Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Another Day in Santa Clara

It was time for a mellow-out day after the frenzy of the last few.  Breakfast was only until 9:00 on Monday morning (6/29), so I got up around 8 and staggered downstairs for an omelette, etc.  The Deadheads had started to clear out of the Embassy Suites (some proudly stated that they were now driving to Chicago), but there were still a bunch left and most of them were probably still asleep.  Dave joined us for breakfast too.

After eating a bit I went back upstairs and back to bed for a little more rest.  Our plane didn't leave until after 9PM, and so we had a long day to waste.  Up soon anyway and started reading reviews and catching up on correspondence.  After a while we formed a plan.  We'd hang out until noon, grab something to eat at Specialties, and then walk over to the nearby cineplex to catch a movie, then get to the airport at the end of the afternoon.

A few random thoughts about the shows had occurred to me...

  • It was an incredible time!
  • A major thing that made it so incredible was the production; the hospitality, lights, graphics, between-sets entertainment (original compositions by Neal Casal), etc. was beyond top-notch.  And being able to walk to the concerts and back along the creek trail was wonderful for our sensibilities.
  • The setlists were remarkable for what they played, but even more so for what they *didn't* play:
    • We can't believe they didn't play Estimated Prophet in their last shows on the west coast: "California, a prophet on the burning shore."
    • They didn't play any of their famous combos (besides St. Stephen/The Eleven): China/Rider, NFA/GDTRFB, Estimated/Eyes, Lazy Lightning/Supplication, Saint/Sailor, etc.
    • They didn't do some seminal songs that we were sure they'd do, like Shakedown, Box Of Rain, FOTD, Ripple, Touch Of Grey, Days Between, Sugaree, Deal, etc.
    • They didn't do any sandwiches, like PITB/[whatever]/PITB reprise, Help/Slipknot!/[whatever]/Franklin's, etc.
    • They didn't do any cowboy songs; sure they did BEW and Loser, but I mean MAMU, Big River, Mexicali, Mama Tried, El Paso ... not to mention The Race Is On, Silver Threads and Golden Needles, etc.
    • They didn't do the massive suites like Terrapin and Weather Report (let alone Blues For Allah).
    • They didn't do any Dylan songs (let alone Stones/Beatles songs).
  • This leaves plenty of things left for them to do in Chicago!
  • Jeez, how can they play all the things they *have* to play in one century?  I guess they can't, so maybe they shouldn't try.  What they did play was wonderful, so I guess they should just keep following their muse.
We packed up, checked our bags at the friendly front desk, and strolled across the street for some sandwiches and salad.  High tech Santa Clara was in the throes of a busy Monday noon-time; the parking lots all around us were full and the lunch place was mobbed with serious people.

After lunch we crossed 101 and meandered around the grounds of Our Lady Of Peace Church and Shrine, a Catholic enclave with a garden featuring stations of the cross and the giant statue of Our Lady that we had dubbed Our Lady Of Intel (photographed at her best angle, there was a large "Intel" logo right behind her, though when the picture below was taken I guess Yahoo was the blessed one).  I thought the plaster reliefs depicting the stations and the colossal statue itself were very good, both artistically and technically.  I'm not sure about spiritually.

Made it past the huge EMC2 campus and over to the AMC Mercado 20, where we were just in time for a showing of Inside Out, the latest Disney/Pixar creation, which was very good but kind of heavy for a kids movie.  I cried.

Then wandered slowly back to the hotel, got our bags, drank the last few beers/cider we had, and caught a cab for the airport.  The evening rush hour had already started though it was barely 4PM, but we made it to the JetBlue terminal and finally had a chance to sit quietly and read for a couple of hours until they checked our suitcase.

Through security and had a leisurely dinner at the Gordon Biersch brewpub.  As I knew from our last trip to California, it can be shockingly hard to find good beer there, but at least they had a couple of kinds of lager.  Where's that West Coast IPA you always hear about??  Oregon I guess.

Finally got on the red-eye with a few Dead stragglers, proudly wearing their colors, and a lot of business-people.  Long flight back to Boston, arriving at 5:30AM.  Got another cab there, got home, and soon were sleeping in our own beds.

What an exhausting trip, but we'd do it again in a heartbeat!  Now for a short work week and then the Chicago shows on webcast!!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Second Full Day at Fare Thee Well

Don't think I've mentioned breakfast at the Embassy Suites Santa Clara.  They do an excellent "all you can eat" breakfast including a omelette station where you can spec your own three-egg omelette: spinach, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, jalapenos, onions, ad nauseum.  And you can cover it with salsa, hot sauce, and whatever you want.  They also have the standard pancakes, piles of bacon, piles of sausages, acres of scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, yogurt, cereal, juice, etc.  They don't do coffee or tea well, but what the heck, we were usually too busy eating to complain.

So on Sunday morning (6/28) I wanted to sleep late but did *not* want to miss breakfast.  I got up at 9:00 or so and stumbled downstairs along with hordes and hordes of walking Dead, determined to stuff ourselves full of yummy calories, fruit, liquids, and grease ... and then go back upstairs and back to bed.  By the time I really got up at 11, SMC had just ended!  So much for my career as a rock-n-roll correspondent.

Texting had been a failure and so me and friends started emailing.  [The Embassy Suites advertised internet access for a fee, but when I asked they just gave me the password; they were very nice people and, as mentioned, the whole "package" experience was great, thanks to everyone involved!]  Good information had it that Shakedown Street had been delegated to Red Lot 6, and so we agreed to (try to) meet there at 3:30 to 4:30, looking to enter the Stadium at 5 for the 6:00 show (Saturday had been scheduled for 7:00 but actually started at 7:25 or so).

We had our eye on a Mexican restaurant called Pedro's that was right on the creek trail for our pre-show meal, though to get there we'd have to brave unknown stretches of high tech ghettos.  But we weren't sure when we'd be capable physically or socially of leaving.  The days before had been really exhausting and even though we'd slept late that morning, we were still in some kind of jet lag/sleep deprivation state.

One smart thing we did is that I went out and got sandwiches at the "Specialties" shop across Bowers Avenue (in the midst of a construction zone even on Sunday ... the newest high tech buildings could not wait).  I stowed the sandwiches in the in-room refrigerator (along with the copious amounts of beer, milk, chips, and cider we had there) so that we'd have something to munch on when we came home starving.

Finally, slowly, got all geared up and said a sad fare thee well to Ricky and Holly, who had to get started on their 18-hour drive back to Colorado for work on Tuesday, and so miss the Sunday show!  We then took off walking North, across the overpass of the packed and carbon-belching highway 101 into far North Santa Clara, past the brilliant, steel statue of Our Lady of Intel (see tomorrow's post for more detail), past strip malls fluctuating in and out of reality in the hard sun, past chain coffee shops and painted lawns (seriously, if you paint them they don't require water), and past and through the lanes and lanes of traffic and finally into a quiet (on Sundays) section, where we at last drifted into Pedro's parking lot.  On a weekday this area must be a madhouse of yuppies getting the best tacos and mango juice.

Pedro's had acquired 4 out of 5 stars consistently on sites I'd looked at, was right on our way, and we were very psyched to try it.  Unfortunately, several things were out of kilter at this point.  Both Sarah and I (and later Dave) were feeling dizzy and sick to our stomachs, and we also were excruciatingly aware that we were the ones holding up the parade!  Our friends would be congregating in Red Lot 6 and we were going to be way late, as we'd been delayed leaving and getting to Pedro's.  On top of this, the service culture at Pedro's was European ... which is a nice way of saying that they paid no attention when we wanted to be seated, order, or get the bill, even though they weren't crowded.

Whatever!  The food there was excellent, miles above the formulaic Mexican restaurant we'd gone to the day before, and I boxed up some of my incredibly seasoned chicken for snacks during the concert when I couldn't finish it.  Sarah and I started to feel much better (the malaise was probably a mix of exhaustion (which we couldn't treat but had to deal with), dehydration (which we were treating as well as we could), dealing with the fucking heat/dryness (see dehydration above), and momentary lack of psych, which was a very minimal problem!).  In fact, the very thought that we were about to see the Grateful Dead in California and that they'd probably go far beyond the show we'd seen Saturday night just had me boiling over with eagerness.  I wouldn't care if both my legs were broken, I would have to downplay it to the EMTs and go see the show anyway.

