Friday, May 15, 2009

The Dead at the Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, CA

Arriving at the parking lot at Shoreline, Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California at 4:00 pm in the afternoon approximately four hours before The Dead were to begin their set, I was struck with how many people had already arrived early as well. I knew there would be some sort of parking lot scene, but hadn’t imagined this. Lots of Chevy trucks were parked with their trunks open so people could sit inside, drink cold beer out of their coolers and smoke joints at their free will. There were Dead Heads walking around the parking lot with their index finger up in the air hoping for a miracle ticket that would allow them into the sold out show of 22,000 people.

As I walked around checking out the different items for sale I saw one guy getting kicked out by security for selling glass pipes. He was hysterical demanding to the security, “Why are you guys only kicking me out and not the other hundreds of people doing the same thing as me?” He did have a point as I walked around and saw countless other people selling pipes and other paraphernalia such as bongs and vaporizers. One guy I met in the parking lot was from a small farm town in Missouri and claimed he was taking donations for buttons in order to support his family and raise buffalo on a farm. Continuing my stroll around the lot I saw the countless hippies and the core of The Dead’s fan base. The men had their heavy beards, dreadlocks, Dead tattoos, bandanas and tie-dye shirts, and the women had their long hair flowing and dresses with psychedelic pattern. They were all peacefully hanging out drinking beer, smoking joints, and eating veggie burritos while listening to Crazy Fingers” blasting out of the sterio of somebody's psychedelic bus. Being at this concert made me realize no other band in the history of rock ‘n’ roll has ever fostered a greater sense of community than the Dead has done over its 45-year career. Some people may wonder how The Dead are still able to carry on so well and continue to pack arenas even without its most popular player, Jerry Garcia, who died in 1995, and can still sell some 40,000 tickets to its two shows at Shoreline. Even without Garcia living, people have not forgotten about The Grateful Dead; if anything they are even more worshiped now. I saw many people walking around the parking lot with “I Miss Jerry” signs, signifying their true-Dead-Head spirit. As Jim Harington writes for, ”In these modern times, when people are known to text, instead of talk, to someone sitting in the very same room, the significance of feeling connected to something cannot be overstated. That’s why Deadheads don’t just attend shows – they live for them.”

The show began soon after I got inside the Shoreline Amphitheatre around 8:00 pm. The surviving members of The Dead (vocalist and rhythm guitarist Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh, drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzman) took the stage, along with post 2000 Dead tour members, Gov’t Mule and The Allman Brothers Band lead guitarist and vocalist Warren Haynes, and Ratdog keyboardist Jeff Chimanti. Until tonight, there hadn’t been much to live for if you’re a Dead Head in the Bay Area over the last five years, as this is the first time The Dead have toured since 2004, which surely factors into the huge ticket demand for this tour, and high prices that you would be extremely lucky to get for under $100.

The Dead opened their set with one of their most famous multi-song intertwined jams “Help On The Way,” into “Slipknot,” into “Franklins Tower.” Bob Weir sang the famous opening lines of “Help On The Way,” originally written by Robert Hunter and sang by Jerry Garcia off their 1975 Blues For Allah album, “Paradise waits on the crest of a wave her angels in flame. She has no pain. Like a child, she is pure she is not to blame. Poised for flight. Wings spread bright. Spring from night into the sun.” Weir sang the song in a much different voice then his usual country or his deep-raspy voice, instead sounding more like Jerry’s high pitched croon would have instead. During “Franklins Tower,” it seemed like everyone around me on the center part of the lawn was lighting up a fat joint and passing it around while making sure to dance and chanting the famous chorus of, “Roll away the dew.”

Mountain View Flashback: Bob Weir of The Dead performing at The Shorline
in one of the last Grateful Dead tours with Jerry Garcia in the early 90s.

A lot of what was played at this Dead concert seemed to be very meticulously picked out by the band to be in unison with what they had done at past showes at the same Shoreline Amphitheare before Jerry Garcia died. An example of this is when The Dead launched into “Good Lovin,” a song The Dead used play all the time at Shoreline. Bob Weir finally let out the his deep-raspy voice, (which most Dead Heads have always loved), and entire crowd hadn't forgotten despite The Dead's long break off touring. "Good Lovin" put a grat atmospher in the air as it was still a bit sunny out and Dead Head hippies danced and chanted the chorus, “Doctor! Doctor!”

