"If you tell the Truth, you don't have to remember anything"
-Mark Twain
"You realize, of course, that everything I say is horseshit." -Kurt Vonnegut

Thursday, July 9, 2015

All The Stars Are Gone But One

For the last twenty years, DeadHeads have been sitting on the proverbial porch watching the band in the sunset of their career. These last two weekends they officially went down and we got to see them shine as stars. They were brilliant in the night time sky. Perfect for lying on a blanket and staring up at. Getting lost at the enormity of all the stars. Each one shines for a purpose, each one shines for heat, and each one shines for light. Even in this light from these stars, we get something that can not be seen, measured, or quantified. From these stars we get the ability to love and receiving love makes us able to give love and our light back. 
It was hard to get back to real life after a surreal weekend. I figure that each night there was about 100,000+ people around Soldier Field and 70k got in for each show and I did not hear of any problems with people and the cops there. It's a pretty amazing feat. Everyone seemed to be there for the right reasons, except those cult people handing out their booklets after the show. The focus for everyone was the music. Some where lucky enough to be at all five shows. Some came for just Chicago. Others made flights and hotel reservations for just one night, regardless everyone who made the trip was rewarded with soul satisfaction from the wonderful music of the Grateful Dead. 
These five shows played by these seven guys far exceeded the high expectations that everyone had going into the two weekends. The anticipation built the night before the first show, with the soundcheck that was broadcast on audio stream on the mixer site. The soundcheck mirrored what would be the first night's action in Santa Clara. It was pretty shocking to see the setlist and realize that the newest song on the list was 45 years old. The second Santa Clara shattered the theorist expectations that each show would be an era of the Grateful Dead when they opened with Feel Like A Stranger. The show had a flow and feel like it was a show that was picking up where they left off 20 years earlier. The band was starting to act as a cohesive unit although there was still that Bambi on ice feel to the band. 
July second, I left work at noon and packed the family into the car. I drove from outside of NYC to Buffalo to drop the wife and kids off with my in-laws. The next morning I woke up an hour before my alarm, at 6 AM. It was show day. I got in the car, stopped at Tim Hortons for breakfast on the road and started my trip to Chicago. I pulled into the hotel around 2 PM and meet up with my friend. There had been lots of talk over the 5 day break about letting Trey and Bruce do more singing and less Bobby. These kids never heard the expression that "Bobby fans are people too."
It takes the young Superman time to learn and to control his super powers. At first he believes that he can just jump a building with a single bound but then he discovers that he can control the jumping and direct himself while in the air. Next Superman discovers control as he figures how to fly. The first night of Chicago the band learned how to fly. Soaring around the atmosphere and exploring the cosmos. As I laid it out in my blog the next day, the band had arrived. The second night was Superman flexing his muscles to get the criminals to surrender instead of using force. The fireworks of a setlist the night before was not there, but the execution of the vibe was just as strong this night. It was not what I was expecting when they started playing the song, but the Stella Blue might have been most heartfelt piece of music the band ever played. Bobby owned it (I told you we were people too) and Trey's solo was the most igniting and original take. Simply awe inspiring. 