Got out of Pedro's (next time we'll be more leisurely there, fantastic place), picked up the creek trail and the next intersection, and motored on up to the parking lots at Levi's.  We wanted to meet our friends but when we at last approached the North end of the Stadium after navigating the miles of parking lots, they texted us that Shakedown Street actually wasn't that great when they had found it at last, and that it was time for them to go in for the show.  We were all aware of what a hassle/time-sink it would be inside, if and when we got there.  Dave stayed in the parking lot to meet a friend and pass him the extra ticket we had for Sunday while Sarah and I proceeded on inside.

This time we knew where the bottlenecks would be and managed to fill our water bottles, and get beer.  I found a stand with Anchor Steam and ordered one of those (I hadn't had Anchor Steam in ages and it's so iconic!), and when I went to pony up my $11 the guy told me it was free, that someone had just left him with a pile of cash to cover the next rounds of beers for the next few people at that stand and I was one of them.  This was so nice!  I left a little money to add to the pile and pass it down to the next people, but recognized that it had been that guy's idea, and that he had made a special mark on our little segment of the world.  Thanks for a real good time!

Made it to our seats, possibly an hour before the music was going to start, and watched the sun lighting up the other side of the Stadium.  Then we noticed that there were a couple of people in section 313 looking at us through binoculars and waving at us.  F&P had seen *us* this time!  I left Sarah there in 142, circumnavigated the concourses, and climbed up to 313 to hang out a bit in the late afternoon sun.  We could see from there that B&L had grabbed seats behind the stage ... probably a great spot, more on this later ... and I tried to get over to see them after leaving 313 but that darned Stadium did not make things easy and I couldn't figure out how to get to them.  And now time was getting short!  Finally made it back to 142 (with another beer that I had picked up on one of the relatively deserted upper concourses), a few minutes before 6:00.

When the guys came out it was definitely an hour earlier than the concert-start had been the day before, as measured by the progression of the sun around the stadium.  It was bright out, but then the afternoon soon dimmed and the wind picked up and got crazier.  We were sitting in the "sun lee" of the Stadium; that is, our third of Levi's was the Northwest corner and was in the shade of the setting sun, and was the segment where the wind acted up the most, especially in the first part of the first set.

On Sunday several people (or maybe it was one group??) had brought long balloons, tied into stars, or you can call them three-dimensional asterisks, or jacks.  The wind was whipping around in our corner, sometimes calm, other times knocking us over with its force, sometimes hot and sometimes cold.  There were sudden updrafts and downdrafts: sometimes we saw balloons dropping down like lead weights from the upper levels of the Stadium, and sometimes balloons from our level would soar incredibly far up into the air, trying to reach the upper levels, only to dip and swoop and come careening over our heads, making us duck and get out of their way, only to see them rise up again when the sun glinted off them and have them then come drifting slowly back.

The devilest of these were the jacks.  You could punch a regular balloon back up into the air current and it would swoop away.  But when one of the jacks demanded your attention you didn't know where to hit it to elevate it back into the wind.  You had to hold it by a prong and then kind of push it upwards when the timing was right ... which meant we had to pay more attention to other people's balloons than we wanted!  Quite a conundrum, just like life.  But when you were able to nudge one of the jacks along and the wind took it, and it swooped and rose and fell back over our heads like a tumbling star, we all knew that was what took our neighbors' breath/minds away and we were all on board with that.

So let me see, what were we there for?  Oh yeah, some music.  My friend Phil is a Bob Weir devotee to put it mildly, and one of his adages is always to be watching out for the night they open with Feel Like a Stranger, because YOU KNOW that that's going to be a long, long, crazy, crazy, silky, silky night.  Not that I don't think that's a great song, but going back to my theme of "must play" songs vs. not "musts," I didn't consider later Bobby songs to be on the list.  But ... you know what they opened with?  Here's the first set:

  • Feel Like A Stranger
  • New Minglewood Blues >
  • Brown-Eyed Women
  • Loose Lucy
  • Loser
  • Row Jimmy
  • Alabama Getaway
  • Black Peter
  • Hell In A Bucket

This deserves a "Holy Fuck!!"  It was obvious from the first notes of Stranger ... probably from the first few notes of tuning ... that this was going to be a night of GREAT playing (if not silky).  It was like the core 4 had sat down with the other guys and the conversation went like this:

C4: Trey and Bruce, you know we tapped you for this because you're great musicians.
T&B: Aw shucks, thanks.
C4: No, we have a point.  It's now time to play like it.  Play as well as you goddam can and you know what?  When you look up we'll be right with you, perhaps a bit ahead in fact.  And Jeff, just keep on doing what you're doing, we've told the guys to turn you up.

The three-quarter moon rose behind the band (and the Bud Light sign) as the music started ... it'll be full next week in Chicago.  Bobby was again singing as well as ever, Trey was pulling original leads out of thin air, Phil was playing with tectonic plates, Billy and Mickey were pounding rhythms within rhythms within rhythms, and the keyboard players were astonishing.  Just listening to Bruce and Jeff alone could bring you to tears, make you dance, and teach you sounds within sounds that you'd never heard before.

They finished Stranger with a bang, and then launched into Minglewood ... another Bobby song but what the fuck?  This was yet another song from their first record, sung and played with conviction and funk and the bit of mystery/weirdness emblematic of their early stuff as opposed to the raw country/blues bravado of late-70s versions.

And then they let Bruce sing!  They just sprang into BEW and Bruce gave us his version of blue-eyed soul.  He's looking mighty grey lately himself, and the guys joined in for the "bottle was dusty" chorus (in fact, this was the ultimate sing-along, 80K+ people singing their lungs out) but then they hushed up and let him do the "old man's getting on" echo alone.  And my Dog was he playing that grand piano!  His cohort Jeff noticed and jumped at the opportunity to wind organ sounds around the piano, and in and out with Trey's guitar, and vibrate them in resonance with the bass, all while Bobby was listening to what he was doing and played around him himself.  Bruce thought he was playing pretty well, then he looked up and the other guys were right with him, perhaps a bit ahead!

Dave and I had been nudging each other black and blue during Stranger, had just gawked openly at each other during Minglewood (he had switched seats with Sarah and was between us, unfortunately Ricky was not there, though that meant a little more dancing room), but we could do nothing more than smack our foreheads in disbelief during Brown-Eyed Women.  It sure was on my list of "must plays" ... it's not the kind of song that you think of if you had to explain the Dead to people from Pluto (though when I think about it, I bet the people on Pluto are already Deadheads), but it's a quintessential Dead song in every way.  And singing it was a paean to Jerry.

And those guys gave us no chance to towel off after that, striking up Loose Lucy with Bobby drooling (marvelously) all over the mike again.  The Saturday show had contained most of the songs they did in Friday's sound check, and the same was true about Sunday morning's sound check (which included this song) presaging this show.  And again, it was incredible!  Weir had his funky blues hat on, Trey was dancing on a high wire.  You get the idea.

Mars Hotel came out the first summer I was a SERIOUS Deadhead and I can't hear songs from that record without going back to the summer of '74 and remembering what I was thinking and feeling then.  As Dave says, they were playing with the old powers that had been awarded to them back in antiquity.

