Saturday, May 16, 2009
The Dead - Mountain View, CA (5/14)
Trekked out to San Francisco California to see the Dead in their penultimate show on this '09 tour with the Bird and the Boy. Our good friend Gerard was our host, he did a fantastic job of driving us and around and making sure we had a good time during our visit. The Shoreline Amphitheatre was built back in 1986 in cooperation with Bill Graham, it's a venue in the style of Merriweather Post/Nissan Pavilion with a rather large lawn. The Grateful Dead was supposed to play the first show there in 1986, but had to cancel due to Jerry's illness. But being in their "hometown", the Dead have performed there many times and according to Wikipedia (it's got to be true) Bill Graham's design of the place is supposed to resemble the "Steal Your Face" image. If you tilt your head to the left and squint when you look at this picture you can imagine it.
After waiting through some heavy traffic, we arrived as the band was playing their first song, "Jack Straw". There was a big crowd, especially on the lawn, it was not a sellout but it must have been close. There were a mix of young (plenty of kids) and old with everyone standing up and dancing. After "Jack Straw" they did a rousing version of "US Blues" followed by "Mason's Children". I had never heard this song before this tour, it was never released on an album but only as a B-side to a single. If you're reading this and under 30, I know that last sentence makes no sense to you, call me and I'll explain it. Anyway after "Mason's Children" they did a very good version of "Ship of Fools", with Warren Haynes handling the lead vocals and Jeff Chimenti adding a nice piano solo. Some songs I don't care much for Warren's singing, but this is one that he does very well. This was followed by "Friend of the Devil", very nice and then a great sequence of "Standing on the Moon" leading into "Terrapin Station" and then back to "Standing on the Moon". By now it was dark, they had the big video screens cranked up and the band was sounding great. I have to give a major league dose of praise to those on the Dead team responsible for the sound mixing. The sound quality has been simply phenomenal at each and every show (with the exception of the very first show in Greensboro, OK it took one show to get the kinks out and to get it right).
After the break, the Dead did an excellent version of "Estimated Prophet" (everyone singing along with the chorus "California, I'll be knocking on the golden door"). They stretched this one out into a nice easy jam which lead into "New Potato Caboose" and then "Born Cross Eyed". The Bird has been wanting and begging to hear them do "Dear Mr. Fantasy" (they played it at one of the NJ shows) so she was most excited when they started in on this classic by Traffic. Then they went to the Drumz part of the program, this time it was augmented by a team of fire dancers. They added a nice visual with their flaming hoops and batons to the drum session by Billy and Mickey. This was followed by the Space Jam and then "Morning Dew". They closed the second set with an ass kicking "China Cat Sunflower->I know you Rider". The band was really smoking by this point.
For an encore, they did the classic "Scarlet Begonias->Fire on the Mountain" medley. This was the first show that we got to hear this and I got to try my new trick of tapping the shoulder of a nearby nearby stranger and extending my hand in synchronization with the lyric "Strangers stopping strangers, just to shake their hand". Who knows what she thought of that? The Dead did one more song "Deal" to close out our Dead '09 experience.
And what an experience it was. I know that there are purists out there that say this is not really the Grateful Dead without Jerry and of course they're right. I remember I was at a party back in March and the Bird was telling a friend about the tour and how much we were looking forward to it. The friend said, "So Warren Haynes will be doing the Jerry parts..." and I had to speak up and say "No, he won't be playing Jerry's parts, nobody can play Jerry's parts, Warren will be playing his own style." And listening to these shows with that expectation, made them all the more enjoyable. It's also been pointed out that the Grateful Dead in the '80's sounded very different than the Grateful Dead in the '70's, and the Grateful Dead in the '90's sounded very different than the Grateful Dead in the '80's. And guess what? The Dead in this century sounds different than the Grateful Dead in the '90's. Is it better? Probably not, but actually there were some parts that I think were better, but the main point is it was different. That's why we keep going to the shows and that's why it's fun.
One of the reasons I love my wife (the Bird) is that she makes me get off my butt and go out and do fun stuff. I was a little skeptical when she was suggesting that we go to as many shows on this tour as we possibly can, but she was right, it was great, an experience that I'll never forget and I'm really glad we did it. It's been a Long, Strange Trip and I can't wait until the next one!