Sunday, July 5, 2015

Fare Thee Well Couch Tour, part 2

Another day, another Dead concert in our living room!  We settled in to watch at the end of the day on our nation's birthday, with very high expectations based on their progression skyward over the first few nights.  As it tuned out, the July 4th concert was a bit spotty; no surprise given the Dead's tradition of blowing the big ones.

As might be expected, the ultimate iconic American band playing in the heart of the country on the 4th of July *was* a big one.  President Barack Obama issued a statement that day calling the Dead's music an expression of American "creativity, passion, and ability."  The owners of the Empire State Building in New York arranged to flash lights all over the building in time with the encore.  And I'm sure people all over the world were watching ... I'd like to see the numbers.

And a spotty Grateful Dead concert is still fantastic.  Actually, the first set was as good as the night before had been, though with a few oddities.  Here's the setlist:

Shakedown Street
Standing On The Moon
Me & My Uncle
Tennessee Jed
Cumberland Blues
Little Red Rooster
Friend Of The Devil

  • They opened with Shakedown Street!  Wonderful choice, but this was a very laid back version and didn't get as funky or go on for as long as one would have hoped.  There was a little lack of synch on the stage that first showed up during this tune.
  • We should have called Liberty as a song they'd play on the 4th!  I really like this possibly-last-great song from one of the best songwriting tandems ever, and they really did a fantastic version here, led by Weir on vocals.
  • Trey took over the great vocals for Standing On the Moon and sang this almost as perfectly as Phil had sung Box Of Rain the night before.  Fantastic stuff, and this also stood out as a song about America.
  • Then finally a cowboy song, the classic MAMU!  But this was a bit perfunctory and just as we were ready for it to kick into high gear and go into Big River, they brought it down and ended with a whimper.  Oh well.
  • But then they went right to the top again.  I've heard Tennessee Jed a million times, it was covered by Levon Helm with great success, and is a favorite song for Dead cover bands to do.  But this version of it was just electrifying.  On some songs the band has shown a lack of practice, but this was tight!!
  • But then it got weird again.  They started into an intro and we couldn't believe that they were about to repeat Cumberland.  This was a fine, more bluegrassy than folky, version of the song and I probably liked it better than the one last weekend.  But to repeat a song when there were so many they were trying to fit in??  We were puzzled.
  • And then Bobby got out his slide and they kicked into a blues groove.  Actually, Little Red Rooster was fantastic, and Bobby continued his great singing, along with some truly great keyboard playing from Jeff and Bruce.  But again, it was strange to us that they'd do this obscure cover song (though it's of course a classic from Illinois native Willie Dixon).  Jambase pointed out that it's the only song that they played at their first gig AND at their last, in Soldier Field in 1995.  So ok ... it was fitting.
  • And then finally a couple of "must plays" to end the first set in FOTD and Deal.  Phil sang FOTD in the original tempo (and with the missing last verse), and the musicianship in that and in Deal (especially Trey's guitar solos) were as good as they've been in this last tour.  Wonderful stuff!

We were totally psyched for the second set after that one.  The hour-long set break was lots of fun itself, with another great intermission soundtrack from Neal Casal, and breathtaking shots of the Chicago area from a blimp, including birds-eye views of the PACKED Stadium and environs, low shots of Soldiers Field with all of the huge city of Chicago spread out behind it, fireworks over the lake, and snarled traffic everywhere.  We were able to pick out where we would have been sitting if we had opted for the obstructed view tickets there.  Even that nose-bleed section was chock full of people (the Chicago shows were officially sold out of course) and would possibly have given us a bit of a view.  There was a little regret that we didn't do that, but not much.  Santa Clara had been such a great experience, and to do both may possibly have been too much for us.

The guys came back on stage for the second set finally, and proceeded to throw us ... maybe not a stinker ... but basically a set that didn't live up to expectations.  I say again, oh well!  Here's the list:

Bird Song
The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)
Lost Sailor >
Saint Of Circumstance
West L.A. Fadeaway
Foolish Heart
Drums >
Space >
Stella Blue >
One More Saturday Night

  • This was a great, wonderful Bird Song (which was vital for them to play in the Fare Thee Well concerts), and included Phil singing "him" rather than "her."  But a few weirdnesses started here.  We think there must have been some electronic difficulties on stage, as at times they acted like they really weren't hearing each other well.  And it was strange that their previous three second sets had all been seamless and then this was a lot more labored.
  • Trey tried to take off on The Golden Road (a song I considered a must play), but the band seemed out of synch.  The best part of this was Trey and Bruce sharing the main vocals and the whole band kicking in for "Hey Hey!  Come right away!"  Seminal 60s stuff.
  • But then to stop dead and then go into Sailor/Saint?!?  In Billy's recent book he had talked about him and Mickey disliking this pair of songs, and we thought they were only doing songs they all really liked!?!  Mickey did put on his white sailor hat for this, and that caused a bit of a chuckle.
  • And then West L.A. (sung excellently by Bruce)?!?  Another strange choice ... great song and perhaps another standard about America and the choices this country affords us, but unexpected.  The subsequent Foolish Heart was more like it and again Trey started off well, but the band got a little more and more disorganized as it went along.
  • Then one more strange thing, to go into Drums from a standing start?  Nice drum segment, but even the two drummers showed some lack of ability to hear, sometimes not agreeing on the beat unless they were right next to each other.
  • Nice space segment and then Bobby slayed us again with a Garcia ballad, singing one of my favorite Dead songs, Stella Blue.  Great vocals saved the day yet again, and Trey rose above the muddy sound for a couple of dominating guitar excursions here.
  • And then One More Saturday Night to close the ultimate Saturday night on the 4th of July!!!  Bob didn't sing about Barack putting on his dancing shoes (getting the meter right would have been tough), but all of America was up and dancing to this, shoes or not.  The light show was in high gear, the photography of the packed Stadium was fantastic, and everything was right in America.

OK, that second set was not great and had some strange song choices, but it had been incredible fun anyway.  And everyone knew what the encore was going to be.  How could Bob Weir not sing U.S. Blues on this incredibly meaningful night?  The crowd went crazy, the whole continent rocked, more fireworks were set off around Soldier Field, and the Empire State Building in New York flashed colors in time with the encore in Chicago.

Sorry to bad-mouth this concert (well, just the second set really), which featured some great individual performances.  I've mentioned the stellar vocals, but there were some truly transcendent/spacey/bluesy runs by Hornsby on his beautiful Steinway and by Chimenti on the B3 (that had previously belonged to Brent Mydland).  Anastasio also fascinatingly and successfully walked that fine and difficult line between playing the guitar parts that needed to be played and not sounding like a Jerry clone.  The core 4 of course showed their incredible talent, ranging between Lesh playing the bass like a banjo, Weir creating guitar sounds that had not been previously invented, and Kreutzmann and Hart making beautiful sounds by banging everything they could reach.

I'm really looking forward to the END tonight.  Hope they don't blow this one ... or maybe I do! :)

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