I'm not even half-way through telling you about that amazing set.  Let's speed it up a bit:

  • They hadn't let Bruce sing much on Saturday, but let him loose again on Loser, which he just killed vocally.  He was careful not to also dominate with his piano leads, but this song is begging for that, and he caused the whole Silicon Valley region to swirl together into a bluesy, introspective funk. 
  • Row Jimmy was another song they'd done in sound check and they had it down so well we couldn't stand it.  Billy gushes about this song in his recent book, and I tried to concentrate on his beat throughout.  But how can you concentrate on any one thing when every instrument on the stage is expressing that same ... I don't know ... slow gospel-tinged burning?
  • And then Trey took over!  I'd never heard Alabama Getaway as other than a set-opener dominated by the guitar and the strong beat.  And he sure ripped off those leads and belted out the catchy lyrics.  He tried to dominate it but again, when he looked up the other guys were right with him or a bit ahead, with Phil's bass strings just smoking, Bobby playing faster than you thought he could, and the drummers cascading rapid beats on top of each other.
  • I'm on record as saying that Bobby can't sing Black Peter ... which to me is a primal Dead song that must be sung by Garcia.  But he tried it again and this time he pretty much succeeded.  But never mind that, just listen to Bruce play this song!!!  He knows how to express the tragic quality.  You have to hear this one.
  • The first set on Saturday had been a bit short, and we expected a longer one on Sunday.  But the set had already gone on for a while and we were guessing about what they'd do to wrap it up.  We didn't see Hell In A Bucket coming (until they started tuning for it), and it was a fantastic ending to a fantastic first set.  All the players continued their excellence, but the enduring memory of the song was Trey running away with the lead and Phil and Bobby just beaming at him with delight and peaking along with him.  And then Trey went further, and then he went further!  Phil was now nodding at him to say, "OK, let's bring it down at the end of this measure" and Bobby was looking at him like, "Gee. my back is killing me, time for the set break right?"  And Trey actually turned his back on them and kept on playing!  We were all going NUTS!!

Oh My Dog I say yet again.  That was amazing, amazing, amazing!!!  They had just killed the beast in front of us and romped through its innards, and the roadies were clearing the corpse off the stage so they could do it again.

But we *had* to see our friends, whom we hadn't been able to meet up with before!  Dave stayed at the seats, Sarah and I split up for the bathrooms, and eventually we rendezvoused with B&L (joined by F&P) behind the stage.  When the demand for seats was at its most extreme, Shapiro Productions had announced that they were going to "go 360" and open seats behind the stage.  It would be physically impossible for all "behind the stage" seats to not have an obstructed view, but our friends had managed to grab the first row of the terrace hanging over the stage and these were great seats!  We hadn't seen B&L for years and hope to see them again soon.  We gabbed a bit but had to take off after just a short time, since even an hour set-break is not a lot when you have to navigate the Levi's crowds.

Made it back to our seats one last time, squeezing past seeming miles and miles of stoned hippies trying to get into the club seats ("Hey man, I'm *allowed* in there!"), beer lines stranded in the concourse, earnest people trying to spread political/environmental/new age consciousness, and waves and waves of people wearing colorful clothes, colorful flesh, weird t-shirts, and weird hats.  I got out my full bottle of water, placed it in front of me, and took inventory.  It had been an exhausting time so far, I had stood for all the music to that point.  But I realized that I'd probably have to pace myself and sit for some of the second set if I was going to make it to the end and then the miles along the creek back to the hotel.  OK, I was ready for the second set.

And then the lights went off, the guys came out, the second set started and the pot smoke all around made me realize yet again that a) I wasn't in control of the situation at all, b) I was stoned and would probably get more stoned by the time it was done, and c) that I'd survive.  And what did they open with?  It was one of my ultimate sing-song songs, the things you realize are playing in the back of your brain at stressful or boring or totally blank-mind situations, a song that's seared into my consciousness and that I have NEVER gotten bored with, Mississippi Half-Step.  Here's the second set:
  • Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo >
  • Jam >
  • Wharf Rat >
  • Space >
  • Eyes of the World >
  • He’s Gone >
  • Drums >
  • Space >
  • I Need A Miracle >
  • Death Don't Have No Mercy >
  • Sugar Magnolia

They shot through Half-Step, continuing the fantastic level at which they'd been playing in the first set.  At the end of the song they didn't want to stop and so got into possibly the best jam of the weekend, which got weirder and weirder and weirder and farther away from any song the Dead had ever done.  And then Trey would go on a run, or Phil would introduce a theme, or Bobby would strike a few chords and get everyone looking at him and then turn around and fiddle with his amp, or the drummers would say "enough of this shit" and get a groove going off in a different direction.  Bruce and Jeff just watched those guys and played in and out of everything they were doing.

They couldn't do this forever!  What was that??  Holy fucking Jesus, it was time to finally march out of the jam into Wharf Rat like we were stepping in time with the gongs of eternity.  One of the take-aways of the weekend  was that Bobby is an incredible singer and just as he had done with Dew, he killed this incredibly powerful song.  This was another moment in the weekend where the tears were streaming down my face (probably not actually, I was dry), and I was smiling and smiling.

Wharf Rat degenerated into a sonic maelstrom ... and then Dave called the next song.  The two songs I would have been most disappointed if they hadn't played that weekend were St. Stephen and Eyes Of the World.  They had done St. Stephen yesterday (boy, did they!), and now Bobby started strumming his riff and Phil started his long approach to take-off and Billy and Mickey started the elongated shuffle, and they were playing Eyes.  Life couldn't get any better than this.

Phil sang Eyes, which is the way I'd have preferred it.  But he finally showed a bit of fatigue here and didn't excel.  But never mind that!  Bobby carries Eyes himself and with Bruce emoting all over his fucking grand piano and Trey sneaking up on us with notes from the stratosphere and Jeff's waves growling out of the Leslie ... well, I was kind of in heaven.

And the seamless second set continued after Phil bumbled his way through the last verse of Eyes.  They started to go back into deep jam space but then realized that if they did they might never get out of it, and you could tell by the gleam in their eyes that they all knew what song they wanted to do next: He's Gone.  There was some confusion when they finally got there, but they got through the verses and the magic was the coda, when Bobby started WAILING about nothing bringing him back.  This was incredibly successful musically and was obviously very successful emotionally.  Was there any question who "he" was in this case?  There was not a dry eye in the house (figuratively, we were in the middle of a drought).

Oh jeez, I'm going on again.  Time to try to digest the rest here:

  • The Drums segment was a tasty delight!  We'd agreed that they had to do something very different for drums after the mega-show on Saturday, and they sure did.  Mickey's friend (and Grammy winner) Sikiru Adepoju came out with his talking drum and kept up a sinuous beat while Billy and Mickey grooved all over their setup.  Adepoju was the only guest musician the whole weekend, and was brilliant.
  • They did a short Space, which became very structured quickly because they knew what was coming next.  They teased it over and over and over and then Bobby hit the pealing intro to...
  • I Need A Miracle was awesome!  The crowd woke up again and roared and roared along.  We sang the verses and choruses in unison and then it was time for the bridge: "It takes DYNAMITE to get me off...."   The stadium was rocking, the lights were flashing, our minds were soaring, and Bobby's eyes were bugging out.  This was another of the peaks of the weekend,
  • And then the band brought it back down again and started on a long lope that morphed into one of the great songs of Rev. Gary Davis: Death Don't Have No Mercy (again, from Live Dead).  Bobby sang this one too, perhaps not as well as a true blues singer like Jorma (or Jerry), but by Dog he was emoting,  You could tell that this meant something personal to him, that he had lost close friends and his father and was terrified about losing other people he loved, and he was here to tell us that death don't have no fucking mercy and we'd better get our heads around that because it's the truth.  This was powerful stuff and might have ended the set, but that would have been a downer.  Instead he led the guys into a short spell of noodling and then ...
  • Another song at the top of my "must play" list was Sugar Magnolia.  Bobby was getting a little spent by then and casting some longing looks at the stool he'd been leaning against in the jams.  But he was more psyched to soldier on than any of us at this point and we could tell he was bound to end this night on an upbeat note.  Again, the crowd sang along precisely with every word (even those who were asleep): "She comes skimming through rays of violet...."
  • And then they jammed and crashed and collided and somehow produced a marvelous sound and then Bobby was jumping back to the mike and shouting, "SUNSHINE DAYDREAM, WALK YOU IN THE TALL TREES!!" and every one of the 80K+ was jumping up and down and thrusting their fists in the air.  And then they finished the song with the grandest finale they could muster and walked off stage.

I was way beyond spent at this point, and feeling more glorious than I had in a long time.  The tops(!?!) of my feet were incredibly sore, but my head was spinning in a wonderful way, I was loose, and I loved everybody around me ... I still do!

