I’m walking through a leafy park smoking a kindly rolled joint as a cool breeze blows through the trees.
I’m walking on brutally baked parking lot asphalt outside a football stadium, wading through an ocean of disgusting dirt bags.
Is this heaven? Is this hell?
No man, it’s just Chicago, home of the heartbroken Cubs and on this unforgettable July 4th weekend, the Grateful Dead.
The “core four” called it a night, and a career (at least together), on Sunday by giving 71,000 faithful exactly what they expected: some musical moments of blinding brilliance, some of hapless confusion, but all delivered with heart, soul and the daring that has come to define the Grateful Dead’s 50 years as America’s last great road show.
Always a matter of hot debate for fans, the song selection for the final show was a matter of taste. Some obvious winners were explosive, some duds might have been better off overlooked. But you only get to choose ‘em if you write ‘em, play ‘em and sing ‘em, and the end result was very, well… Grateful Dead. As one buddy (and veteran of hundreds of shows) texted me between sets: “They’re discombobulated, but good.” Well, shit, they’ve been that way for 50 years, why would tonight be any different?
“China Cat Sunflower” coupled with its longtime partner “I Know You Rider” was a strong opener, and Phish’s Trey Anastasio took the reins early, nailing the signature Garcia riffs that needed nailing and letting his own inventive playing and propulsive tone shine through on the rest. Bobby Weir hit all his big marks with a passion he hasn’t shown since the late 80’s, including the monster jams coming out of “Estimated Prophet,” “Throwing Stones” and the second set closer “Not Fade Away.”
Bassist Phil Lesh was darting, weaving and climbing in, out and around the guitar interplay of Bobby and Trey from wire to wire. When the three guitarists came together, triangulated onstage and truly worked off each other, the sorcery was instant. The empty canvasses in “Mountains of the Moon,” “Cassidy” and “Terrapin Station” led to some long, strange musical trips indeed. Pianist/singer extraordinaire Bruce Hornsby and organist Jeff Chimenti contributed nicely along the way, with Hornsby’s assured piano work and vocals lending depth and strength to the jams and the harmonies.
In the end, the strongest contribution came from the Deadheads themselves, who, in anthems like “Truckin’” and “Touch of Grey” channeled Jerry’s otherworldly energy and willed the band to reach the heights that the songs and the overall experience deserved.
And that too… was very Grateful Dead.