Another year, another Grateful Dead Meet-Up At the Movies! It’s amazing that there are still enough relatively un-seen films of the Grateful Dead throughout their career that they can come out with a new one every year. After all, the Grateful Dead and their oeuvre don’t exactly fly under the radar … they receive a certain amount of scrutiny.
The film for 2016 is the entire concert from Foxboro Stadium (whilom Schaefer Stadium and Sullivan Stadium) on 1989-07-02, a fertile period for GD concert films as they had recently started filming them so they could be shown on large screens in the stadiums they played at the time. And so high quality films were made routinely, though not always preserved. This was the first date of their summer tour, a couple of weeks before last year’s GDMUATM (1989-07-19) and the date before the Truckin’ Up To Buffalo DVD, from 1989-07-04. And it seemed that everyone we talked to about this film had been there at Foxboro in 1989! Maybe we were too…
It was a bit harder than before to pick a theater, since we wanted one we could all get to with the least amount of hassle, and which would then enable us most easily to drop Dave off at home. We settled on the Showcase Cinema de Lux Legacy Place in Dedham because a) it had the longest name and b) it seemed to be a good compromise geographically. As it turns out, it’s a short walk away from the Dedham Corporate stop on the Franklin line and so it was easy for Dave and Sarah to get to, though a long rush-hour drive for me.
We met at Yardhouse in that massive, busy mall area, after work on Wednesday, May 11. I think this cinema is near (and maybe a similar name?) to the one where Sarah and I saw the original “Tron” back in 1982, when it was a little movie theater stuck in behind the Fox News headquarters in the industrial wastelands off route 1 where it crosses 128 south of the city. Since then the place has grown up to say the least, and is a mega-mall and mega-cinema of scary proportions.
After a few beers and dinner at Yardhouse we dropped off stuff in the car in the massive parking garage, and headed on over to the theater, along with a few other enthusiasts. Not too many of us though … the theater was only a tenth full.
When we walked in they were playing a clip of Dead & Company, but this ended soon and the real feature(s) started. First up was an infomercial for “July ‘78” (to be officially released tomorrow), kind of a super-seaside chat without the seaside for Dave Lemieux. The cinematography almost succeeded in making him seem consistently scholarly, but he ended the film with a Lemieux metaphor of epic proportion (that I can’t remember), so it was worth it.
Then we were [back] in Foxboro in early summer ’89! The stage was so enclosed by wildly printed draperies and sets of swirling color that the relatively small stage area was probably barely visible for people at the far ends of the stadium. And the place was packed, as was revealed when the cameras panned around.
They were set up with Phil on the right (facing the audience), flanked by Bobby, Jerry, and then Brent, with Billy and Mickey commanding their drum empire, complete with thunder drums, an early version of The Beam, and large drum pads that they spent a lot of time on, simulating African drum sounds. Jerry and Phil spent a lot of time on their MIDIs too, making some unusual sounds.
They broke into PITB and we were instantly deep into an excellent first set:
- Playing In The Band
- Crazy Fingers
- Wang Dang Doodle
- We Can Run
- Tennessee Jed
- Queen Jane Approximately
- To Lay Me Down
- Don't Ease Me In
There were some egregious clams dealt by pretty much everyone (but mostly Jerry and Bobby) throughout the night, as well as flubbed lyrics, but a great deal of it was excellent musicianship showing great energy. The ensemble vocals, when at their best, were particularly sublime. And the recording was excellent. There were a few times when Jerry or Bobby hit a ragged crescendo and the sound distorted a bit, but in all the levels were up high and the sound was crystal clear.
Of particular note in that first set was that after a stellar, tight PITB they fell apart when trying Crazy Fingers, but then got it back together a third of the way through the song and reached just as much of a peak by the end of it as they had in the opener. Garcia singing Wang Dang Doodle was worth the price of admission itself, and they followed that with as good a We Can Run as you can expect (no one except Brent is/was crazy about that song, so this is faint praise), a spectacularly great Tennessee Jed, and a semi-good Queen Jane followed by a train wreck of a To Lay Me Down and then a spectacularly great Cassidy and a short and sweet Don’t Ease Me In. Spotty to say the least, but in all highly entertaining.
No intermission in the theater, though some of the most elderly in the crowd just had to get in a piss break. The guys came out on the now-dark stage and proceeded to weird out. The second set wasn’t bad at all, but wasn’t classic.
Here’s the list:
- Friend Of The Devil
- He's Gone
- Eyes Of The World
- The Wheel
- Dear Mr. Fantasy
- Hey Jude
- Sugar Magnolia
This was a weird setlist. How many times has FOTD been a second set opener? And why? Lots of good stuff here, including a well-sung Truckin’ (which is weird itself), some incredible guitar work on Eyes, a very good extended Space section, and then a beautiful Wheel. Brent was at the top of his game on most of Mr. Fantasy, and then they tried the weird segue into Hey Jude and it didn’t quite come off as hoped, though everyone was having a good time by that point, including the crowd. People were dancing in the aisles and clapping along … no lack of enthusiasm at Legacy Place that night!
They then concluded with a very good Sugar Magnolia. Bobby had hit a wrong chord while Jerry was singing earlier in the evening, almost throwing him off. And so Jerry hit a wrong chord on purpose while Bobby was trying to emote on the Sunshine Daydream coda, and then leered devilishly at Bobby. They were having a good time on stage and so how could we not? The encore followed without a break, and it was as good a Quinn the Eskimo as I’ve heard, which is again not saying much.
Lots of people hurried out of the theater as they finished, but then a real highlight followed, as they re-rolled the snippet of Dead & Company that they had been playing when we entered: Slipknot! and Franklin’s Tower from 2015-12-28. This was great stuff, and quite an interesting contrast with the Bobby, Billy, and Mickey we’d just been watching, let alone the contrasts made by the new musicians.
Had another great GDMUATM and then not too long a drive (though we started off going the wrong North) over to Quincy and then up to Woburn … in bed by 11 or so.