 But what were they going to do for an encore?  We could have guessed, but they'd thrown us so many curveballs already that weekend that we were just trying to defend the plate.  Phil came out and gushed again ... go back to the tape to hear exactly what he said if you want, but basically he thanked the GD crazies for the energy they'd given them for years, and acknowledged that we'd done it once again.  Then it was time for yet one more encore.

Bobby introduced it with a call for a moment of silence for all the people we'd lost.  It was a remarkably successful moment of silence for a full stadium too.

And we were all so glad that it was Brokedown Palace.  "Fare you well, my honey...."  I'd like to comment on the harmony, or how Trey's lead snaked in and out of the lyrics, or how Bruce's piano thundered the chords.  But I (and probably the rest of the Stadium) was in an altered state and could not summon a critical sensibility.  This was the final live Fare Thee Well for me (I'll see Chicago on the webcast).  When they finished, the voice in the back of my head said, "goodbye Billy, goodbye Bobby..." as they stripped off their instruments and staggered off stage.  Mickey stopped by the mike this evening and shouted his thanks and goodbyes to the crowd.

It's not beyond the realm of possibility for me that the guys will be at some festival or some event separately, and suddenly find themselves back on the stage together ("Why not?").  But they will never re-convene with this level of production quality, preparation, die-hardiness, and determination to milk the magic that they've found together.  This ending had an air of finality.

The stadium lights came back up and the three of us realized that we'd better start back tout d'suite if we were ever going to find ourselves back in our beds.  As I say, we'd had some time to get used to the crowd flows and so set off, knowing that if we leaned that way at this junction and swayed the other way on that concourse, that we'd end up at the right staircase and get spit out at the South end of the Stadium, where we could get the San Tomas Aquino creek trail ... we hoped!

It all worked out and we stumbled through miles and miles of stunned Deadheads back to the trail, where we got in line with a bunch of other tired and exuberant people on the trail and swayed our way down South, into the depths of Santa Clara, and finally back to Scott Boulevard and ultimately the Embassy Suites.

I would have loved to hang out with the guys outside the hotel all night again, but we were starving, exhausted, and barely vocal.  We gladly wolfed down our sandwiches, had a beer, and then went right to bed.  Again, I could hear the party going on outside my window and would have loved to have been there, but there comes a time...

Sunday, June 28, 2015

First Full Day at Fare Thee Well

I slept pretty well for most of the night and then made myself sleep/doze until 8, at which point I figured I was on California time (morning of 6/27).  Joined Sarah downstairs for the excellent Embassy Suites custom-made omelette breakfast, and then Dave, Ricky, and Holly trickled down too.

CID representatives were already on site in the Embassy Suites and were setting up in the ballroom on the second floor.  I was one of the first ones there right after breakfast and got our tickets, shuttle wrist-bands, and commemorative t-shirts with no problem.  As much as we'd been worried about CID giving us a hard time for me getting two packages, not provisioning well/on time, etc., they turned out to be remarkably nice and efficient people and promoters.  We liked CID Entertainment and could understand delays in dealing with thousands of anxious people.

A few more hours of hanging out, making plans, checking email and maps, and conjecture ... then it was time for me to head over to the Best Western University Inn.  Long story (see earlier post), but I had gotten a package at the BWUI for friends F&P and B&L.  I planned to walk over there to meet B&L and check them in.

Santa Clara is a weird city, segregated very clearly into high tech office ghettos and crowded residential sections running the gamut of income levels.  The Embassy Suites was in the high tech section, which on the weekends was nothing more than a wasteland of huge buildings, corporate logos, freeways, and gigantic parking lots.  I strolled South and East on wide boulevards past towering, deserted buildings and endless parking lots with lots of outdoor fire equipment and parched lawns.  We'd consulted, but Sarah and I had no idea what species most of the trees and shrubs were, though some of them were in bloom and quite beautiful.

I'd rarely meet a car or bicycle, let alone another pedestrian, but it didn't take me long to figure out the pecking order.  It was bicycles/scooters/skateboards first, then cars, and then pedestrians a distant third.  I guess if they had any horses in the city limits they'd be up there too, with Segways maybe.  The reality was that it was precedence to the coolest, and in this decade it's bicycles dominating the pecking order on the roads.  And sidewalks!  Twice that weekend I had to give way to bicycles on the sidewalk when there was a bike lane on the road.

And speaking of dominance of the coolest, it also became apparent quickly that this was not the kind of place where you acknowledged each other when passing on the street.  When I gave way to cars they didn't even wave, and when I passed other people on the street they suddenly had to look at their phone.  The only exception was if both people were wearing gear that identified them as Deadheads, and they got fewer and fewer as I went South.

Picked up a concrete-lined section of the San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail, and it spit me out into the heart of a residential district, which led me down to El Camino Real and the BWUI.  Bob and Lynelle arrived a bit before I did and we hugged in the parking lot ... it had been a long time since I'd seen them!  They were ready for some R&R after a long trip, and so after checking them in and getting their tickets, t-shirts, and wristbands, I took off for the return trip to the Embassy Suites.  F&P were just arriving at that time up at the San Francisco airport and would be a few more hours before arriving in Santa Clara, and so I left their stuff with B&L.

Made it back to the Embassy Suites in 2:15 ... exactly the amount of time expected if everything went well, which it had.  Gathered ourselves and then walked up the block to the local El Torito restaurant on Lakeside Drive, which was nice but a totally formulaic Mexican place.  We yucked it up some there but finished quickly, went back to the hotel for our stuff, and then took off for the concert!

We'd seen that the aforementioned San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail ran North-South a few blocks East of the hotel and went straight to Levi's Stadium.  So it's about a 50 minute walk (55 min, 2.8 miles according to Google), mostly along a city creek to the Stadium.  And we much preferred doing this on our own schedule to waiting for the shuttle busses, which might not leave us that close anyway and might run at very inconvenient times.

You've gotta watch out for bicycles whizzing past on the creek trail (see pecking order above), but we survived and got a great view of the back of a few more HUGE high tech campi, the behind-the-scenes side of the Great America [sic] amusement/water park (with some feral cats sleeping in a back lot), and some wildlife along the urban wetland of the creek.  And then there it was, Levi's Stadium shining in the afternoon sun, flying Grateful Dead flags and marquees, a beautiful sight.

Where did Shakedown Street go?  There were a few people selling stuff out of their cars, but there was no dedicated vending area that we could see, even when we wandered and wandered around the parking lots.  Dave met up with a friend from back East eventually, we heard lots of rumors about where Shakedown Street was, and we tried texting with my friends about where to meet up.  This was just the start of phone failure, probably due to thousands and thousands of phones being used at once in a small area and fucking up the bandwidth.  No possibility of meeting up with them (their shuttle didn't even leave the BWUI until 5:30), so we got in line and went on inside.  Actually we had a little delay when they wouldn't let Holly in with her hula hoop and we had to check it.

But then we got in and were instantly delighted.  The Shapiro Productions people were giving a long-stemmed rose to everyone and handing out commemorative placards to wear around your neck.  These were both very nice touches and we stood behind the stage a while to get acclimated when we reached the main concourse.

Levi’s Stadium is nice in some ways … they have great vistas of northern Santa Clara with its soccer fields, the water slides at Great America, and high tech parks.  And you can see up to the Bay from the very top.  But in other ways it’s a shockingly poorly designed place for a large number of people.  Maybe it works better with the people-flow you get at a football game, but on the main concourse for concerts at least there are certain narrow choke-points that thousands of people have to go through and that become violent rugby scrums.

The bathrooms are incredibly poorly designed for people flowing in and flowing out: you have to wind your way into a dead-end room, find a vacant toilet, and then force your way through the crowd jamming in behind you so you can get out.  They only sell Bud Light at most beer stands, and charge $11 for a small cup when you do find a good beer stand.  They tell you that you can bring in one empty water bottle, but they have no stations to fill water bottles!  You’ve got to find one of the few water fountains in the place and fill your bottle awkwardly, spilling some on the floor.  And this is a brand new stadium??  It gets very poor marks from me.

