Some Reflections On The Dead. Live, That Is.

Cause it's just a box of rain, wind and water. Believe it if you need it; if you don't just pass it on.

Last Thursday night, when Phil Lesh, The Grateful Dead's bassist, sang these lines, the capacity crowd, as expected, went wild.

It is rare that Lesh sings, rare that The Dead play in the Boston Garden (they have not performed there since 1982) and, for some, rare to just be at a Dead show. Lesh's trademark song, "Box of Rain," ended the first set of the last of six shows.

Eleven sets were done--one to go. Would the band play the second half of "Dark Star?" Would they play "St. Stephen" for the first time since Halloween '83, as had been rumored for over a year?

Would Vince Welnick, The Dead's fifth keyboardist (three have died and one, Tom Constanten, now plays new age music) explode on stage?

Indeed, anything could happen. Even former Adams House resident Gov. William F. "Bill" Weld '66 showed up on Wednesday night, saying, "You'll be able to pick me out of the crowd. I'll be wearing the red hat."

But this was a Dead show, and even that wasn't even enough. People were still expecting something to happen, looking for something--anything, really--that they could go home and talk about, to feel as if they were part of something special.

It is a feeling more and more people are getting every day. Enough people, in fact, that the legendary band was invited to the city precisely because of their ability to generate revenue. Last year, The Grateful Dead, those fiftysomething, 1960s-psychedelic throwbacks, were the top grossing concert attraction in the world. Bigger than Guns 'n' Roses. Bigger than Madonna.

In these, the new age 1990s, The Dead's complex jams and simplistic lyrics are attracting more and more people: college students, dentists, writers, historians...and, of course, Deadheads, the band's loyal core of faithful followers who travel to show after show after show, city after city.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell loved Dead shows. So does my best friend's father. I went to all six shows. My roommate made four. (My other roommate refused to even think about going to one. He told me when I go see Dee Lite, he'll go to The Dead.)

It is precisely this sense that anything can happen, that The Dead might play "St. Stephen" or the second half of "Dark Star" (which they did play, Thursday night)--that they might play Saturday Night Fever--that attracts so many people.

The Dead seem...authentic. They play a different version of a song every time they play it. In the first five shows at the Garden, they repeated only two songs out of over 70 that they played. Sometimes they do good shows, sometimes they do not so good shows. But no matter what, they are real. A bad show may be the result of fatigue, or perhaps the band members just aren't in sync, but they always come out and give it a shot. So, after six shows in a week, I've gotten my least for the time being. Jerry Garcia Band tickets went on sale Saturday. I've already bought mine.