we came up with it 15 years ago, but now I guess we're stuck with it," Marshall said. "The bad thing is when people think we're a druggie band, which we're not, or they think we play Afro-Cuban music, which we don't. We recreate the magic of a Dead show.

Marshall, who at 50 is the oldest member of the band, has been playing rock 'n' roll since high school. He professed to being a major Deadhead and was drawn to performing the band's music out of frustration.

"My friends and I didn't think the Grateful Dead played in Los Angeles as much as we would have liked, so we decided to form a band that played their music."

Marshall emphasizes that Cubensis is not your standard tribute band because it does not attempt to re-create songs note for note. "We're interested only in bringing back the spirit of the Dead," he explained. "We want to bring back that experimental aspect of the band.

"You could go to 100 Grateful Dead concerts and not hear them play a certain song the same way twice. They were always exploring new ways to play their songs, and that's what we do with their music. We use the music as a skeleton, and then we flesh it out with our own improvisations."

The band, which plays about 200 shows a year, has a repertoire of 120 Grateful Dead tunes, and Marshall said it is rare that a song will be repeated two weeks in a row, unless it is requested.

By the way, if you were wondering how the real Grateful Dead would feel about this group, Marshall believes he has the blessings of the man himself.

"One year, I was traveling to Eugene, Ore., for a Grateful Dead concert, and my plane stopped in San Francisco. I was walking around the airport when I saw Jerry Garcia inside one of the gift shops. I walked up to him and thanked him for all the joy he had brought to my life.

"Then, I told him about Cubensis, and how we only play Grateful Dead songs. He said, 'Oh, yeah, so do we.'

"Then, we talked about it some more, and he said that as long as we do a good job with his music, we should go for it."

Besides Marshall on lead guitar, the band consists of drummer Steve Harris, Tom Ryan on keyboards, brother Larry Ryan on bass and guitarist Justin Pacuska, who at 26 is the youngest member.

I'll be honest with you. I have never been a Deadhead. I have never even considered being a Deadhead. I never understood the Deadhead phenomenon. I can't imagine why anyone would still be a Deadhead years after the band stopped being a band.

And yet, I enjoyed the scene at Kozmos. The music was great and the crowd was mellow. People danced together, and they danced alone. It didn't matter. All that mattered was the music.

Kozmos, 17208 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach; (562) 592-2200. Tuesdays. $6 cover. The band also will perform Nov. 27 at the Coach House.