On the fifth, I unplugged and went up to spend the day with my family in Evanston. It was a needed break and refresher before the final night. For the first time I tried to drive to the lot instead of walking or subwaying it, and it was a nightmare. Yet I got there early and prepped my blog for this show. Our seats for the weekend were in Section 351 Row 2, which was behind the stage. It was really loud back there and it was a good spying view, where we were looking over their shoulders at their interactions. Sitting there I got a call that my friend had a bracelet for the floor, which turned out to be the pit. Walking there I almost ran into someone who looked like George RR Martin, I found out later it was him. (What happened to Cold Rain & Jon Snow?) We got a nice little spot in front of Trey with a bunch of really great people. It was clear from the start that the band was going to throw out the bombs early and often. Each song was really poignant to a finale, "gonna miss me when I'm gone," "story teller makes no choice soon you will not hear his voice," "hoping love would not forsake the days that lie between," and of course "love is real not fade away." As I theorized, Touch of Grey was the night's encore. The top ten hit aside, the closing "we will get by" would be a nice close to these five shows celebrating the music of the Grateful Dead. 
My notion of the weekend was we were seeing Fare Thee Well, who were paying tribute to 50 years of the Grateful Dead music. Then the Attics of my Life happened. The band came back for the second encore and started paying tribute to the changing cast of characters that was the Grateful Dead. Pigpen, Keith, Brent, Vince, and of course Jerry got roaring applause from the crowd turning "when you had no wings to fly, you flew to me." Then the monitors transitioned into posting pictures of the current band members and that's when it sunk in on me. This was the core four members way of announcing Trey, Jeff and Bruce as members of the Grateful Dead. The reality that Jerry had not been here for twenty years and that's why we didn't have the Grateful Dead was replaced by the blissful peace that we got to experience the band, the songs and the state of mind one more time. The band didn't try to replace Pigpen, nor Keith and Donna and they most certainly didn't try to replace Jerry. They were celebrating the entity and doing so they eased my soul. Today we celebrate the final Grateful Dead show with Jerry Garcia, just like we celebrate June 17th as the final time Pigpen played with the band. 
If you've ever watched a sunrise, you notice that gradually the stars start to fade one by one as the sky goes blue. The stars are still there, it's just that we can not see them watching us. Daybreak on the land is the ultimate form of optimism and I feel like the Grateful Dead will alway be there, "the ship of the sun is sailed by the Grateful Dead." This a new era of life and perspective. The perfect bow on an old pair of shoes. 
I like bows. I do not want to trip on my loose shoelaces. So I like to thank my wife for dealing with this blog and helping edit it for me sometimes. It has been a pleasure the last 4 years to run write about the band I love and share their music with everyone. The thought never occurred to me to write a blog but Dan suggested it and I started this on a whim. "Daybreak on the land" is the bow to this blog. Thank you. "Fare Thee Well now let you life proceed at its own design."
The band played 82 songs that were not named Jam, Drums, or Space. They only repeated two songs, Truckin' and Cumberland Blues, which means they played exactly 80 songs. Now I know they did not play some common Grateful Dead songs like Going Down the Road, LL Rain, Peggy-O, So Many Roads, Ramble on Rose and Sugaree but they only played 5 shows and we got so many gems. If there were more shows, maybe some of these would be played. Maybe Bobby's new band with John Mayer might play some of these songs this fall. 
These are the SBD copies taken from the webcast of each night action, including the wonderful recorded music by Neil Casal for each set break. Download Night1Night2Night3Night4, and Night5. Looking back on this 5 night run, I have to be happy that I experience the love of the event and not be sorry that it's not going to happen again.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Chicago, Il July 5, 2015

