Sarah and I parked in her building after a pretty quick trip in, and then had a slow, mellow walk through the Common, the Garden, and up the Commonwealth Mall, past the succession of iconic Boston sculptures to Hereford, than over to Boylston and up and across the Fens, including crossing the Muddy River. It didn’t look black on that sunny afternoon, but had been in last night’s encore!
We waited in line at Yard House to show IDs and get wristbanded (the door on Van Ness was not open, you had to go through the front) and the place was already chock-full at 3:30! They soon stopped letting people in because of fire codes, though Dave and friend Parker made it after taking the T from Quincy. We had a leisurely late lunch and a few beers, conjectured about what we were about to see, and then headed over to the intersection of Yawkey Way (whilom Jersey Street) and Van Ness to meet friends. We’d agreed to meet there at 5:30 and I was a few minutes late, but I then proceeded to stand in the middle of the intersection for about 20 minutes and no sight of them (though Scott and Michelle showed up)! Oh well, not surprising that we had a hard time meeting up in a crowd like that.
And what a crowd it was. By the end of the night, Fenway was packed as far as I could tell … don’t know if it was an official sellout [just saw on the Red Sox Facebook page that it was a sellout, except they apparently didn't sell the section under the press box?!?]. And this included all of the turf except for the stage and the grass part of the infield being covered with seats. I’d guess that at least 40,000 people were there, possibly way more. But back to the corner of Yawkey and Van Ness … after waiting for a while (and getting a t-shirt) we decided we’d better start in right away, knowing it might take a while.
Almost had to push our way down Van Ness to get to Gate B, but then entered and knew where to go. It was just as much of a rush as it had been the day before to actually walk onto the field at Fenway. Sarah and I took the time to tour around the field and she snapped pictures of me in front of the seat I was in when Dewey Evans caught a fly ball in my lap, and then posing at my shortstop position in front of the infield grass that was so perfect it had to be a painting. Then made it to our seats in section B7, a few rows back and a few seats farther left than Friday, but essentially in the same spot.
BobR was sitting in front of us, totally unexpected! We picked out W&L in their seats behind us and they eventually saw us too and waved. At the break, Sarah found our friends F&P and B, though A was over sitting with their son behind the visitor’s dugout. Again, Fenway Park was packed with friends … and then the band came on.
John was wearing a white t-shirt … guess his flirtation with picnic cloths was over. The others were pretty much the same, though Bob’s hair was perhaps even more disheveled than it was Friday. Hadn’t seen his stool before on the tour, but it was there last night. He acted a bit tired at the end too, they are probably very glad to have a few days off and be returning to their native time zone.
They launched right into the Jam that we all know leads to Truckin’ and we were off on another beautiful Fenway evening, with the sky showing some blue but getting more overcast as the evening went on, though thankfully rain and thunderstorms held off once more.
Here’s the first set and some notes:
- Jam into Truckin' – Kind of fun to look around and see half of the people get what song they were playing right away, and then hear the other half of the crowd roar only when they lit into, “Truckin’, got my chips cashed in….” And this was a titanic Truckin’ with an outro that could have turned into anything.
- But what it turned into was Big River, Bobby leading the way. Maybe it was the humidity or the Park being so full, but the sound wasn’t quite as good Saturday night. John tried to take off on this, but the song never really fell into place, though Jeff did his best on organ.
- I was hoping we’d get a brace (at least) of cowboy songs, but they came to a full stop, and then John started picking They Love Each Other. Donna came out and the crowd went nuts, could be that some of them were unaware of her presence on this tour. The harmony singing and particularly her singing on the “Lord you can see…” choruses was excellent. John definitely achieved takeoff on this song!
- Deal – This was the third time (in 4 concerts) we’d seen these guys do Deal and so it was a little disappointing to get such a repeat, though this was done very well. This really is one of the best little pieces of music that Garcia ever wrote, and the song contains boatloads of lyrical possibilities (see Hartford post) that John and Jeff love exploring. Go to it guys!
