And we continue to be blessed not only by archival releases, but by current musicians playing the Dead’s repertoire in a modern way. That’s amazing! Arguably the best Dead band around is Dead & Company of course, and we were very happy when they announced a Fall tour after their excellent tour this past Spring. I was ecstatic at the prospect of seeing them again, and also extremely glad that the guys were showing a commitment to the band that could possibly be called into question if they just toured once a year.
Well, lots of people are committed and the scramble for tickets was as frantic as you may imagine. They announced one stop in Boston (at the Garden) and another in Hartford, which we targeted and were able to snag tickets for (in the balcony) with all three of us trying hard. Then they added another Boston date and we were lucky enough also to get floor tickets for that. Sarah and Dave just got “wait” messages when they tried but I was able to get through and was offered the floor, which I jumped on!
Are we nuts to go see this band over and over, including the night before Thanksgiving?? That’s for you to determine, I’m not going to defend myself. All I can say is to listen to this stuff, which in my mind ranks as some of the best artistic expressions of this century. I’ll be vindicated when they’re still playing it and listening to it in 500 years!
So the first concert was Friday the 17th, and I did the same old thing of leaving work a few minutes before 4:00 and battling traffic on Routes 2 and 16 and then down Soldier’s Field Road and Storrow Drive with a beautiful Fall sunset at my back, lighting up the Charles in a deep blue and the Eastern sky in a hazy rose and reflecting off the buildings in our beautiful city. Got to Bowdoin Street in plenty of time, met Sarah and Dave, and parked in their building as soon as we could.
Went down to Kinsale’s in Government Center to meet up with Leen and her family, who were attending the concert also. Had some quick beers, salad, quesadillas, and talk, then walked quickly down to the Garden to battle the crowds getting in. The place was packed; we waited in long lines for beers and hit the bathroom, and got settled into our seats in section 308 not long before they started. We were way up in the balcony, but were pretty much straight on to the stage and could see fine. We were too far away to see fretboard fingering, but everything else going on on stage was clear if you knew what to look for. And being so far up, our view of the stage was unrestricted and better than in some situations where we’ve been very close. And the seats were a third what floor seats cost!
The boys started some purposeful tuning, Bobby started a steady beat on his rhythm guitar, and soon they dropped into Jack Straw and we were off. The Dead were back in Boston, making magic!
We’d heard/seen most of the first three shows of the tour (2 NYC, 1 Philly), and they started off "great" and were already at "excellent" by the time they got to Boston. What level would they get to tonight? And seeing them live, standing at one end of an indoor arena while they were roaring at the other end and the crowd was singing along was just an incredible experience. The bass and drums were of course miles more vivid than when seen/heard electronically, and the sounds from Weir's guitar and Chimenti's piano rang through the whole arena. And that's not to mention the lead guitar, which made the Celtics' and Bruins' historic banners ripple in appreciation.
In their first few tours the band has been a bit raw and has tried to stick to what they knew they could do well. The most wonderful thing about them in late 2017 is that they seem to have said fuck that, we’ve been together for a few years now and are a mature band that can take chances. And taking chances is a big part of what this music is all about! As one blogger said, “When John turns to Bobby he gets instructions, but when he turns to Oteil he gets inspiration!” And he was turning back and forth all night.
Sure, some of their forays into new stuff don’t quite ring solid, as with their debut of Beat It On Down the Line in NYC and their attempt to jazz up Big River in Boston that night. But what the hell, we’ll take warts and clams if it means we also get the extended passages of transcendence that sometimes appear.
Speaking of transcendence, here’s the first set:
New Speedway Boogie
Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo
The Music Never Stopped
This was riveting stuff and we could hear every note and the balance was amazing. OK, Jeff was a little quiet to start with and the vocals had to get a bit straightened out. As always in an arena, what sounded just exactly perfect in sound check needed adjustment with the bowl full of people. But they were soon roaring on all cylinders.
Bobby's been cycling between four guitars this tour, and has a new walnut-body electric that just sounds like buttered toast. The drummers have been on top of their games this tour, and Billy in particular was the guy to listen to all by himself.
The first four songs were up and up, each moment topping what came before, but then Big River was a throw-away, and then they took their shot at Sugaree, which we could have predicted would be in the first Boston set (in fact, we did). And of course they ended the set with another fantastic Music Never Stopped, in which John finally made the "Keep on dancing until daylight" bridge his own. No longer will I say, "Yeah but Donna should have been singing that."
