Saturday, July 4, 2015

Fare Thee Well Couch Tour, part 1

As discussed in earlier posts, we did not get tickets to the Fare Thee Well shows in Chicago.  If we'd persisted in the last month we might have, but possibly at a real expense and very probably involving complicated logistics to get there and have somewhere to stay.  We were incredibly glad to have had the experience we had in Santa Clara last weekend, perhaps above going to Chicago for the final shows, and we were more than psyched to settle down at home with a cranked stereo, and the excellent video feed they've been featuring on the web.

Had a bit of angst when we watched a replay of the shows in Santa Clara on that feed during the week and there were some glitches, but realized that if we: a) turned off wifi on my laptop (hooked up to the stereo/TV monitor), b) hooked up an ethernet cable instead, c) turned off other applications using bandwidth, we would probably be happy.  As it turns out, there were three(?) video drop-outs on the feed last night, but they only lasted for a few seconds each and the feed recovered to where it had dropped instead of jumping ahead.  Not bad.

Great news was that M&G could stop by, fresh off their idyll on the Cape.  I worked at home on Friday (7/3), they came by at the end of the afternoon, and we went out to Ixtapa's for yet another Mexican dinner before a Grateful Dead show.  Fidgeted around when we got back to make sure everything was set up right and we were in the right mind-set.  And then we lined up on the couch to watch.

The guys came on around 7:25 (local time) and immediately knocked the ball so far out of the park that they're still looking for it.  Here's the first set:

  • Box Of Rain
  • Jack Straw
  • Bertha >
  • Passenger
  • The Wheel >
  • Crazy Fingers >
  • The Music Never Stopped

I'll probably go to my death thinking this was the best live Box Of Rain I've ever heard.  That 75-year old guy tuned up, stepped up to the mike, and did a perfect vocal all the way through one of the greatest songs ever written.  Sure it was the first song and there were sonic adjustments going on.  But he just nailed us to the clouds with his enthusiasm, his tone, and his perfect rendering of the words.  There was next to no back-up, as opposed to some other excellent versions I've heard, but he didn't need any and that was one of the things that made this one so perfect.  This was awesome.

The band then stopped, and went into a jam that quickly evolved into a textbook intro to Jack Straw if you're a Furthur listener.  Bobby took the Jack Straw part and Phil sang Shannon.  It was clear from the start here that Trey was going to shine yet again tonight, possibly exceeding the magic he'd spun in Santa Clara.  And this is Bruce's Dead song after all.

One of my only complaints about the night (and it's a small one) was that Bruce was not loud enough in the mix.  They seem to have set up with more shielding between the drums, the piano, and the guitars to defeat leakage in the sound.  But I think this meant they had some other hurdles to overcome, and they never got the piano sounding right.  We think they must have a different mix on the live feed than they do for the audience (from comparing what we saw of Santa Clara to what we heard live), and we hope that when we get the DVD of the Chicago shows that this will be worked out.  Oh well, small complaint as I say.

Trey then took a turn at Bertha, and I for one was very glad to hear this, it was one of my top-desired tunes.  As I say, he was upping his game on guitar with every song, just excellent stuff.  But I think he was sometimes too psyched when he did a lead vocal(!).  An example was Bertha, where his body language shouted out, "Look guys, I'm singing Bertha with the fucking Grateful Dead!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"  Again, a small quibble, but when you're this close to the most excellent stuff ever, little things can be noticed.

And then they went into Passenger, a totally unexpected tune.  The ensemble playing reached a new peak here, especially with that wizard Chimenti contributing R&B organ in the finest Grateful Dead fusion-tradition.

They scratched their asses something serious next, Phil commenting that things were not absolutely perfect, which was a delightful return to his classic line about them fucking around.  This would have been a great time for Bobby's "hunter" joke, but perhaps another day.  And then what did they do?  They turned us on our heads again.  The Wheel is always done as the latter part of a segue, often from the deepest space.  But here they did it from a standing start and played it so perfectly that the crowd was (a little) hesitant to sing along.

The next two songs had been done in the sound check on Thursday.  They went into just a great cover of the supremely difficult Crazy Fingers.  Trey sang again and did not miss a beat, though again his vocal was not top-notch.  Whatever, his leads were on fire and the rest of the band made this classic song into a delight.  And from there they went into Music and the entire world melted and swirled together.  There's fireworks, calliopes, and clowns.  I have no idea what to say about this song because every bit of it was so excellent.

We'd speculated endlessly (as one might gather) about what songs they *had* to play, what songs they would play, and why they hadn't done this or that when the situation so obviously called for it.  But the Dead are idiosyncratic to say the least, and what they were trying to tell us was, "Stop stressing about our song selection and just listen.  THESE are the songs we want to play at our farewell concerts and that may give you a clue as to what we think are our best musical achievements."  We were listening.

Shifted around and re-fueled at the break.  This lasted almost an hour again, but we had no problem with that.  This had been just an epic first set (except for Bruce being too low in the mix), and we knew that the second set was going to take us to outer space.

And then the second set started and it sure did.  M&G had been off the grid and not experienced Santa Clara, and M was just gobbledy-smacked at the quality of the playing we'd heard so far; and then was even more so in the second set.  The production we had enjoyed so much in California was apparently translating well to the wider, more shallow Soldier Field stadium.  There were a lot of people on camera and at our house having a grand time!  Here's what we saw in the second set:

  • Mason's Children > 
  • Scarlet Begonias >
  • Fire On The Mountain >
  • Drums >
  • Space >
  • New Potato Caboose >
  • Playing In The Band >
  • Let It Grow >
  • Help On The Way >
  • Slipknot! >
  • Franklin's Tower  

Again, I have a hard time commenting on this; everyone was playing so well and the singing was so excellent that it's difficult to single anything out.  Here are a few notes:

  • Mason's didn't make the cut for Workingman's and then rarely appeared in the Dead's stage show.  But Furthur (and P&F) have done it often and we were glad to hear it, though it could have used a bit more practice.
  • Scarlet/Fire was just fantastic, but Trey's leads were cut off a bit by the others ... again, a few more times through this and they could just kill it.
  • I was surprised they went into Drums so early in the set.  Mickey got out the bows on The Beam again.
  • And then another joker: New Potato!  They'd done Cryptical, Born Cross-Eyed, and of course TOO, so this was a little unexpected.  But really we should have expected it.  As I say, they were playing their favorite songs and this is one of the great building blocks on which the Dead sound is piled high.
  • And this made three Phil-written songs in the set, two of them with lyrics by Peterson.  How often has that occurred?  Research required here...
  • Then PITB into Let It Grow!  The flawless musicianship was back.
  • And then Help, etc.  Just untie the one string still tethering us to the ground and let us float up above the stadium, above the crowd, above our minds and earthly concerns.  Why can't we listen to this band forever?

Sarah had been up dancing for a good deal of the show, but us guys remained seated and it was pretty exhausting anyway!  M and I actually nodded during some of the set, but it was riveting and the nods were just momentary.  We exploded at the end of that set, it was so exhilarating.

Phil came out for his donor rap and you could tell he was over-excited himself, almost forgetting what he had to say.  Then Bobby started strumming the acoustic he'd just brought out, and the two of them traded off the verses on Ripple.  A wonderful ending to a wonderful night.

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