Dr. A indulged me the last two weekends by not complaining about my watching the live stream for *all* of the Fare Thee Well shows from Santa Clara and Chicago. In short, I am Grateful that I’m not Dead. Sorry about that pun, but the ACAW post got me in a Diltz pickle this morning that I did not relish. I really need to stop pandering to the pun community…
I also had a little help from my friends in accessing the stream, which was wobbly at times but crystal clear at its best. The band, of course, started every show at least 30 minutes late and took breaks of around an hour each night despite Bob Weir’s insistence that they’d be back in a bit. An hour is not a bit, not even a bit-o-honey. But that’s how the Grateful Dead have always rolled: to the beat of their own drum solo. I have a Pavlovian response to the Hart-Kreutzmann drum solo: I take a pee break, which, thanks to auto-correct, led to my tweeting about a pea break during the last show. That, in turn, led to considerable hilarity at my expense. But if you dish it out, you gotta be able to take it. Beats the hell out of mock terrapin station soup…
I promise to mind my peas and cues after the break.
The Dead have only sporadically regrouped since the passing of Jerry Garcia some twenty years ago. It’s never been quite the same without the heart, soul, and brain of the band, but I’m glad they did these 5 #GD50 shows. There was something Phishy about the whole thing though: Trey Anastasio of that band sat in on lead guitar and vocals. He’s not much of a vocalist but he’s a great guitarist and brought energy to the endeavor as a mere kid of 50. It was initially a controversial choice but ensured stadium sell-outs. One fan, in particular, was highly agitated:
Speaking of politicians of a more benign variety, President Obama paid tribute to the band:
I spent way too much time on Twitter during the shows. In part, to keep a friend who was covering Essence Fest apprised of what was going on at Soldier Field, and, primarily, to amuse myself. I had a lively debate with a friend who was convinced the Dead would play all the big numbers they’d played at the Santa Clara homestand in Chicago. I demurred because, to paraphrase a NOLA band, the Dead do what they wanna do and always have. In the end, they only repeated 2 tunes: Truckin’ and Cumberland Blues; the latter was surprising since it was seldom played after the early Seventies. But that’s inside Dead baseball as is most of this post. Y’all are humoring me too. Our readers are the cat’s ass or is that meow?
The music was, on balance, quite lively but the vocals were ragged albeit spirited. The best singer onstage was underused: Dr. A’s homeboy, LSU basketball dad, and pianist Bruce Hornsby. Bob Weir’s voice seems to have died years ago but he still had his moments when either a growl or a holler was required. The most important thing about these shows was the vibe, which was good. I even saw a long ago ex-girlfriend in the crowd at the Chicago shows. My evil side hoped she’d get stuck behind hoops legend and uber Deadhead Bill Walton. I felt sorry for those who did. He’s gone from shot blocking to view blocking. Dude, you had a backstage pass…
The shows were of an uneven quality, which proved that, despite the doubters, these were still Grateful Dead concerts. In typical fashion, they played some obscurities, some tunes I love and others I don’t. A high point every evening was bassist Phil Lesh discussing his liver tranplant and his donor, a guy named Cody. Phil implored the crowd to become donors as his transplant had saved his life. In the immortal words of Macca, listen to what the man says…
I was lucky enough to grow up in the Bay Area when the Dead played 10-15+ shows a year, and I saw as many as I could. I like to say I grew up at Winterland, that is, if I ever grew up. Money wasn’t the issue, ticket prices in the 1970’s were surprisingly low. I recall writing an article for the high school paper lambasting promoter Bill Graham for charging a top price of $8.50 for a George Harrison show. (Approximately $40 in 2015 money, which is still a good deal.) I am not making this up. I wish I had a copy of the article but I don’t. I’d apologize to George and Bill but they’re both long dead so I can’t.
My attachment to the Grateful Dead is emotional so I forgive them their excesses such as the drum solo and the noodling they call “space.” I prefer them as a rock and roll band and, at their best, there was nobody quite like them. Who else would “jam” with the Empire State Building?
There are only audience videos of the final five shows online right now, so instead of watching the back of some chick’s head, I’ve decided to post the studio versions of the poignant numbers that concluded the two Sunday shows; both of which come from 1970’s American Beauty. First, the Bay Area finale, Brokedown Palace:
The last Chicago concert closed with this lovely Garcia-Hunter ballad:
Thanks for indulging me, gentle readers. I’ve always known the Dead are an acquired taste and I’m not a musical missionary. While I’m glad that they’re cool right now, I really don’t care about that. I’m just glad that they were a part of my life. I must admit to being a tad verklempt as the last show ended with a group hug:
Damn, that was *almost* as long and meandering as a Grateful Dead concert. We return to our regularly scheduled programming of politics, pulp, snark, ferrets, freepers, and cats.