Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of Grateful Dead at Soldier Field, Chicago, July 3, 2015
The Dead kicked off the first of three Fare Thee Well shows at Chicago’s Soldier Field with “Box of Rain,” the very song that capped the Grateful Dead’s career in the same venue 20 years earlier.
Thus began a two-hour, 55-minute performance with many peaks, a couple of valleys and several moments, unique to this music, when the band and the audience joined together in ecstatic climaxes. The lack of such moments is going to leave a major void in many Deadheads’ souls after Sunday.
In keeping with the celebration-of-Dead-life feeling of the shows, stadium staff presented single red roses to each patron that passed through the turnstiles. It was a classy move that set the mood for a festive, if bittersweet, evening.
Bassist Phil Lesh, occupying center stage, sung his song of hope sans harmonies and the solo vocal performance seemed designed to alert the faithful that this is something about these final shows is different. What followed the opener was a high-energy set that, despite a couple of stumbles, made the venue crackle with electricity when the band hit its many apogees, most notably during “Jack Straw” and a thumping, pulsating “Music Never Stopped.”
Guitarist Trey Anastasio, in the unenviable role as Jerry Garcia’s stand-in, made his presence known early and often, peeling off leads that stoked the band’s collective fire and singing “Bertha” and “Crazy Fingers” with reverence for the past and respect for the present. Pianist Bruce Hornsby, always a monster player, proved his vocal prowess as well, singing much-needed co-lead vocals with Bob Weir on “Passenger.” and adding essential harmonies across the set.
Technical difficulties caused a delay before “The Wheel” and the gremlins struck around to muck up that and the subsequent “Crazy Fingers.” Despite these hiccups, the 60-minute first set provided enough adrenaline to carry the nearly full house through the 65-minute intermission, which featured hypnotic music accompanying images from the Grateful Dead’s career (oddly, Keith and Donna Jean Godchaux were not represented) on the three video screens that adorned the stage.
Set two picked up where set one left off with a super-charged triplet of “Mason’s Children,” “Scarlet Begonias” (sung by Anastasio) and “Fire on the Mountain” (Hornsby). As it had during the first stanza, the crowd served as the eighth band member, egging on the musicians as they revved their engines and plowed through their 30-minute opening statement before ceding the stage to Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann for “Drumz.”
Aided by liberal use of electronics and a huge video screen at the back of the stadium, the percussionists filled the Chicago night with weirdness that continued through the full-band “Space” that followed.
The energy level flagged considerably during the Dead’s early-career psychedelic excursion “New Potato Caboose,” which led many fans to take their seats. Another full-blown “Space” followed Weir’s anthemic “Playin’ in the Band,” replete with funked-up outro jam. The power was restored to first-set levels as the band soared and the crowd roared during the “Slipknot!” that bridged well-executed versions of “Help on the Way” (Anastasio on vocals) and “Franklin’s Tower” (Lesh).
Weir strapped on an acoustic for the encore of “Ripple.” Delivered at a dirge-like pace, “Ripple” found Weir and Lesh sharing vocals with 70,000 concertgoers and the revamped arrangement seemed ideal for the final version the Core Four will ever play.
Grade card: Fare Thee Well, Soldier Field, 7/3/15 - B
Set list: 1: Box of Rain/Jack Straw/Bertha/Passenger/The Wheel/Crazy Fingers/The Music Never Stopped 2: Mason’s Children/Scarlet Begonias/Fire on the Mountain/Drumz/Space/New Potato Caboose/Playin’ in the Band/Space/Let it Grow/Help on the Way/Slipknot!/Franklin’s Tower E: Ripple
I’m very proud to reveal my official poster for the GRATEFUL DEAD’s
‘Fare Thee Well’ shows, celebrating 50 years this weekend at Levi’s
Stadium Santa Clara, CA. Needless to say, it’s a huge honour to have
been invited to work on this piece and to gain the legendary band’s
approval, especially for such an historic event. Expertly printed by the
always outstanding Burlesque Of North America, this 6 colour 18x24" screen print (with
metallic gold ink) will be available all weekend at the shows in a
limited edition of 2000 prints. I will have a very small number
available soon via my own store - go and sign up over at www.richeybeckett.com for more information! Thanks for looking, and those of you lucky enough to make it to the shows, have an incredible weekend!