By Bill Zaferos   Published Oct 24, 2006 at 5:23 AM
Mickey Hart says he’s at the point in his life where he could stay home and watch TV rather than try to make a difference.

But at age 63, the affable Hart, a self-professed road dog, would just as soon take music to the world. And with his new band, Rhythm Devils, Hart and his cohorts still have a lot of music to share.

Hart, who was half of the two-drummer tandem for the Grateful Dead, says it was an honor to be part of the Dead. But with his new band, he feels the same way on stage as he did when the Dead were at their prime.

The Rhythm Devils play Wednesday night at the Riverside Theater, and Hart promises 14 or 15 songs, excitement, magic and a good groove. And several Grateful Dead tunes.

It will also be different from their last performance.

"A lot of  people think it’s great musical destiny to be playing the CD really well (on stage), doing the same thing you did the night before, but that’s the last thing I would want to do with my life," Hart said in a phone interview from the House of Blues in Chicago. "Each night builds on the night before. I don’t know what the top end of this band is. It keeps getting better every night. It’s like seeing a band being born."

Hart joined his old Dead partner and fellow drummer, Bill Kreutzmann; Mike Gordon, bass player for Phish; guitarist Steve Kimock; percussionist Sikiru Adepoju; and vocalist Jen "Pipes" Derkin to create the Rhythm Devils after Hart and Kreutzmann were asked to co-host the sixth annual Jammy awards ceremony in April in New York City.

"We thought while we were in New York we should play," Hart said. "We knew everyone would be there so we invited them to play, and we played a club. We had one week of rehearsals before we played (The Jammys) at Madison Square Garden, and people loved it. It was overwhelming. It was just amazing."

Although Hart was quick to point out that the Rhythm Devils are not merely Dead copycats, he sees some similarities. He described the band as a
"feeling," much like the Dead, and that long-time Dead collaborator Robert Hunter has written new material for the band.

He added that like the Dead, the Devils are a jam band. But there’s no room for "noodling" in their jams, and they don’t have a rhythm guitarist because the drums create the rhythm on their own.

"It starts with the feeling," he said "We wanted to be a really strong groove band. We wanted to have really great songs, so we asked Robert Hunter to write some new songs for the band. It’s a trance band, it’s a jam band, but it’s not full of noodling. We’re improvisationalists that have a bedrock of great songs, like the Grateful Dead.

"It’s powerful, it’s potent, it has an enormous amount of emotional payload when we’re deep into the groove. But it has an easy feel in its power. It’s joyful, an awful lot of fun, but it’s not forced."

Calling the Rhythm Devils a work in progress, Hart further compared the band with the Dead by saying that the band is evolving, much the way the Dead did and the same way all good music should. The Dead, he pointed out, started out as a jug band before becoming a country band, a rock band and, finally, an experimental band.

Hart said that one of the reasons he still tours is that he no longer engaged in the drugs and all-night partying that the Dead were known for. In addition, he said the new band gets along well, and they’ve intentionally kept their tour short. The current leg began in Harrisburg, Penn. on Oct. 17, and closes in Las Vegas on Sunday after their concert in Milwaukee Wednesday night.

Still, after more than 2,500 performances with the Dead, you’d think a spot in front of the TV as he enters his dotage might sound like just the thing even for a road dog.

"Oh my God, no," he said. "You have to take the music to the people. If you’re a musician, you have to take the music to the people. I want to see the world, and it’s really great to bring your music to the world. The power of music is one of the saving wonders of the world. Making CDs is one thing, but to bring live music to the world is a gift. We were bred for this. I’m 63 and the kids are wanting it. What’s not to like?  It’s the gift of groove."

He’s also still in it for the healing power of music, he said.

"Music mediates a community’s problems. For two or three hours, there’s a group power that you can experience, and that mediates problems, community and personal problems and world problems. It makes the world a better place, using that energy to do good in the world. The road is a very small price to pay."

Hart said a DVD of this tour is currently being shot, and the band will make a CD next year.

But for now, the band is focusing on creating "a group mind" and getting into the trance of playing well together.

"Expect a band that’s peaking from being on the road for over a week," he said. "It will be energized and exploratory. The rest of it is in the magic of things. There’s no way you can make a call, but the energy will be notched up.

"The ending’s not so good, but I don’t care about beginnings and endings. It’s about the music."