We Bid You Goodnight: Grateful Dead – 6/28/15 Fare Thee Well Webcast

Sunday night, I plunked down $20 to watch a concert online. It’s not usually the kind of thing I do, but then again, how often does one get the chance to see the Grateful Dead play live?

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the band and the 20th of their breaking up. Years ending in fives have a weird kind of significance: ’75 was the one year they didn’t really tour, ’85 has a weird mix of inspiration and darkness, ’95 was when things all came to an abrupt finish. And now, in 2015, things are back together for a handful of shows.

It’s the Dead, but only kind of. Bob Weir is back, as is Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann. Bruce Hornsby is on piano and Jeff Chimenti is on organ, clavinet and other assorted keyboards. Oh, and sitting in for Jerry is Phish’s Trey Anastasio.

The first set was heavy on 80s stuff, with a couple of nice older tunes thrown in. I liked their “Brown-Eyed Women,” which wasn’t as slick as it’s sounded in the past, and a rocking version of “Alabama Getaway,” the Dead hit single that never was. And there was a lot of Weir on lead vocals, especially in the first set: “New Minglewood Blues,” “Feel Like A Stranger,” and “Hell in a Bucket.” He’s still pretty good on guitar, too.

Indeed, on that set-closer, the first real moments of inspiration popped out when Anastasios solo started picking up steam and he kept going through nods and glances telling him to wrap it up. It was the first time all set things really felt spontaneous – a setlist had leaked online pre-show, for example – and Trey’s big grin afterwards said it all.

The second set was, as it usually is for Dead shows, where the band took improvisational leaps. Most of the set was one large segue, going through “Wharf Rat” into “Eyes of the World” into “He’s Gone,” and into Drums>Space. I’m not normally a big drum solo person, but maybe it was because Iwas tired – it started after 1am eastern – or because Hart and Kreutzmann have added a bunch of gizmos and electronics to their kits, but I found myself digging their percussion solo, which got into some rather spacy areas.

On the other hand, when the band went into their free-form section, I didn’t find things particularly inspired; after what seemed like a minute of two of trying to figure out where they were supposed to go, they did a nifty segue out of it.

There were some nice moments: having Hornsby sing a number of songs was a spirited choice and his keys added a nice dimension to the music. A slow, spooky “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” was a nice pull from their back catalogue. And Weir’s voice has held up nicely: he maybe sounds a little gravelly, but in a way that adds a nice edge to his singing.

At the same time, Lesh’s voice hasn’t really aged as well. He didn’t rally sing at all in the first set and when he did in the second, it was hard to hear him above the band. I imagine the mix had something to do with it – Weir and Hornsby had the same problem at times – but I don’t think his singing is quite there anymore. Which is fine, since he wasn’t really singing all that much to begin with, anyway.

The song selection between this and the first night (which I’ve only listened to, in parts) showed a nice cross-section between Dead classics and deep cuts; mixed in with classics like “Uncle John’s Band” and “Sunshine Daydream,” are interesting deep cuts like “Cream Puff War” and “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo.” There’s a few songs I was surprised not to see – “Deal” comes to mind right away – but generally, I liked the selection, which covered a nice chunk of ground without spending too much time on one area.

All in all, I’m pretty glad I shelled out for this webcast. Seeing them live – sorta; I wasn’t actually at the show mind you – was a fun experience and really, when am I going to get that chance again?

Rating: 8/10


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