- I called the next song in the middle of Deal; for some reason I was sure they’d do Bird Song next and by gum they did. Don’t know what made me think that. This wasn’t the best Bird Song in terms of diving full-tilt into the dark take on life that this song implies, but again the vocals were very good, and there were plenty of stretches of instrumental brilliance. The Dragon of ensemble Dead playing almost emerged here and the song was riveting. But in all, another case of a bit more practice with Donna and they might get there with this one.
- Passenger and Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad – I have to admit I was off to the bathroom and the beer line as soon as Bird Song ended and it’s a good thing I made that strategic decision. The tunnels were packed with people, even during the set! There was a line for the bathroom and I had to wait for at least 10 minutes for beer. Caught a bit of these tunes snaking down into the depths of Fenway (I was very bummed I missed Passenger), but the crowds pouring into the tunnels as GDTRFB ended and I was trying to exit were scary! I was very glad to push my way back into the open air and have some time to sit in our suddenly un-crowded area after that. Sent shivers down my back to imagine trying to navigate them during the set break.
Caught up and yucked it up with BobR and friends after a bit of rest, and then we bulled our way up into the field boxes to visit our friends there for a bit. They could see the stage without standing on tip-toe since they were elevated a bit, but were jammed into those small Fenway seats that are kind of a nightmare themselves.
Back to our seats and the crowd was now pouring out of the tunnels, it was really kind of frightening how jammed with people it was, though we were ostensibly in the open expanse of left field at Fenway Park!?! The guys came back out after an average-length break and we were off again, for the final time on this stand in Boston.
We’d been hoping and hoping that Donna was going to be at Fenway and that they’d play PITB. It happened! Here’s the second set:
- Playing In the Band - Dave called it from the first few random notes from Bobby. We were so ready for this! Need I say that this is one of the most essential songs of Western Civilization (and I mean West of Alpha Centauri)? John got out the old wah-wah filter for this and at times it seemed there were four guitars playing ... might have been some looping going on, Bobby may have played this song a few times before.
- We were waiting for them to come back into the chorus after the jam and for Donna to scream and rip the foundations of our world. But before you knew it they were starting up with ...
- Estimated Prophet - My Dog, I've heard this song so many times I couldn't believe at first that they were playing it again and I also can't believe that it hasn't been played out yet. But it hasn't been by a long shot. Perhaps here Bobby first showed signs of being tired, and he didn't elevate this vocally like he can (on one chorus he sang, "Don't worry about me now, I ain't getting old"). But the firm of Mayer-Burbridge-Chimenti did the deep dive into this song and the team of Kreutzmann-Hart was right there with them. This was excellent stuff and again featured great harmonies between Oteil and John. Really, this may have been the song of the night ... just ridiculously good stuff.
- Then those guys were done being fantastic ... for the moment ... and so Bobby started up He's Gone, singing the "Rat in a drain ditch" verse in his best 2010's, raspy style, and then John and Oteil and Donna and Jeff coming in on the chorus. This is one of those songs that means a lot to everyone who's paying attention, "Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile."
- Wait, why would they do Sugaree now when they had their mojo working and could go into like, TOO (just a suggestion)? Maybe because it's another of the most excellent things Garcia ever wrote and was done as well as Deal, wonderful! Played a lot and a bit of a sing-song for the masses here, but good. Again, maybe another sign of being a bit tired.
- And then another incongruous thing, Bobby and Oteil were suddenly right in the middle of Fire on the Mountain. Odd place in the setlist for this, but maybe they were playing songs they knew they could kill. And they did kill this, very plus version, especially Oteil floating above everything and John and Jeff (and Bob of course) hammering the melody. Or maybe they were doing songs they'd practiced with Donna.
- Drums/Space - This interlude is evolving and hopefully won't evolve *into* anything, just become more itself. In some ways, this is becoming the highlight of the night.
- And then a majestic descent into Days Between. From their accounts, this seems to be one of the most meaningful songs in their quiver to the original members. To me, this was one of the best versions I've ever heard because of the great timing from the band-leader, the pitch-perfect passages between verses, and ethereal piano from Jeff.
- Not Fade Away - Got to please the crowd and this song is one of the most epic sing-alongs ever, thanks and RIP Buddy Holly! To see Bobby and Donna belting this out was beyond description. This was a very perfect version.