This post will just be the Setlist and a couple of lines about the weekend here because I have a long drive back through Buffalo to NYC area. After the dust settles and links to the audio files appear, I'll do another post. 
In the first encore the first night of Chicago, Bobby sang "if your cup is full may it be again." What was underrated at the beginning of this whole 50th anniversary tour, is that we "love what we love and we want that way." The announcement opened up the door to allow us all come funneling out of the wood work. Asking us to fold this country in half so we could because there "were no wings to fly, we flew to you." The hard part is asking us to now let it go. There may not be and more "leader of the band," but as long as we can "come here  Uncle John's Band." We'll be there to let it "melt into a dream." It's understandable that without darkness, we cannot see the stars, so I'm thankful for this weekend because without the Grateful Dead there would be no light to "shine shine shine shine let it."
I: China Cat Sunflower, I Know You Rider, Estimated Prophet, Built to Last, Mountains of the Moon, Throwing Stones
II: Truckin', Cassidy, Althea, Terrapin Station, Drums, Unbroken Chain, Days Between, Not Fade Away
Encore: Touch of Grey
Encore: Attics of my Life
I want Bobby's shirt! Organic men's small please.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Chicago, Il July 4, 2015

Tonight's show went off like with a bang. All the cues and direction that they showed last night was built on from the very opening notes of Shakedown Street to the closing crash of the nights fireworks. The band is real. They have solidified their position in the band.
Each member had their moment in certain songs like the force of Billy and Mickey were really driving songs like Shakedown Street, Cumberland, and Golden Road. Jeff really excelled on Brent Mydland's B3 organ on the Little Red Rooster, although he didn't take Brent's Neighborly verse. Bruce was all over the map tonight, but he was superb on Tennessee Jed and Deal. His relationship with Trey has taken off after last night. The two have beautiful music minds and I believe that this won't be the last time the two play together. 
It's ridiculous how much Shakedown Street is in Trey's wheelhouse. It's like Jerry gift to Trey. I believe that he could play the song for an hour if he wasn't brought back to earth by Bobby. Yet Standing on the Moon was clearly a song that Trey found a connection in all this Grateful Dead hysteria. The thick rich lyrical tone stuck a chord with him. It was shocking that he sang because Bruce mention in an interview short after the announce that Trey didn't know the tune when they did it at the Comes A Time event. Yet my feeling is that Foolish Heart will be the first song that Phish tries out this summer if any. The composition of the song, piano ends on a low note but guitar ends on high, the middle section jam makes it a unique enough song that they could try it out this summer. 
Phil really popped on Bird Song. He has constantly lead his bands through excellent version of this song for the last 15 plus years. Phil was in command of the song, which the band built up and then mellowed just to bring back to another crescendo. Bobby erased twenty years off his body and voice with the spectacular Sailor Saint. He was like a kid again as played his mates through his 80's combo. Then on the Saturday night closer Bobby jumped through the monitors to the front of the stage to show the audience some love. There is no way that any other song can be immediately played after a great Saturday Night, the audience is in a complete frenzy. It is such a great experience.
All this said, the highlight of the night was not the firework display that Phil and Jill masqueraded to on stage. The highlight was the painting a masterful Stella Blue. Bobby sang the song like his microphone was a rose and he didn't want to blow off any petals, until the break where he lit up. The chills are still going up and down my spine, as I reflex on it. Then Trey lit off on the solo. Cranking up to where he could have put the guitar down and it would have sparked on fire and been let to burn there. It might have been the spark that they used for the fireworks later. The band showed that even with the massive song list that they still could crush it on stage. Now we move into the final night and we know the songs that they still have up their sleeves, "gonna miss me when I'm gone," "sooner you will not heard his song," and what I think will be the encore "we will get by."
I: Shakedown Street, Libery, Standing on the Moon, Me & My Uncle, Tennessee Jed, Cumberland Blues, Little Red Rooster, Friend of the Devil, Deal
II: Bird Song, The Golden Road, Lost Sailor, Saint of Circumstance, west LA Fadeaway, Foolish Heart, Drums, Stella Blue, One More Saturday Night
Encore: US Blues