Enough of that … we got some beer, got to our seats, and settled in to our seats at about 6:20 to enjoy the crowd and the show.  We were in section 142, about at the 10-yard line in the Northwest corner of the Stadium, looking at the stage set up in the South end zone, projecting out almost to our opponents' 30-yard line.  The setting sun was still partly lighting up the East seats, but the day was partly overcast and the upcoming sunset promised to be fantastic.

The Stadium was filling up steadily, and we were soon very glad that we had made it to our seats.  We looked over in section 313 and were glad to see that our friends had made it too.  A lot of people couldn’t get in the Stadium at all until after 7 (show start on paper), but by 7:25 the place was pretty full, the house lights went off, and the band came out.

The guys lined up with Trey Anastasio on the left, Phil next, and of course a bit behind him, and then Bobby stage center.  Behind those three was the massive drum setup, just an incredible area centered on two drum kits and ringed by rows of congas, tom-toms, thunder drums, and everything you could think of, including The Beam in Mickey’s section.  Way over to the right was Bruce Hornsby’s grand piano, and a bit above that on a riser (but not as high as the drum setup, was Jeff Chimenti’s organ/synthesizer/Leslie setup.

This was all centered under a huge scaffolding, with skull and roses artwork across the the top.  Both sides of the scaffolding held up vertical video screens that generally showed the view from one of the cameras that circled the band and/or were set up at the front of the sound tent, in a lozenge surrounded by beautiful graphics provided by Candace Brightman and her crew.  These screens were echoed in the large video screens, high up at the ends of the Stadium, but in a horizontal format.  These generally showed the selected camera’s view with the graphics to the left and the right of the real-time scene.

It was still too light out for us to tell how good the stage/crowd lights would be, but as it got darker we marveled at them too.  They played on parts of the scaffolding, sending shoots of color up them and into the sky.  Each vertical board was bordered at the top and at the bottom with banks of lights that either lit up the boards, or panned synchronously across the crowd or the far parts of the Stadium, shifting colors all the time.  At times the lights could make the crowd look like rippling waves of people.

The scaffolding was studded with huge banks of speakers of course, and there were other speaker towers arrayed around the football field.  One was pointing right at us from about a hundred feet away.  The speaker towers hosted banks of lights too, that could pan up into the sky and reflect colored light into the crowd.  And they also hosted smoke machines, that belched out clouds that were subtly lit by the multi-colored light show.

Hope I’ve described it well enough!  Really, the sound was fantastic (especially on night two) and the lights and the graphical visualizations were wonderful and trippy and mind-bending.

There was also crowd participation in the visual experience of course.  Balloons and beach balls were inflated and batted around constantly.  Some descended from the upper decks, but the incredible thing was how many up-drafts and swirling mini-twisters there were in the Stadium, and the balloons soared up into the air and around the crowd.

And then the band started and the magic really began!  On this opening night they felt each other out, felt out the sound in the Stadium, and turned everything into long, academic jams.  Here’s the first set:

  • Jam >
  • Truckin’
  • Uncle John’s Band
  • Alligator >
  • Cumberland Blues
  • Born Cross-Eyed >
  • Cream Puff War
  • Viola Lee Blues
We’d spent a lot of time before the shows wondering about what they were going to play, and Truckin’ was high up on the "they *have* to play this" list.  Their tuning turned into a slow Truckin’ jam … obvious at least to those of us familiar with later Furthur and recent Phil and Friends concerts.  They then dropped into the familiar riff, the whole group started into the opening chorus, the crowd joined in in full-throated unison, and we were off!

No one of the thousands and thousands on the stage or in the suddenly packed Stadium (or watching the webcast around the world) doubted at all the wisdom that had sprouted from Hunter’s pen over 45 years before, that it had been a long, strange trip.  And we were all fulfilled acknowledging as a group that the trip continues.

For me, this was the first of many moments in the Santa Clara concerts that almost moved me to crying and beaming at the same time, like a sun shower.  It felt so self-affirming, life-affirming, and vital.  We were all sharing the experience of these great moments, and a consciousness of music, and a perspective on life that in some of us dated to 50 years ago (or more), and in some of the younger people dated to much more recent happenings.  I was surprised at the number of children and even infants in the crowd, brought by their parents to be part of what we all had participated in and hopefully would always participate in.

Bobby didn’t forget any of the words to Truckin’ … I also noted that he had a stool set up in the back of his workstation in case it was needed.  They ended that number and almost immediately dove into another “must play” song, Uncle John’s Band.  The crowd wanted to sing, kick out the kinks, and roar in delight and these first two songs were so cathartic for everyone!

Then they ended and scratched their asses a bit in true Grateful Dead fashion, and then they launched into Alligator, Phil singing the lead excellently!  This was nowhere near the top of the “must play” list but signaled that they would be giving the early phase of their career its just treatment tonight.  Phil even sang the “burn down the Fillmore, gas the Avalon” back-lyric clearly, and all the vocalists joined in on the choruses … as well as everyone in the Stadium of course.  Ricky was particularly delighted as this is perennially near the top of his personal list.

The night was not at all without glitches and confusion on stage, and their transition from Alligator to Cumberland was filled with false starts, but was marvelous anyway.  This song is always near the top of my list, and again signaled that they were going to be playing the early stuff tonight.  Bruce had his first chance to really shine on this one, tickling those ivories with a bluegrass frenzy.

Trey was obviously not stepping up, preferring to sit back and let Bobby, Phil, and the drummers lead.  We could barely hear Jeff in this set.  The sound was still not fully worked out, and they all were playing it safe.  But what’s this?  How can you play it safe when you’re playing Born Cross-Eyed (another opposite of a “must play” but great)??  And then Trey grabbed the bit and ran with it on Cream Puff War, possibly the first great Garcia guitar send-up.  He was rocking on this one and the thousands all around the stage were right there with him.  Wow!

And then they played one of Dave’s favorites, another from their first album, Viola Lee Blues!?!  I would never have thought this would make their setlist for the Fare Thee Well shows, but Dave was consistent in arguing for it.

They had been in the song for a few minutes and were getting into a complicated jam after the first few verses, and then the magic whacked us over the heads.  As I say, that late afternoon had turned kind of adventuresome weather-wise and there had apparently been a few raindrops.  And then the setting sun came back out strong, lighting up the clouds in mysterious shades of purple and yellow, and then a complete rainbow appeared, spanning the roof of the Stadium from West to East.  We all roared as the rainbow glowed and widened, eventually spreading out like a cosmic peacock’s tail to show distinct bands of the whole spectrum of color.  And the music never stopped ... the band played on, louder and louder, reaching crescendos and then spilling off them and re-forming for the next.  A second, narrow rainbow appeared, arcing just South of the first.

That was the last song of the set, how could you beat that?  Some idiotic news outlets carried the rumor that the rainbow had been a man-made apparition produced by the Shapiro Production crew (see Snopes response).  One I saw even quoted a price of $50K for it.  This was patently ridiculous … man can’t duplicate that beauty (and wouldn’t be allowed to try to in the San Jose airport flight path that Levi’s is in).  This was one of those cosmic, magical moments that the Grateful Dead experience (and/or the live music experience, the get-out-in-nature experience, etc.) is all about.  Leave your senses open to serendipity and it will occur!

Geez, we were having fun, though we knew that leaving our seats at the set break would be a struggle.  I made it to the bathroom and back and it’s a good thing that people were so friendly, because this was difficult for everyone involved.  I’d brought my empty water bottle and finally found where to fill it up.  I would have liked another beer, but it was so crowded on the concourse that no one knew where the line began and ended.  Besides all this confusion, people had set up a Jerry shrine in the middle of the concourse, now adorned with many of the roses we had all been handed.  And there was a silent guitar auction set up there too.

