"but at all these shows, there really seems to be the absence of love and the connecting with strangers that I always experience at dead shows."
During the many years I did full phish tours, all I did was meet amazing people and share in love, life and wild times, nothing will ever compare to that magic for me. Far more connecting there in the 90's for me than what I see in the Furthur scene these days. Phish in 2011 is not Phish from the 90's nor is the scene, so maybe its just different now, i don't see them much anymore
I have found that alot of your experiences at a "Dead-based" or Phish, or any other band with a communal element depend on what you bring to the playing field. That being said I have encountered both amazing people and total assholes in both settings.
You cannot compare the two because although both scenes share many characteristics, ultimately, they are inherintly different. I think it is also problematic to compare one particular scene over years because it changes all the time. For example, the lot scene that I experienced at my first show in 1984 was very different from the lot scene I experienced in 1995-as a matter of fact by then my friends and I usually passed on the lot scene anyways becaused to us it had become a veritable sewer of shit, but that was just our viewpoint and I'm sure others felt differently.
As far as seeing a band with "into" it fans and a real feel good vibe throughout the experience, I highly recommend WSP at a show in the south or Colorado. Bash these guys alll you want (which i really don't get, but again to each his own), but if you can't get down and have a genuine good time at a WSP show the I have to believe you don't know how to have fun.