Posted by jharrington on May 11th, 2009 at 2:59 am | Categorized as Concerts | Tagged as Grateful Dead, Jim Harrington, Shoreline, The Dead
By Jim Harrington
There is a little game that Deadheads like to play. It’s a twist on the “Name That Tune” TV show, in which fans try to figure out what the band is going to play next.
Jenny DeMaria was feeling ready for the challenge on Sunday, as the (formerly Grateful) Dead settled in for the first of two nonconsecutive nights at its old stomping grounds of the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View.
“I know more about the Dead than anyone in this entire place,” the San Rafael resident stated for anybody willing to listen. “I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I know what I know and I know it.”
With that, the band – which currently includes four Grateful alums, bassist Phil Lesh, vocalist-guitarist Bob Weir, drummer Bill Kreutzmann and percussionist Mickey Hart, plus new additions Warren Haynes on guitar and Jeff Chimenti on keys – began noodling out something vaguely resembling the start of a song.
“It’s either `Terrapin (Station),’ `Spanish Jam’ or `Eyes (of the World),” DeMaria said with some degree of confidence. “Actually, I think it’s `Stella (Blue).’”
A few minutes later, the music finally began to take form, and the sold-out crowd of 22,000 fans erupted as the band’s choice became clear.
“Oh,” remarked DeMaria, “it’s `Sugaree.’”
That snapshot reveals more than any one song ever could about why this band manages to stay so popular. It sheds more light than a 15-minute jam or an epic guitar solo on how the Dead – even without its most popular player, Jerry Garcia, who died in 1995 – can still sell some 40,000 tickets to its two shows at Shoreline.
In a nutshell, it’s because 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. 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.
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.
In that regard, there hasn’t been much to live for over the last few years. The Dead stayed off the road for some five years, while its members focused on individual projects, which surely factors into the huge ticket demand for this tour. Sunday’s show sold out the very day tickets became available, although ducats still remain for the second Shoreline date, on Thursday.
The two-set concert, which also included a lengthy encore that pretty much qualified as a third set, ran over three hours and featured more than a dozen Dead classics as well as a few surprises.
The sextet kicked off the show by breathing new life into one of its most storied multi-song jams, “Help on the Way”/”Slipknot”/”Franklin’s Tower.” Haynes – the busiest musician in the Bay Area this week, as he juggles his duties with the Dead with two shows with the Allman Brothers, tonight and Wednesday, at the Fox Theater in Oakland – played the biggest role in making this jam feel so fresh.
Many guitarists have tried to fill Garcia’s shows over the last 15 years, both with the Dead and in such ensembles as Phil Lesh and Friends, and most have come across, at best, as weak imitations. Haynes, on the other hand, seemed intent to sidestep Garcia, and put his own stamp on the material. He was aided greatly by Weir, whose unorthodox rhythm work, so clearly rooted in the jazz tradition of “comping,” will probably never get the recognition due.
Any lingering notion that these players might be past their primes was crushed late in the first set when the group flew into “Birdsong,” an improvisational tour-de-force that included several breakneck changes and oozed with sustained drama. That vibe would carry over to the beginning of the second set as the Dead wrung “Unbroken Chain” and “The Other One” for all they were worth.
Following the still-controversial “drums/space” segment – the purely improvisational portion of the show, which some fans love and others utilize as a chance to hit the bathrooms – the group refocused its talents on mounting a splendid attack on “Sugaree,” then surprised fans with a spot-on cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.”
Most of the encore was devoted to “St. Stephen” and “The Eleven,” which were blended in a fashion that made it nearly impossible to tell where one song ended and the other begun. The show closed with “Touch of Grey” as 22,000 fans chanted the lyric that is every bit as relevant to the band and its community today as it was when the song was first released in 1987:
“We will survive.”
The Dead in concert
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Shoreline Amphitheatre, 1 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View
Tickets: $41-$101, 650-967-3000, www.livenation.com.
“Help on the Way”
“Uncle John’s Band”
“The Other One”
“Touch of Grey”