Oh well, made it back to the seats unscathed and Sarah, Dave, and Ricky did too eventually (Holly had a ticket in one of the upper sections, we could see her through Sarah’s zoom lens).  The lights finally went off again, the guys were suddenly back on stage, and the dragon started roaring.  Here’s the second set:

Cryptical Envelopment >
Dark Star >
St. Stephen >
The Eleven >
Turn On Your Love Light >
Drums/Space >
What's Become Of The Baby >
The Other One >
Morning Dew

What can I say but that this was an experience beyond description?  Here's a shot at some bullet points about that set, just to make it easier for you to read:

  • As mentioned, I'm a sucker for old Dead.  It was probable from the before-set tuning that they were about to engage in Cryptical, and then they did and all our faces melted and all light was focused on the stage (no, I was not tripping :)).
  • I (and probably the majority of people (with opinions) in the Stadium) were sure that they were going to go into the full TOO from Cryptical.  And then they blew our minds.  Phil played the signature riff, but it was *not* the signature riff we were expecting.  It took my mind several minutes to realize that they really were playing Dark Star, the second song of the second set on the first night ... the ultimate (well, one of them) expression of their art.  Then I had no problem with it and it was fantastic!  They did the vocal arrangement Furthur had perfected, splitting the verses between the three guitarists.
  • My first attempt at forecasting a setlist for Santa Clara had them playing a seamless second set that included the Dark Star > St. Stephen > The Eleven > Lovelight sequence from Live Dead.  They had done parts of this (with the William Tell bridge!) in soundcheck on Friday.  And then they did it live.  Though they had pleased Ricky with Alligator and Dave with Viola Lee, it may have been even sweeter for me when they did this seminal combo.
  • Of course, Bobby sang the William Tell bridge and got mixed up about the verses!  As opposed to most of his vocal flubs, you could tell he was very embarrassed about this one, and he stepped back from the mike and gave the guys the "do it again" signal, and they got it right that time.
  • And then Bobby (successfully) sang all the count-down parts of The Eleven.  He also gave it his post-Dead treatment ... that is, he embellished it with his cries of "What now?" and "Poor Samuel!"  I guess he must really think that this is how they sang it back in 1969.
  • It was a short Lovelight, but Bobby was in fine voice (Phil was too, their musical preparation for the shows could not be questioned), and he does a great job on this Pigpen rave-up, this time throwing in a few funky shouts.  There was no question but that they were doing these songs as tribute to where they'd been and who had been there with them.
  • The Drums segment was excellent and just watching the delight with which Billy and Mickey pounded every last one of that incredible array of percussion instruments was riveting, let alone the sound which soon filled the Stadium and echoed in the corridors.
  • Later in Drums, Mickey joined Billy at the thunder drums and did his old schtick of raising his mallets to beseech the crowd to join him in bringing down the rain, and then hurling himself at the drums and beating them with the power of Thor.  He also got The Beam going (Google it ... it's in D), and played it with two huge bows from God's Double-Bass.
  • And then they went into Space, and this was not just a meandering Space, they had a theme in mind and we/I was standing on my toes, feeling the vibrations and wondering what that theme was.
  • And then Phil started singing What's Become Of the Baby.  Yes, this is what they'd been leading to sonically and it was part of the beautiful, seamless experience of that second set.  But could there have been anything less expected?  This was yet another supreme expression of the ADVENTURE  of a Grateful Dead concert, to hear this difficult song that had only been done live once prior to this (in 1969) sung and played like it was the most normal thing in the world.  And this is the weirdest song!
  • And THEN they thundered and waffled and thundered some more and then we all KNEW that they were playing TOO, and then Phil dropped into it and then Bobby started singing about the Spanish lady with the rose, and I almost started crying for yet another time that night.
  • They didn't spend much time on TOO, and then they dropped down again, and then Phil turned it up and they started into Dew.
  • They had successfully turned us all into quivering masses of protoplasm by this point, but I still had a little "meta" consciousness left.  The question was, "Who's going to sing the damn thing?"  The answer was Bobby of course, and he just blew us away.  The song's right in his vocal range and he did it like he's been doing it all his life, somehow turning it into yet another tribute to Jerry.  Trey was no shrinking violet here, building up to a lead guitar crescendo fitting for the end of that Biblical second set.

Oh My Dog, we were exhausted and exhilarated and totally uplifted.  As touched on, I was not high on much besides a few beers (and LOTS of second-hand pot smoke), but I was reeling and my mind ... as well as most minds around there I assume ... was laid open on the laboratory table.  It took a few minutes for us to stop saying "WOW" and to return to vocality, if not reality.

Finally Phil came out, just beaming at the crowd.  I forget exactly what he said, but he expressed his own delight in the experience we were all sharing, then did his donor rap.  We were back to the "meta" consciousness a bit and were slightly let down when he said they had "one" more for us.  We'd been hoping for a third set or at least a three-song encore!  Oh well, these guys had been giving it their all and were probably as spent as we were.

We all thought it was going to be One More Saturday Night (seeing as it *was* Saturday night), but they kept up the "early" vibe and did Casey Jones for an encore.  Any disappointed thoughts were gone as soon as they launched into the first few grinding chords of this, and the whole Stadium cheered.

I should mention that one of my goals for the weekend was to really see a whole football stadium of fans grooving to the Dead, and boy, did I get to see this!  We were perfectly situated to watch the whole Stadium in our seats at the 10 yard-line, and Casey Jones was yet another great visual experience for me.  The lights played over the crowd in psychedelic sweeps of color, from the packed mob on the field, reaching up into the mezzanines and the terraces, and then up into the satellite banks of seats, way up into the sky, where small figures were dancing and freaking out and jumping up and down.

The song ended but the buzz we were all feeling didn't abate and will hopefully last for years and years.  The guys left the stage and Billy took the opportunity to grab a mike and gush about the delight we were all feeling, and to point out how meaningful the rainbow was, especially in light of the events of the past week (the Supreme Court on Friday had overturned state bans, legalizing gay marriage!!).

Wow, we were done and still had a long way to go before we could rest, but we were in the middle of a great experience, and a great crowd.  Holly met us at the bottom of the stairs, but then Levi's reared its poorly-designed head again and we barely made it out of the Stadium with our sanity when thousands of us were *squeezed* across a narrow pedestrian bridge.  We made it to the hula-hoop check (long line), rendezvoused again at the head of the creek trail, and then started back South.

I should point out that cell phone reception in the Stadium and vicinity was ridiculous.  Every once in a while I got a few bars and text messages started streaming in,  But one of the reasons we hadn't been able to meet up with our friends was the discontinuity in messaging.  Oh well, serves us right for depending on 21st-century technology!

Another thing I should mention is that this show was great but wasn't GREAT.  The band definitely had first-date jitters.  Trey sang only a bit and Bruce hardly sang at all ... Phil and Bobby dominated the vocals (they were both fantastic though, no complaints there).  As mentioned, Jeff was lacking from the mix; Trey was low in the mix too and the drummers sometimes sounded a bit muddy.  Bruce is a brilliant musician but did not have many opportunities to show it.

This show was incredible for several reasons: the timing as the first 50th reunion of the band, the setting of Santa Clara, the excellent production from Shapiro, Brightman, etc., and the mind-boggling setlist.  But the playing could have been a lot better.  My opinions in this paragraph are covered better in this Jambase review.  But stay tuned for the next night!

We meandered back down the San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail, passed by speeding bicycles with headlights and tinkling bells or without ... we were mere pedestrians, but were laughing more than the fucking bicyclists!  There was some danger of stoned hippies pitching headfirst into the creek, which made us laugh even more.  Finally made it back to Scott Boulevard and crossed over the few blocks through the high tech ghettos over to the environs of the Embassy Suites.

By this time we were starving!  We had had a good late lunch, but Levis's Stadium (bless its heart) did NOT have good food options (overpriced fried dogs and chicken at the end of long lines), and we hadn't had dinner.  There's a 24-hour Jack-In-The-Box near the hotel, but the line here was out the door at 1:30AM(!) and the nearby McDonald's drive-in was also mobbed.  We settled on a few microwavable hot pockets from the hotel's "convenience" store and somehow didn't die of malnutrition (it was close though).

The young guys were psyched to grab some beers and hang out with the mob of Deadheads outside the hotel and spilling into the parking lot, smoking cigarettes and joints and freaking freely.  I would have liked to myself, but my feet were just not working (I'd walked over 10 miles that day), and Sarah and I eventually went to bed at about 2:30 (which is when I wake up on a normal working weekday on the East coast!).  I could hear the parking lot scene going on outside my window, and that rocked me to sleep.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Just Get In There!