Weir also took control of the next song "Cassidy," now and the purple and green stage lights illuminated the band members. This was not the first time I had heard Weir play “Cassidy,” as he had performed it at a free concert with Ratdog on Earth Day in Golden Gate Park during 2007, but seeing him perform it with The Dead was far more special. Weir took center stage with his heavy white beard, thick mustache that curls upwards, singing the opening lines, “I have seen where the wolf has slept by the silver stream. I can tell by the mark he left you were in his dream. Ah, child of countless trees. Ah, child of boundless seas. What you are, what you're meant to be speaks his name, though you were born to me. Born to me, Cassidy.”

Any Dead Heads at Shorline who may have had any lingering notion that The Dead might be past their prime without Jerry Garcia must have been blown away when they witnessed The Dead fly into “Bird Song,” an improvisational tour-de-force that has always been a concert favorite, appearing on successful Grateful Dead live albums in the past such as Reckoning and Without A Net. Haynes handled the lyrics beautifully to “Bird Song,” written in memory of Janis Joplin right after her heroin overdose in 1970. Haynes sang melodiously like Jerry would have if he was still with us, “All I know is that something like a bird within her sings. All I know is that she sang a little while and then flew off.” The Dead closed their first set to some of their biggest applause of the night with “Uncle John’s Band,” off of 1970s Workingman’s Dead, a song that keeps Dead Heads trucking around the country to each one of this bands shows. In fact numerous Dead Heads were raving about the previous nights show in L.A. where The Dead played "Black Peter,"and "New Speedway Boogie," both classics off Workingman's Dead.The lights on the stage shined out at the crowd as Bob Weir, Phil Lesh and Warren Haynes all shouted simultaneously, “Goddamn, well I declare have you seen the like? Their walls are built of cannonballs, their motto is don't tread on me. Come hear Uncle John's Band by the riverside. Got some things to talk about here beside the rising tide.” After the song Bob Weir did his usual set break announcement, “We’ll be back in just a few minutes don’t go anywhere.”

Bob Weir: The vocalist and Rhythm guitarist of The Dead
performing on the current 2009 tour.

A few minutes turned in to over half an hour but that didn’t bother Dead fans as they smoked copius amounts of marijuana or went off to the beer gardens before the people working at Shoreline could shut it down. Some people just sat around talking about what songs they thought would be played in the next set, trying to guess the exact order. Jim Harington from describes these Dead Head games quite vividly when he writes “The Dead People wear their knowledge of the group like badges of honor, and just how much history you have with the act – which is illustrated by such seemingly oddball practices as being among the first to “name that tune” – really matters. It all comes down to people feeling like they’re part of something bigger than themselves, and each Deadhead believes he or she has played a role in the long, strange trip that took the band from the small Bay Area clubs in the ‘60s, through the Yale Bowl in New Haven, CT, and Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre in the ‘70s, straight to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the ‘90s.”

The second set began with a stellar Phil Lesh song “Unbroken Chain,” with the classic Dead lines, “Looking for the secret, searching for the sound.” The crowd seemed amazed that The Dead would play this mid 70s classic. Once The Dead had jammed into "Unbroken Chain" and the crowd looked at one another as if, "Can it be?" Afterall "Unbroken Chain," is a song with a history to it at Shoreline Ampitheatre as it had been played there on the last Grateful Dead tour in 1995 the year Jerry Garcia died. As the song drifted more and more into the main riff the cheers became louder, swelling as more and more Dead Heads realized what was happening, and by the time the first verse rolled around, the place was going absolutely nuts, as hippies with dreadlocks danced with bolts of energy flying through the crowd.

The crowd continued to roar as the opening notes in “The Other One,” were picked. This was the second time I had seen Weir and Lesh compose the song together and would have to say it was not the best. Last year when they played it together at The Warfield with Phil Lesh & Friends, the song seemed a lot more cohesive. I couldn’t also help but notice that the band was using music sheets and Weir somehow couldn’t remember the final lyrics at the end of the song or he just chose to leave them out which bothered me a bit since I love those final lines...“Escapin' through the lily fields I came across an empty space. It trembled and exploded left a bus stop in its place. The bus came by and I got on that's when it all began. There was cowboy Neal at the wheel of a bus to never-ever land.” The Dead still did a sold job jamming on “The Other One” a song that ranks right up there with “Dark Star” as one of their early psychedelic masterpieces.