The crowd was clapping of course, and everything was wonderful. I looked around at Fenway and was feeling very good, Then the guys came back out for the encore. I don't know if I've ever seen Saturday Night, though it's one of the most classic songs ever and I've been there many a Saturday, Anyway, guess what they played for an encore?
One More Saturday Night - No overt politicizing here, just the rock and roll of the ages, including a totally satisfactory Donna scream!
[Sarah's pix from Saturday]
Far be it from me to be analytical (if you've read this far, that's a joke). I feel these were two of the best nights of the tour. Friday featured a classic setlist and upbeat playing. Saturday was tired but endlessly baroque. Let me conclude my thorough exegesis by saying we were lucky to be there for both nights, in many ways!
Again I have to mention the awesomeness of the setting. Fenway Park was delightful, and they’d set up a humongous stage, worthy of a stadium rock show, in deepest center field, but extending out to where Fred Lynn would play for a straight-away hitter. When I turned around to see the whole park, as I often did, the seats were crammed with Deadheads dancing and having fun. Lights from the stage played over the crowd, the grandstand, and the boxes where Jean Yawkey used to sit primly and watch her team. And the almost-full moon floated up among the clouds, beyond the Cumberland(!) Farms sign, peeking in and out through cracks in the gathering cover.
I loved seeing the Dead in such a setting in the middle of my city. I used to live and work in the Fens, 40 years ago! But I came away from there saying that I may never go see a stadium show again.
Fare Thee Well in Levi’s Stadium last summer and these shows at Fenway were great. But it wasn’t like going to see a concert, more attending an event. The field at Fenway is not tilted towards the stage of course, and I had to stand on my tip-toes to see the band, and sometimes just could not see them through the heads in front of me. Sarah and Dave had a worse time. I need to see the band play to most appreciate the music … that’s why I go to concerts. Sure, we were close enough to catch glimpses of interplay between the musicians, and see how Bobby’s gestures set the pace for the band. But I needed to see more, and could barely see the drummers’ heads, let alone their kits.
And the security was a pain in the butt. Friday night was ok, but with the packed crowd on Saturday they had set up steel gates around every section and would only let you in if you showed your ticket. I had to flash mine about 25 times during the course of the evening, and they’d only let you in to section B7 (our section) via a circular path that was just stupid. They were way past the point of considering the comfort/ease of the concert-goer in their decisions about access, which I hate.
We were meat as far as the concert organizers were concerned, we were not humans attending a concert. You could say the same line is crossed all the time when dealing with large crowds of people. I don't think people should stand for this, and I'm calling out the concert organizers as being uncaring about individual concert-goers' experiences.
As we left, we had to bluff our way past a cordon of security people to get to the exit we knew we wanted, otherwise we’d still be smashed into a cramped line in the bowels of Fenway. No idea what they were thinking there, except maybe it was not wanting that many people on the scaffolding they’d set up over the bullpens, which was shaking while we crossed it!
Next time Dead & Company plays Boston they should do Thursday and Friday night at the Wang Center for the aficionados. I know I'd be there and would pay a high price (but don't tell them that). Then they should play the third night at Gillette and charge a low price, and might fill the stadium but I'd watch it from home. Everyone would be happy! It would cost them more in overhead to play two sites, but probably not as much as to move to a totally new city, they'd be able to contract for labor to do the package.
Oh well, I may be saying something different next summer, but if you ask me today I’m not going to see a rock show in a stadium again, so there!
So that was it for the Dead at Fenway. We made it outside after a bathroom stop, and met up with S&M for the long walk back to Beacon Hill. The crowd was still all around us like a cheap picnic tablecloth, including some motorists who did not want people walking in front of them, though the line of traffic they were in was not going anywhere. We headed down Boylston and the crowd did not thin out until we were past the Hynes! Had a nice walk from there and a chance to see Copley Square and some of the lovely architecture in Back Bay on a Saturday night.
Crossed into the Garden and just had to show S&M the Make Way For Ducklings sculpture, then up the Hill past the nicely-lit Massachusetts State House and down to the underground garage, where our car waited to take us home (S&M hitched a ride to Stoneham). Got home and washed off my feet and legs in the tub before going to bed ... yuck!