Took the day off work on Friday, June 26th, and tried to sleep as late as possible to acclimate ourselves to California time.  Spent the rest of the morning packing, and after hanging out a bit we called the cab company, got picked up, and headed to Logan for the trip to Santa Clara and the Fare Thee Well shows!

The cab driver was a riot.  We were a bit delayed by traffic and he called his dispatcher to see what advice he could give.  "Just get in there!" was the advice.  He dropped us off at JetBlue and went on his merry way.

Got beers and hung out ... it was easy to pick the Deadheads out of the Friday-afternoon airport crowd, and we hobnobbed with some.  There were a lot of us.  About a third of the passengers on the full plane were going out for the Dead concert.  Watched some Women's World Cup on the plane (Germany and the US won and will meet in the semis on Tuesday), took a little nap, and then got right in there, a long descent to the San Jose airport.

Got the luggage. got a cab, and soon were at the hotel, which was running hot and cold Deadheads, mostly very excited.  These included our friends Ricky and Holly, who had recently arrived after driving out from Colorado.  We all checked in with absolutely no problem, got our stuff laid out, and then made a trip in Holly's car to a local 7-11 for supplies.

What else could we do?  We grabbed some beers and hung out outside the lobby with the growing crowd of crazies, getting more and more excited.  Finally in to bed at around midnight, California time.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Utah harmony

This morning there was the usual rush to get ready at MMVC and I volunteered to go raise the flag in front of the Visitor Center.  Just as I had it hooked to the halyard and was ready to haul away a guy shouted from the walkway approaching the VC, "Wait!"  He got a little closer and said, "We've got a whole busload of teachers who want to watch!!"

They were a group of 34 teachers from Utah (grade school to high school) who were taking a tour of historic areas, and they really wanted to see the "flag raising ceremony" at the place where the Revolution began.  Talk about pressure!

I waited until they all assembled in a line and they all had their hands over their hearts.  Then I hauled it up slowly, trying to make it look like a "ceremony."  When it reached the top, they all started singing The Star Spangled Banner, even throwing in a bit of harmony at the end!  What could I do but stand back, put my hand on my heart, and enjoy it?

They had some very good questions after watching the multi-media presentation and an idea for an interactive map that I'm going to pass on.  The first guy thanked me for waiting and I thanked him!  I asked if they had practiced singing together and he said no, that it was spontaneous.

Monday, June 8, 2015

DSO Spring Tour at Hampton Beach

After a relatively mellow, mid-week DSO experience on Thursday, we knew we’d see the opposite end of the spectrum on Saturday (6/6), and boy, did we!  We got going on time and cruised North all the way up to 101 so we could approach Hampton Beach from the less crowded road.  Odds were that 1A would be a line of traffic, it being a sunny and warm June Saturday.

Made it to the parking lot in back of the Casino Ballroom without much difficulty, paid $10, and threaded our way through the hippies playing Frisbee, eating, drinking, smoking, buying and selling, and walking around with their fingers in the air.  The show was sold out and there were an incredible number of people there looking for extra tickets … some of whom had apparently paid the parking fee just to hang out and maybe get in eventually.  I had to admire some of the tie-dyed outfits and imaginative t-shirts and tatoos.  The environs of the Casino Ballroom had become the latest apparition of Grateful Dead nation.

Around to the front of the Ballroom the scene was thicker and thicker with people, but we made it inside and past the guys with the metal wands, only to find that my tickets had to be exchanged at the box office, where a line of people were already trying to talk their way in.  Got the tickets exchanged, past the metal wands again, and upstairs into the hall.

The Casino Ballroom is one huge rectangular room and the stage is set up in the middle of one of the long sides.  There were still some spaces up at the stage, though they were filling in quickly.  But Sarah and I had been there before and we knew that if we succumbed to the temptation to get close to the stage, we would be physically punished for it later.  So we grabbed the same spot we had last time we were there, in the crook of the elbow of the metal barriers surrounding the soundboard, right in front of the taper’s section.  It seemed kinda weird to snuggle into this not-best position to see the show when we were there early enough to have options, but we were glad we did!

We took turns taking breaks, out to the back to see the swelling crowd and the sunshine, up to the beer lines that allowed a limit of one, and to the merch table with some really nice DSO Spring tour shirts (I opted to save my t-shirt money for Santa Clara!).  This was the last show of the Spring tour and we hoped it would be a good one.

The band was set up with two drums but no thunderdrums, with a simpler keyboard setup over on the left side, and with a different guitar for Jeff, that looked like a rocker.  We thought (and hoped) that this might indicate a 60s set ... but there was also a mike for Lisa.  Oh well, maybe that was just so she could come out for the harmonica parts.

The room was getting pretty packed as 8:00 approached, and it was designed so that the middle of the hall (where we were) got squeezed from both sides.  Luckily we had the metal barrier on one side, but still our personal space was suddenly gone, and worse.  The band came on and launched into one of the greatest songs ever, Jack Straw, and the whole room roared and swelled toward the stage.

Oh well, not a 60s show!  Next choice was late 70s and the set sounded more and more like that.  Here’s the list:

  • Jack Straw
  • Dire Wolf
  • Beat It On Down The Line
  • Peggy-O
  • Mama Tried>
  • Mexicali Blues
  • Row Jimmy
  • New Minglewood Blues
  • Loser
  • Lazy Lightnin'>
  • Supplication

Rob Barraco was playing excellently.  What we at first thought was a 60s organ setup actually had a piano, stacked with the organs, and he concentrated on that.  As mentioned in my last post, we had a hard time hearing him in Boston and so were very glad he was so up front this time.  Lisa was out there for the late 70s Donna parts and was singing excellently.  As was the story on Thursday, Dino was killing it on the traps and was worth the price of admission himself.

Rob Eaton was in fine voice (great Mama Tried (fantastic country groove) into Mexicali), and again, Jeff Mattson’s voice soon warmed up … Row Jimmy was excellent in all dimensions.  Minglewood was the “All New Minglewood Blues” variant, where Bobby/Rob skipped the “Couple shots of whiskey” and “T for Texas” verses.  Lazy Lightnin’/Supplication was a little flat, but I think fatigue crept into the night on several situations.  This *was* their last night of a long tour, they had played Hampton Beach the night before so there was a bit of tiredness there, and the crowd scene itself would wear you out … it was going on all cylinders.

As soon as the last notes of Supplication sounded I was off to the beer stand, but still had to wait in a long line when I finally made it over there.  Moving through that room took a lot of fancy footwork to say the least.  Had a nice talk in line with a couple of guys who had 7 tickets to the first night in Chicago.  They planned to get there and try their best to swap, hoping to somehow manage to see all three nights.  But as with people I talked to on Thursday, they were looking forward to the Fare Thee Well experience and were not overly anxious about the tickets; it was going to be great fun whatever!  People were looking to the 50th Anniversary concerts as a grand celebration rather than the do or die proposition people were talking about in January.

Barely made it back to our shelter by the soundboard with my beer intact.  We traded notes on the first set.  We chuckled about the woman who at one point had dashed up and grabbed the rail between me and Dave, knocking us both aside.  Normally we would have resisted, but she had “the room is spinning” and “I am about to puke” written all over her face.  After she squeezed the steel rail of the barrier for a couple of minutes with a white-knuckled grip, gasping for air, she took a few last gulps and then set off again, lurching her way back towards the front of the stage.

Dave had found the concert on line … we were listening to Cameron Indoor Center (Duke University), April 12th 1978.  There was a guy hopping around next to us who was very glad to get this verified; though Dave thought late ‘77 we both thought early ’78.

Finished my beer quickly and decided to try the bathroom before the second set.  The floor of the men’s room had been pre-stickified for us … their attention to detail at the Casino Ballroom is tops!  Geez, I’d barely made it back with my beer but now getting back from the bathroom was an endless gauntlet of pushing, stepping on feet, and insinuating myself around people, smiling and saying “excuse me” as fast as I could.  Didn’t think I’d make it, but I finally got back to our secure spot and was not budging from there.  We were already packed in and were absolutely squished up against the barrier around the soundboard by the end of the set.  At one point the guy in back of me knocked me pretty good in the head when he thrust his fists in the air … he was very embarrassed and tried to apologize profusely, but I just smiled and shrugged … what could you do?

