6/27/15 Night One.
It has been 20 years since the Grateful Dead last performed on stage together. Upon the passing of Jerry Garcia, the band’s lead guitarist, in 1995, an era abruptly ended. Since the band’s announcement of its Fare Thee Well 50th reunion shows over the Fourth of July weekend in Chicago earlier this year, fans have been counting the days to see them give their last performances. However, due to the overwhelming ticket demand, two shows at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Ca., were added. Those two performances occurred this past weekend, and what a weekend it was.
It has been a long strange trip building up to these performances. Fans had to endure a wild ride just to get tickets, along with a frenzied scramble to book hotels and air fare that weren’t astronomical. These shows have not only been incredibly emotional, up to the point of the first note dropping, but they have also brought the Grateful Dead community, as a whole, back together. Strangers helping strangers just to get them in the door has been a consistent theme across all Grateful Dead fan sites on the internet.
Beginning on Saturday, original members Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart were joined onstage with special guests Bruce Hornsby, Jeff Chimenti and Trey Anastasio. It was anyone’s guess as to what song would open up the five-show run. To the delight of many, it opened with two heavy fan favorites, “Truckin’ ,” followed by “Uncle John’s Band.” A brief jam on “The Other One” opened the show. The evening completely surrounded the early years with songs that dated back to the late 1960’s and early ‘70’s.
As the band wound around their early beginnings, Phish frontman Trey Anastasio presented his first solo experience to the crowd during a 20-minute “Viola Lee Blues.” A hot topic of conversation with Grateful Dead and Phish fans alike, many were skeptical if Anastasio could fill Jerry Garcia’s shoes in an honorable way. He appeared to hold back during the first set while trying to find his groove, though without a doubt, he showed his stuff and melded gracefully into the vibe of the evening. The first set came to a close with a delightfully surprising rainbow over the stadium, as if it was a smile from Garcia in heaven to the crowd below.
Second set opened with a hesitant start, as band members were still working out the kinks and finding their footing. Fans were also treated early on in the set to fireworks that were being set off in nearby Great America Park. With a slower start to the set, the energy built right up as they jammed into “St. Stephen.” The second set blasted info full energy mode as the band finally tightened up and found their groove. The improvised “Space” crept in, showing off the percussive talents of the Rhythm Devils, Kreutzmann and Hart. The evening ended with an encore performance of “Casey Jones,” with Hornsby on vocals. Before leaving the stage, Kreutzmann indicated the rainbow earlier in the evening was in honor of the Supreme Court decision passed to legalize gay marriage in all 50 states. If the rainbow was fake or real is anyone’s guess. Either way, it was beautiful.
Truckin’, Uncle John’s Band, Alligator > Cumberland Blues, Born Cross-Eyed > Cream Puff War, Viola Lee Blues
Cryptical Envelopment > Dark Star > St. Stephen > William Tell Bridge > The Eleven > Turn On Your Love Light > Drums > What’s Become of the Baby > Space > The Other One > Morning Dew
6/28/15 Night Two.
As jam band fans like to say, never miss a Sunday show. The second performance of the run did not disappoint the packed stadium. After a bumpy start, the band fell into a fluid groove. Sunday’s performance was more of a greatest hits for the hometown crowd. A well-placed classic opener, “Feel Like a Stranger” started the first set with Weir on vocals. The piano and keyboard sound mix was vastly improved from the night before, where, at times, you had to strain to hear those instruments. The band was much more in synch this evening, as they strolled through “New Minglewood Blues” into “Brown Eyed Women.” Hornsby, once again, showcased his vocal talents on “Loser,” a favorite that many fans hope is repeated in Chicago.
Anastasio took the lead vocal position on “Alabama Getaway.” He visibly appeared increasingly comfortable on stage. Chimenti jammed right along by tapping his fingers with ease on the organ to pump out that deep sound. The almost two-hour first set closed with “Hell In a Bucket,” with Anastasio, once again, surprising the crowd with a high energy, get your bones jumping up and down, guitar solo. The set came to a close with Weir’s infamous “we’ll be back in just a few minutes,” before the group walked off stage for set break.
Second set opened strong with “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo.” It was chock full of extensive, improvised jams before seamlessly transitioning into “Wharf Rat.” Not a dry eye was to be seen when “He’s Gone” showed up on the set. Even Weir appeared to have a moment as he was singing the lyrics to a song that most fans relate to the death of Jerry Garcia. “He’s gone. Nothing’s gonna bring him back.”
The Rhythm Devils once again showed their creative, improvisational percussion skills with “Drums” as the rest of the band took a break from the show. This time around they had a guest join in, with Sikiru Adepoju, a percussionist and recording artist from Nigeria, on the talking drum.
Another big fan favorite, “Sugar Magnolia,” rounded out the second set and the weekend closed with an encore of “Brokedown Palace.” If these shows are any indication of what’s to come in Chicago, fans are in for a spectacular Fourth of July weekend chock full of hidden gems and long winding intricate jams. What a way to kick off the reunion tour.
Feel Like A Stranger, New Minglewood Blues, Brown-Eyed Women, Loose Lucy, Loser, Row Jimmy, Alabama Getaway, Black Peter, Hell In A Bucket
Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo > Wharf Rat > Eyes of the World > He’s Gone > *Drums/Space > I Need A Miracle > Death Don’t Have No Mercy > Sugar Magnolia