The Disco Biscuits‘ Aron Magner on Sunday night fulfilled his covenant with fans of his “mostly acoustic” jazz trio SPAGA by delivering the band’s long-awaited tribute to the Grateful Dead at the Toulouse Theatre. Billed as SPAGA Plays Dead, the special performance was originally scheduled for March 21st, 2020, only to become one of the countless live music casualties of the pandemic.

Together with jazz cats Matt Scorano (drums) and Jason Fraticelli (upright bass), Magner delivered an ornate set of Grateful Dead classics beautifully transposed to instrumental jazz. Nodding to his time playing alongside Bill Kreutzmann in Billy & The Kids—as well as the full Rhythm Devils duo for a run of Disco Biscuits shows with Bill and Mickey Hart back in 2014—Magner showed the latest evolution in the Grateful Dead legacy that continues its development over half a century later.

Related: Aron Magner’s SPAGA To (Finally) Deliver Jazz Grateful Dead Tribute During Jazz Fest [Interview]

Magner made his Grateful Dead bona fides apparent from the very start, opening the show with the Garcia deep cut “Eep Hour”. What followed was a single-set show that further proved the enduring quality of the sacred tomes from the San Francisco godfathers of psychedelic rock. Between songs, Magner made it clear this set was just as fulfilling for himself as it was for the crowd, reminiscing on how the Dead’s music has shaped his life in music stretching all the way back to his days working at the Wawa (fortuitously for all parties involved, Magner was relieved of his duties after flubbing one too many liverwurst sandwiches).

On the part of Scorano and Fraticelli, the two ebullient side men displayed their fluent musicality as they brought their extensive jazz chops to the beloved acid rock compositions. The concert captured the singular musical DNA of SPAGA as the crystalline transcriptions gathered inertia for dizzying peaks before the band would pull back to a delicate whisper to bring each song to its natural conclusion. Sneaking in the original “For the Table” into the encore, SPAGA took out one of its staple tricks with the band’s floor-shaking take on Led Zeppelin‘s “Black Dog”, outfitted for this occasion with thorough teases of “Terrapin Station”.

Check out a gallery of images from SPAGA Plays Dead at Toulouse Theatre courtesy of photographer Nosferatune. The show was only the beginning of Live For Live Music‘s Fest By Nite series, set to run through the duration of Jazz Fest. See below for the full schedule and head here for tickets. Revisit L4LM’s 2020 interview with Magner talking about the initial plans for SPAGA Plays Dead at the thwarted Brooklyn Comes Alive here.


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Setlist: SPAGA Plays Dead | Toulouse Theatre | New Orleans | 4/30/23

Set: Eep Hour —> They Love Each Other, Friend Of The Devil, Heaven Help The Fool—> Bird Song, Estimated Prophet, Cumberland Blues, Crazy Fingers, Loser

Encore: For the Table, Black Dog (Led Zeppelin) [1]

[1] w/ “Terrapin Station” teases

funk sessions, krasno moore, daze between, fest by nite, jazz fest