There are a lot of Grateful Dead tribute bands out there, so basically it’s a buyer’s market for hungry Deadheads. The members of Santa Cruz’s China Cats are themselves Dead fanatics and take a unique approach to the whole thing. In fact, they don’t even consider themselves a tribute band, because they don’t attempt to play Dead songs note for note; but rather go for the essence of what the Dead shows were like.
Guitarist/Singer Scott Cooper explains it best. “We do what the Dead could have done on any given night, not what the Dead did specifically on any given night.”
This should instantly make sense to anyone that’s ever followed the Dead. There are obvious hooks and melodies in songs that the China Cats will play note for note, but there’s a lot of room to improvise, alter, extend and jam out songs as well.
Like the Dead, they often play two sets, totaling 2-3 hours of live music per night. In fact, they know about 150 Dead jams—and they add more to their set every week. Of the 150 songs in their repertoire, quite a few of them are obscure, lesser-known tracks. The ideal audience for the China Cats, Cooper says, isn’t the casual Dead fan hoping to hear “Touch of Grey.”
“We’re trying to appeal to the people like us, Deadheads who enjoy the catalog,” Cooper says. “The deeper fan will definitely appreciate us more, because we pull out some obscure stuff.”
INFO: 9 p.m. Friday, September 19. Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. $9/adv, $12/door, 479-1854.