Here’s the second set:

  • Bertha>
  • Good Lovin'
  • It Must Have Been The Roses
  • Estimated Prophet>
  • Eyes Of The World>
  • Drums>
  • Truckin'>
  • Wharf Rat>
  • Around And Around

Good Lovin’ of course had the whole ballroom thundering, especially with the crowd having just warmed up with Bertha.  It was a long, long Roses with some excellent playing, and then the evening really got going with the song sequence we were all anticipating: a 12-minute Estimated into a 15-minute Eyes.  By the end of that, that ballroom was standing on end, but you couldn't tell which end!

Drums and Truckin’ continued the psychedelic tenor, but geez, everyone was getting a bit tired and the physical struggle to just dance in your own space was harder and harder.  We all cooled down with an absolutely stellar Wharf Rat, and then Bobby/Rob took us out with a textbook, late 70s Around and Around.  We wanted to keep on rocking, but were slipping!

After a quick break the band came back out for an encore: a textbook late 80s U.S. Blues.  The shine had rubbed off the evening by then, but we were all still enjoying the heck out of the occasion, though dog-tired.  Eaton spoke about how glad they were going to be to get home and get a little rest.  And then they launched into their filler, a wonderful little lullaby called Ripple.  This was a great cap to the night and everyone on the crowd stood and sang along politely.  Our cups were all empty by then and it was time to hit that (not so) simple highway!

Let the crowd dissipate a bit before we tried to move, but it wasn’t that far to the car, and after crawling through the lot while being mobbed by people, we snuck slowly out the back entrance and made it onto 1A South.  Got home and to bed a bit later than we had Thursday, but again, this was more than worth it!

Friday, June 5, 2015

DSO at the Wilbur 2015

Dark Star Orchestra looks like they may last as long as the band they emulate, and I believe they've already played more shows than the Dead did.  They are true road warriors who never stop touring.

Their Spring 2015 tour ends with a show in Boston and two at Hampton Beach this year (though the "Summer" tour starts soon after that).  We would have grabbed tickets to all three, but we realized that getting to Hampton Beach for an after-work Friday concert would be a hassle-rich proposition, and so were glad to settle for tickets to just the Boston show and the Saturday show in New Hampshire.

On June 4th, did the Wilbur routine of meeting at Sarah’s (and Dave’s) building’s garage and walking down to Jacob Wirth's for dinner, this time on a lovely and temperate Spring day after a cold and rainy spell.  I detoured to the Wilbur box office to exchange our on-line ticket chits for real tickets.  Though they were not yet officially open, a woman at the box office was glad to oblige and to give me advice on which doors opened when.

After dinner at Wirth’s we were subject to more of their friendliness, gabbing with the ushers and hanging out to enjoy the scene.  Of course, where we were hanging out was first in line to get in, since we knew the system.  We had considered grabbing balcony seats but realized that wouldn’t be allowed … we had bought "standing room pit" tickets and so had to "settle" for front of the stage again(!) after a short 20-minute wait outside.  This time we settled in right between where RobE and Skip would stand.

The place started filling up slowly, and soon the hordes were cramming in the doors.  We had gotten a couple of $15(!) beers (24-ouncers of Harpoon IPA at least), and enjoyed conversations with other Deadicated types while waiting.  As opposed to earlier (like at the JRad show), the anticipation of Dead nation for the upcoming Fare Thee Well shows seems to have mellowed.  Everyone is still just as eager, but there’s less angst over who got tickets and who’d be going or not, though all agreed that Chicago will be beyond a zoo for that weekend.  Another topic of conversation was the fact that so many Dead covers are coming out of everywhere these days; we're delighted to see that there's a Dead renaissance going on and we hope it'll continue.

Just a minute or two after 8, DSO came on and we were off!  We thought they were probably set up for an 80s show, with a two-drum/Beast/rack of thunderdrums setup in back, Garcia/Mattson over on the right, a Brent keyboard setup, and no mike for Lisa.  And the first few songs did not disprove this, though it was such a strange assortment of tunes in the first set (opening with 2 Jerry songs, no Brent songs, BigRR into Man Smart(?!?), etc.) that we thought it may have been elective.  Whatever, I’m mentioning passing thoughts.  As the set went on we were barely able to think meta-thoughts because we were totally wrapped up in how excellent it was.  Here’s the list:

Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo ->
Franklin's Tower ->
New Minglewood Blues
El Paso ->
Cumberland Blues
Big Railroad Blues ->
Man Smart (Woman Smarter)
Might As Well

This set had a lot of peaks.  Half-step was a great start and then it just went up and up from there.  Franklin's had some fantastic leads, Eaton was on fire for Minglewood, Cumberland featured some first-set-dragon ensemble playing.  Sarah fainted (almost) when they played her favorite song, Althea, and you should have seen the crowd participation for Man Smart ... the whole place was packed and rocking by then.

More comments: we could barely hear Barraco on piano (most likely because we were so close to the stage and we didn't have our own monitors), which was very disappointing.  When he switched to organ we could hear him better.  Mattson was a little spotty but had some top-notch leads and his singing got better and better as the night went along.  Dino was fantastic, just incredibly solid on the beat and nimble on the frills.  We've seen some shows where Skip seems not totally broken in with the band yet, but he was a monster last night, and threatened to blow up the stage at times when he dropped the bass bombs through the under-stage speakers.  He also had a very handsome bass.

We really had some friendly neighbors up at the front, and they all saved my spot and cleared the way when I came back at the set break with a couple more fancy$ beers.  But we also had some drunk newcomers up front (the girls most of all), who pushed and gabbed throughout the second set.  Very obnoxious, but whatever.

Anyway, at the break Dave checked setlists.net and immediately found the show we were listening to, 1982-08-03.  Some of the others were skeptical, but then they checked on their smart phones and saw it themselves.  One guy was so astonished he spurted out the second set opener and everyone immediately shushed him.  Dave had been careful not to look.

But then they came back on stage and we could have guessed the opener: a fantastic, funky, long Shakedown.  Here we go:

Shakedown Street ->
Samson And Delilah
To Lay Me Down
Let It Grow ->
Drums ->
Space ->
He's Gone ->
The Other One ->
Stella Blue ->
Sugar Magnolia

Shakedown is *such* a great song. Eaton was again thundering on Samson.  The slight weirdness continued when they played two(?) of Garcia's best ballads in the second set (Mattson excelled on Stella Blue).  They came out of drums really not playing Space so much as jumping feet-first into jam city.  The He's Gone was epic ... and then they jammed a bit and jammed some more, and then Dave and I heard a few notes, and then we elbowed each other severely, and then they were playing TOO!!  Skip hit the booma-de-booma-de-boom in the same measure as Rob launched into the first verse. Quite early-80s style, quite precise, and quite great!  It was Dave's first live TOO ever!!

Everyone in the place shouted along with Sugar Mags of course, and then it was over.  They came back out for the encore and launched right into a short and not-so-sweet Casey Jones.  Then RobB announced the show (which we knew already), and then Lisa came out for a filler song.  We'd seen her static mat lying on the floor right in front of us all night, and now the roadie (who had done an excellent hot-swap of one of RobE's filters early in the show, we all shouted in appreciation) set up a mike stand there in a half-second and Lisa was suddenly standing three feet in front of us, ready to go.

One of our friends had brought a poem and she graciously accepted it from him.  But she was feeling in a nasty mood and ripped off a super-nasty You Ain't Woman Enough while the bar band backed her up.  Then she blew kisses at everyone, RobE waved to us in the front row, and it was time to pack up and go home.  See you Saturday in Hampton Beach!

By the way, it must have been after 11:30 by the time they finished.  And after we got out of there, walked up to Beacon Hill, and drove home, it was was just after 1AM when I went to bed.  Maybe I'm getting too old for this kind of stuff but I hope not!