Beautiful. Liberating. Spiritual. Divine. Epic.
It all fits in describing the second, and final, Grateful Dead show at Levi’s Stadium Sunday in Santa Clara, Calif.
Surprising also fits.
Given the mixed reviews of the 1960s-leaning, jam-heavy Saturday show, the average age of the group’s core four, the idea Trey Anastasio – you know, that guy from Phish – was “filling in” for Jerry Garcia on lead guitar and the fact the seven main players hadn’t played on such a large stage in decades, there was no reason to expect greatness.
Yet, just like the Dead did so many nights during an often-magical and occasionally maddening 35-year run, magic happened. And by magic, we’re talking about the type of magic that can only happen at a Dead show. We’re talking a strike of lightning flashing above Three Rivers Stadium moments before the Dead opened the second set of a June 30, 1995 show with their Rain set – Rain, Box of Rain, Looks Like Rain and Samba in the Rain. That made an an otherwise snoozer of a show a special one. We’re talking a post-diabetic coma Jerry giving thumbs up during “Touch of Grey.”
Despite its warts, 6/28/15 was three-plus hours of cathartic bliss – and two sets with a heavy Jerry Garcia influence – for Deadheads.
Setlist – Set I: Feel Like a Stranger, New Minglewood Blues, Brown-Eyed Women, Loose Lucy, Loser, Row Jimmy, Alabama Getaway, Black Peter, Hell in Bucket; Set II: Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo, Wharf Rat, Eyes of the World, He’s Gone, Drum, Space, I Need a Miracle, Death Don’t Have No Mercy, Sugar Magnolia; Encore: Brokedown Palace.
While no Dead show is perfect, this setlist helped offer moments of pure inspiration, and it showed that, in its 50th year, the Grateful Dead are capable of achieving great heights, even during some slightly sloppy moments.
Bob Weir started strong and never relented. He was playful and inspired, hitting vocal high notes during “He’s Gone” and the beautiful “Brokedown Palace.”
Phil Lesh played a thunderous bass, working a wonderful back beat with the Rhythm Devils – the ever-steady Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart. On lead vocals, Lesh wasn’t strong during “Eyes of the World” but I didn’t mind it as much as many other Deadhead friends did. The moments when Lesh spoke to the 70,000 in attendance and countless others watching from home about the liver transplant he needed to stay alive. Again, just another moment to bond the Dead and those die-hard fans.
Bruce Hornsby and the piano and Jeff Chimenti on the keyboards, those two couldn’t get enough of each other. Their dynamic interplay showcased the joys the band experiences during a good show, which, make no mistake, this was.
And Trey. Well, he entered guitar royalty Sunday night. For those Deadhands who never got into Phish (my hand is raised), Anastasio’s inclusion was reason for slight concern. Would he Phish-up beloved Dead classics? Would he simply mimic Garcia? Would he lead on all Garcia songs?
Thankfully, the answers are no, no and no.
Trey worked wonders Sunday night. He played inspired, and, during “Wharf Rat,” it truly looked like he and Garcia were communicating. As one friend put it, “Trey was practically genuflecting. Heavy shit, man!”
The Grateful Dead conclude their all-too-brief Fare Thee Well tour with three shows in Chicago, starting tonight. That’s three more opportunities for magic moments.
Whether you’re in attendance like several of my friends or couch touring like myself, expect a miracle or two.