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Chicago, Il July 3, 2015

The hallowed columns of Soldier Field that saw the shadow of Jerry Garcia leave the bright lights of the stage for the final time was awoken for these three nights of the spirit of the Grateful Dead. Though close to twenty years have past the Deadheads have not forgotten and in this celebration of the Grateful Dead the band proved that they have not either. The band resurrected the spirit by starting right were they left off, the final song the Grateful Dead played, Box of Rain opened the nights festivities. It was the band's affirmation or declaration that they were not missing for the last twenty years, they were exclaiming that they have been here all along. Based on the fan reaction to when the tickets were released and the cluster fuck and the ordeal that most fans went through for this weekend, there is the belief that we are all apart of something bigger and better then just going to a concert. It's a light that Deadheads are drawn to. Here is were we can "believe it if we need it or leave it if we dare." "Love will see us through."
There was a bit of fan criticism after the two nights of Santa Clara. The Grateful Dead were always a band with a leader, in Jerry, who didn't want to be a leader at all, and yet he was followed. The group was a band of self-sustaining musicians. Each one wanted to be louder in the mix, yet each one focused on fitting their roles under what Jerry played. The first gigs were good but they were leaderless. Despite Phil's spirited take on Box of Rain, the band started falling into place as Trey Anastasio took the second leads on Jack Straw. The Santa Clara band with lovely tunes transformed as machine gun Trey started to blaze is fire all over "Jack Straw from Wichita." Leaps and bounds over the dim previous two shows. The fans got more of what they wanted when Trey took lead vocals on Bertha, and instead of him slinking back into the background, he kept control as a lead guitars should dictate. The spectacular Passenger ended giving the band and audience a chance to catch their breath after four rockers. 
They slickly pulled off a smooth segue between The Wheel and Crazy Fingers. In the Crazy Fingers, Trey lit up the reggae beats with a buoyant solo and then took a step cross the stage and signaled to Bruce to take over, it may have been accident but Trey here took over to be an de facto leader. A leader without wanting to lead. In that space he created, Jeff shone for the first time. Playing Brent Mydland's B3 organ, Jeff sparkled on the solo to Trey who continually sang "I tried" over and over as if he was singing from more then lines on the page. 
The set close with Trey stepping up again and filling those holes in Music Never Stopped with his electric finger. They assented the notes on the guitar as the crowd egged him on. Phil and Bobby clearly pleased as the band and audience reached a fever pitch. For the first time the atmosphere created such a crushing sound that my ears hurt. The Grateful Dead was fully awake. We walked into the light and prepare for the second set. 
The band started with some tuning as Trey cautiously started building the chord progression to Mason's. Right out of that came Scarlet Begonias. The place erupted. With the Candance light show in full effect the place seemed to be bubbling with emotion as this prized Dead song began and stepped us through the door to "get shown the light." Each solo turn was a new excuse for the audience to celebrate there revival in the song and the band feed off the energy and love that they got from us. The band then layer on textures and the created a base to keep the masses moving. A bit of relief was breathed as Bruce took the lead vocals on Fire on the Mountain. The thick groove filled this palace as we were all "dead to the core." Bobby cued the band into final singing of "Fire," which was supposed to leave space for the drummers to take over but the cue was partially missed by most of the band members. Mickey got the affirmation that he wanted from the crowd as beat a break into his firebird drums and stood with his hands over head. By the time Billy had worked his way over to Mickey's side of the drum kit the band members had started to find their instruments. 
Being that the band only played three songs before Drums, there were big expectations for the second half of the set. The band pieced together the Dead rarity New Potato Caboose. Slowly afterwards the band started building till Bobby signal Playin' like a lighthouse on a foggy night at sea. The crowd was re-invigorated by Playin' as they marched along with the band. As the band slipped off into the abyss of darkness that they gathered from the Playin' they individually followed their own calling till Phil started them down to a lull. This moment of quietness was the opportunity for the band to reconnect with each other. This is what they did by layering texture on top of texture till they broke it apart again. One more time they built and in the frenzy of the built jam they slided into Bobby gently strumming Let It Grow. The band lead us as we "raise and fall," in the moments with the band. (Of all the songs in the Dead catalog, Let It Grow is one that has never been the same since Jerry left us and that is still true.) Then the band briefly moved into a transition jam that I thought might have been back into Playin' but no. The band dropped the hammer on Help/Slip. Trey had a mind lapse during the verse but that was not a distraction to the band as they found the murky waters of the Slipknot section. Trey had firmly established his leaderless leading in this song and so once he shot a glimpse to Bobby to say take us home. Bobby's arm raised as he counted them down into the closing scripted section as Phil eased them into Franklin's Tower. In a moment of metaphysical musical cohesiveness, Bruce and Trey aligned as they complemented each other in the first solo of Franklin's. Every step Trey took, Bruce pushed the envelope further and further. Phil was crawling with emotion when he took over vocals. While Phil sang Trey strolled to his side of the stage to get Bruce's attention, Trey signaled that Bruce was taking the solo after "if you get confused listen to the music play." Bruce shrugged him off once but Trey persisted and Bruce went for it. Might not have been a bigger Bruce fan in the place than Trey as he smiled and cheered him until "some come to laugh the past away."
The sing along Ripple was the fitting topper. The band has completely transformed. The band is now the best band ever assembled for five gigs. This was their half way point and their high water mark. As Neil Young's Cortex the Killer played over the PA, I feel like I have been transported 20 years back in time. There is a spring in my step. I've awoken fully dead. 

I: Box of Rain, Jack Straw, Bertha, Passenger, The Wheel, Crazy Fingers, The Music Never Stopped
II: Mason's Children, Scarlet Begonias, Fire on the Mountain, Drums, New Potato Caboose, Playin' in the Band, Let It Grow, Help on the Way, Slipknot!, Franklin's Tower
Encore: Ripple