Realizing there probably won't be much interest generated in today's blog, I feel compelled anyway to submit for your review a critique on a recent concert venture. It was more interesting than my golf game on Sunday.
Me, the Misses, and a couple of friends went to see Dead & Co. at Wrigley Field last Saturday night, July 1. They now call themselves Dead & Co., but they are the remnants of the original Grateful Dead. We saw them at Alpine in Wisconsin last year too, so it might be said we have become “deadheads.” Well, that might be said of me as it appears the Misses kind of tags along, probably just for my delightful company. Anyway, what appears below is my assessment, from what can be remembered, of the experience.
First off, our tickets were on the field. That means we got to sit right on Wrigley Field. That in itself was an experience, sitting in front of the old scoreboard. Upon entering, we were within reaching distance of touching the fabled ivy on the outfield walls, although the constabulary was keeping a watchful out to make sure nobody dared to touch. Additionally, to get to our seats, we walked through the brand-new bullpen under the left-field bleachers.
If you have never been to a “Dead” concert, people-watching is half the fun. It is better than the “People of Walmart” photo’s that trek across the internet. The official “deadheads,” those that travel with the band frequently, and bathe infrequently, are a sight to behold. Before the show, they sell their wares, such as ugly tie-died T-shirts, carpets that appear to have been stolen, dirty scarves and hats, cheap trinkets, or anything they can think of to turn a buck, some of it, I suppose, even legal. They seem to travel in pairs, often the only distinction between them is one is bearded and the other isn’t. Then, once the show starts, they go into some sort of mystical zone, more than likely herbically induced, based on the aroma wafting around the park, stand in one spot and dance like nobody is watching.
Unlike the poor vagabonds known as “deadheads,” the production of a Dead and Co. concert is a professionally produced, fine-tuned running machine. Even though the song sets may never be the same from night to night, the shows have the appearance of being well-thought out far in advance in order to derive maximum profit. No stone is left unturned in an attempt to separate you from your money. You could even bid on a specially produced Epiphone guitar, beautifully painted to commemorate the Wrigley Field concert venue and signed by all the members of the band. Starting bid was only $18,000! Supposedly, that money is going to “charity,” which is some sort of “Get Out the Vote” program for the Left.
As always, the music was superb. John Mayer, filling in for the late Jerry Garcia, does a brilliant job, not only playing the guitar in Mayer-like-fashion, but when required, can even sound like Garcia himself. It has been my experience with Mayer that his vocal ability is weak as a solo artist, an opinion my son will argue heatedly with, but his guitar talents adds a layer to the show not seen since Garcia himself was standing there twenty years ago. (He may even be a better axe man - he is that good!) At 40 years old, he also supplies energy needed for the show, as he is 30 years younger than the original members.
Founding member, Bob Weir (70) shoulders a great deal of the vocal duties, as does former Allman Brothers Band bassist Oteil Burbridge. This takes vocal burden off Mayer, allowing him to play, and in my opinion, better guitar. The other two remaining founding members, Bill Kreutzmann (71) and Micky Hart (74), both on drums were solid as usual, including an interesting ten-minute percussion solo. The highlight of the evening, in my humble opinion, was the musical “battle” between Mayer’s guitar and Jeff Chimenti playing electric piano. The finale was a song called Sunshine Daydream, that was capped off by an awesome fireworks display.
If I had a criticism, other than the damn people who stand in front of you, it would be their annoying insistence of playing the songs Dark Star in the first set and Space in the second. (They sound like one annoying track!) I normally skip past these songs when listening to the Dead, but sitting at a concert, there is no fast-forward button to mash. With an extremely slow pace and combined with outer-space noises, the experience becomes boring and they lost interest from the crowd. Heck, even the six old stoners sitting in front of me actually sat down for a spell.
The thing is, folks, Grateful Dead music is an acquired taste, and it is helpful to have experience with it to truly enjoy their shows. If you are not familiar with their music, or you don’t care for jams and soaring solos, then the “Dead” is probably not going to be your cup of tea. They often extend songs long past the length of the recording studio’s – so much in fact that Conan O’Brian quipped in 2015 – “The Grateful Dead are coming out with an 80-disc live box set. No word on which song it will be.” (I always loved that joke and was looking for a place to put it.)
To my knowledge, there are no more shows scheduled for 2017. They performed 20 shows at 15 venues and Wrigley was their last stop. If you have ever considered seeing the Dead, you would do well to see them, should they do another “Fare thee well” tour. As the remaining three original members are past 70, Father Time is catching up to them and like it or not, they are going to "Fade Away."