Phil Lesh got the crowd going with "Unbroken Chain,"
a song that was performed the final Grateful Dead show
at Shoreline during Jerry Garcia's life in 1995

Another interlude followed with Mickey Hart and Billy Kreutzman using their twin kits on “Drums,” into “Space.” Many fans took this time to lie on their backs on the hilly lawn, and look up at the sky, feeling the first waves of sleepy-ness overtake them. Then they were back on their feet and dancing in masse to “Sugaree,” a signature Jerry Garcia Band song off his powerful debut album simply titled Garcia. Weir has taken over the song now, and even looked a bit like Jerry with that big white beard and his face, which has aged considerably over the last few years. It’s not a bad kind of aging like Jerry though where he looked overweight and somewhat burned out. Weir looked old and wise onstage, but his body movements onstage with his guitar were still young, and being in the center stage he was clearly leading the band on this night. Warren Hayens with a brooding look in his eye and his heavy set body trudged in front of the microphone, and took over next for a spectacular cover of The Rolling Stones song “Gimme Shelter,” from their Let It Bleed album. Haynes sounded very rock n’ roll, and there was hardly any jamming to it, just a blistering solo in the middle which was the best of the night for Haynes. “Sugaree” may have been Weirs highlight of the second set until he even topped that with “Sugar Magnolia,” which had the whole crowd chanting at the top of their lungs, “Sunshine daydream. Walk you the tall trees. Going where the wind goes. Blooming like a red rose. Breathing more freely. Light out singing I'll walk you in the morning sunshine. Sunshine daydream.” "Sugar Magnolia," has been a concert highlight thoughout The Dead's legendary career from the 1970s on, and usually appears late in the second set or as the final encore of the night.

Warren Haynes proved why he belongs in The Dead as he
mastered a stellar improvisation of "Bird Song," and ripped
up a cover of The Rolling Stones, "Gimme Shelter."

The Dead began their encore with “St. Stephen,” one of their best songs from their psychedelic sixties period. The song is also known to be played rarely live so everyone at the show felt fortunate to be there as Weir and Lesh sang at the same time “St. Sthephen with a rose, in and out of the garden he goes. Country garland in the wind and the rain. Wherever he goes the people all complain. The way The Dead played “St. Stephen,” sounded similar to the way they play it on their 1969 Live Dead album, as the song was even followed by “The Eleven,” another classic jam off Live Dead. Weir handled most of the vocals for “St. Stephen,” and “The Eleven,” as the clock struck nearly midnight, first waves of the crowd began to dwindle but the true Dead Heads stuck around.

Bob Weir and Warren Haynes jam long into the night.

The show closed with “Touch of Grey” as 22,000 fans chanted the lyrics that are every bit as relevant to the band and its community today as they were when the song was first released in 1987, “We will get by. We will survive.” “Touch of Grey,” was the first Grateful Dead song to nearly top the U.S. Billboard singles charts, and was written by Jerry in a time few wondered if he would ever recover from his diabetic seizure he had suffered at RFK Stadium while The Grateful Dead were on tour in 1985. While Jerry’s life may have been short-lived when all things are considered, his legacy with The Dead is nowhere close to diminished in the year 2009 fourteen years after his fatal heart attack from heroin withdrawal. Dead Heads will continue to flock to shows and travel across the country with this band as long as the members of The Dead continue to get along. This was obviously not the case in the last five years, as Lesh and Weir butted heads and had a big falling out over weather Dead songs should be available for free over the internet. Luckily now everyone seems to be getting along and we can only hope The Dead will come back soon before another five years fly by. Lets hope the people who go to Thursday’s show will have as much fun watching The Dead perform as The Heads who came out tonight did.

Set list:
Set 1:
“Help on the Way”
“Franklin’s Tower”
“Good Lovin’”
“Uncle John’s Band”

Set 2:

“Unbroken Chain”
“The Other One”
Drums/Rhythm Devils/Space
“Gimme Shelter”
“Sugar Magnolia”


“St Stephen”
“The Eleven”
“Touch of Grey”

The Dead take a bow, left to right: Mickey Hart, Phil Lesh,
Bob Weir, Warren Haynes, Bill Kreutzmann, and Jeff Chimanti

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