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...

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