We were in heaven, as was pretty much everyone in the audience. After hanging around at our seats for a while to let the crowd rush die down a bit I ventured out for bathroom and beer and met Dave, Leen, and Madison, who were having a great time. Madison may be a Dead convert, I hear she liked the second set even better than the first. How could you not be head over heels about this stuff?
They seemed to have converted all the good beer taps to just Bud Light and Shocktop, but I finally at least found some Sam lager and made it back to the seats right after the roar went up, announcing that they were back on stage.
And here's where it got good. They hadn't yet done Scarlet Fire on the tour and they were not about to let that oversight go for another minute. This was a boppy Scarlet, an ultimate hippy anthem, and then it became an exercise in controlled power that ultimately led to Oteil stepping up to the mike and sweetly telling us all how the mountain was on fire and it was all because of dragons playing with matches. This was excellent, cream-filled stuff.
And then ... well, here's the list:
Fire on the Mountain
Viola Lee Blues
He's Gone was as lovely as could be, but then one of the moments of the night was when that dwindled into noodling, and then fucking Viola Lee roared out of those ashes and picked up the Garden and shook it. It was kind of futile to scream our delight from where we were, but this one had me in ecstasy.
Ho hum, Drums, Space, Miles Davis, and Wharf Rat!?!?!?! Instead of the classic Thunder Drums the guys have dual sets of giant drum pads set up behind their rig this year and they got some incredible noises and rhythms going on those. This setup allowed them to mix in samples really easily and well. And they were joined by Oteil soon, on bass instead of traps this year.
A little note: Oteil spent much of his time standing on a red-lined mat(?) but stepped off that to sing, so we had no idea what that was for. But we figured he knew what he was doing! Another note is that Bobby's been wearing glasses this tour, the first time the youngster of the Dead has ever done that on stage (except for "home" concerts, like at Sweetwater). Maybe his vanity has finally lapsed enough for him to do so, but knowing Bobby I figure he finally said, "Hey, I can see better this way!" You'll be glad to hear that even though he could see better and had a teleprompter right there, he kept on forgetting words at his classic pace. Anyway, when Oteil had his on (they're on and off), that made 5 of the 6 band members wearing spectacles.
But where was I? Oh yeah, excellent jazz piano by Jeff on Milestones. Then epic but perhaps not the best Wharf Rat. Bobby's vocal power and range has been consistently top-notch lately but he still has a bit of trouble bringing the gravitas when he needs it, though this is a small criticism. But then they started into The Wheel, and the Garden woke up and started thundering. As I say, the sound at our end of the bowl was astounding. Not only was the bass and the rhythm guitar and the drums and the piano rocking us, the Deadheads to our left and to our right and beneath us and all around were singing on key to this epic Garcia song, and of course the lead guitar was piercing through everything with Mayer's twist on Garcia's melodies.
And then OMG, they started into Sugar Mags. This wasn't the balls-to-the-wall rock and roll of a 1972 version, but was still exactly what we needed to finish off a wonderful musical event. Bobby (with John on excellent harmony) was singing about love and sexual fascination and being free like irony had never been invented, and then they got deep down into the jam and then they emerged and Bobby didn't exactly jump to the mike (he kind of sidled up to it), and then they were singing about daydreams in the sunshine and life was just perfect. This is what we come for, I guess.
Dead & Company seem to be buying in to the idea that encores need to be timely. Jeez, when we last saw Jorma he just stood behind his chair at the end of his set, and then got back in it for the encore. The guys came back on stage almost as soon as they left. Billy may have had time for a quick piss in there, but as you get older that becomes a little tougher.
Anyway, John got an acoustic out but the others stuck to their electrics (I loved Bobby's walnut guitar, but he didn't play it for the encore), and they struck up Ripple, which John excels on. What a wonderful ending to a wonderful concert!
The crowd wanted a second encore, but the house lights came up and it was time to go home. We hung out a bit (we were in the middle of our row, way up in the balcony), but then we got assembled and got out of there pretty quickly into the cold and windy late Fall night. Downtown Boston was going at full tilt on a Friday night and it took us a while to push through the crowds up the lower slopes of Beacon Hill (including a short cut through the back of the hill, a working-class neighborhood back say, 45 years ago, but very upscale now). Then when we left the garage the streets were full of cars like it was rush hour, but we finally got onto the expressway, over the Zakim Bridge, and back home before it got really late.
Day off today and then back to the tour on Sunday!!!