Last Tuesday, the Grateful Dead Kicked off their fall tour with six shows at the Boston Garden.
While the Rolling Stones kicked the rust off after a four-year break from touring with their wildy successful Voodoo Lounge tour, the Grateful Dead just never stopped. Even when Jerry Garcia fell into a diabetic coma in July of 1986, they were back on stage in less than six months.
With Grateful Dead tours being about as consistent as the seasons, it's easy to forget about the fact that they're getting old. One look at them, however, and it's easy to see-Garcia and Kreutzman are both silver on top, and Weir's hair is pretty thin for the "young guy" of the band.
An indisputably bad show in Vermont this summer had New England Deadheads asking, "Do they still have it?" After Tuesday's show at the Garden, the answer was an unequivocal yes.
The show got off to a slow start as Garcia seemed to be having trouble getting comfortable. Throughout both "Feel Like a Stranger" and "They Love Each Other," he would start off on a solo only to stop, adjust a knob, step on a pedal, etc. Not until the third song, "Minglewood Blues," did the band settle down and start to rock. People often forget that, among other things, the Greatful Dead are a great rock 'n' roll band. "Minglewood" was followed by "So Many Roads," a slow ballad that ended with some rousing and soulful singing by Garcia. After switching to an acoustic guitar, Weir led the band through a rocking cover of Bob Dylan's "Maggie's Farm," which then segued into the rarely played "Cumberland Blues." The set then took a turn for the worse with Weir's most recent tune "Easy Answers." Basically, this tune sucks. When I got out into the halls, I was hardly surprised to see a line at both the bathroom and the water fountain. I made it back in time, however, to catch the set closer, "Deal" which was solid, but not stellar.
The first and second sets of Grateful Dead shows are vastly different, with the first set being kind of a warm up for the second. The first set is all about songs while the second set is all about jams. First sets can be fun, but it's the second set that makes or breaks the show.
Tuesday's second set opener was one of its highlights. The jam and transition out of "China Cat Sunflower" was quintessential Grateful Dead--rocking, but more importantly, energetic and exciting. The jam found its climax and then slid into an excellent "I Know You Rider." "Women Are Smarter" followed and kept the energy going with its bouncy, danceable rhythm.
This was followed by two new tunes "Long Way to Go Home" and "Corrina" which are not quite as painful as "Easy Answers," but have not yet found their way into anyone's top-10 list. Toward the end of "Corrina," as the drummers began to try to take over, Garcia cut into the ever-pleasant "Uncle John's Band."
The "Drums" segment was solid with Mickey Hart generating some extremely loud low frequencies that had the entire building shaking.
The band returned for "Space," and after some fiddling with various MIDI sounds, the music resumed with a tight and rocking "All Along the Watchtower." The "Standing on the Moon" that followed turned out to be the highlight of the show. Like "So Many Roads," "Standing" ended with Garcia repeating the chorus ("I'd rather be here with you" in this case) into a thrilling crescendo that brought the whole band to a boil and the crowd to a roar.
The "Standing" was so monumental that (like last year's Sunday show) the band closed the set with it undoubtedly out of a need to take a break before playing anything else. After giving the audience a minute or two to collect their jaws from the floor, the band returned and delivered a raucous "Johnny B.Goode," giving a perfect end to a great show.