The Dead, Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC – 4/12
Somewhere Ken Kesey is giggling.
To have the resurrection of the Dead take place on the same day when Christians around the world celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ had a certain Prankster-esque flair to it. Of course, the band presented a nod to the circumstances with a set two concluding with a “Help On The Way>Slipknot>Franklin’s Tower” which contained the appropriate lines referencing the holy day the repetitive “Roll Away the Dew” a derivative of the Biblical rolling away the stone and the sense of renewal and rebirth plus the interpretive verse of
“In another time's forgotten space
your eyes looked from your mother's face,
wildflower seed on sand and stone
may the four winds blow you safely home.”
Of course, there was much more to the evening than a jolly bit of prankstering and madness. It was the first night of the Dead’s Spring Tour 2009 with expectations high after the sextet’s free day in New York 13 days prior to this. More than anything it was the ability for Deadheads old and Dead fans new to join together for a common cause of celebration. In fact, the sense of being together for those onstage and in front of it nearly took precedence over the music. That’s not meant to take away from the three hours and twenty minutes of music played. But, it is significant to note its importance for everyone around. In a country that remains bitterly divided by due to a political climate which finds some only too happy to play on the fear and paranoia of others, finding oneself wrapped up within the warm blanket of a communal spirit becomes as effective as it is cleansing, refreshing and renewable to the psyche. We are not alone. And, in fact, based on the usual license plates, “We are everywhere.”
Whereas past Grateful Dead concerts contained a back and forth between Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir songs, this next step in the journey of the Dead 3.0 split the stewardship of the band from one set to another rather than from one tune to the next. It moved from a first set that ran like a Bobby/RatDog performance to a Phil Lesh run second set. Surprisingly, they didn’t opt for a major opener, but instead went for the meaning in the message with “The Music Never Stopped/” The number warmed things up, but it didn’t sizzle. Still, the crowd was so enamored with the Core Four Weir, Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart together with Warren Haynes and Jeff Chimenti that they reveled in the moment. Mixing it up by putting it in the second slot, “Jack Straw” was then followed by another surprise emergence, “Estimated Prophet,” which is normally found as a regular in the second set. The number provided its requisite desire to be fleshed out musically and the Boys developed its own twists and turns on the musical terrain. Nestled in Bible Belt country, “He’s Gone” provided the first of several gospel-like vocal interplay. That included a break during “I Need A Miracle,” which can also be tossed into the Easter/Resurrection references of the night, if you’re still counting.
Haynes and Weir traded verses for “Touch Of Grey” while Lesh and Weir joined up during the chorus of “Truckin’” while Weir took over for the verses. It was here that the crowd got to enjoy one of those Phil moments where his enthusiasm for the music and the thrill of being alive and performing — resurrected from his near-death illness gave way to some animated action after the “What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been” line. Strangely, while the band seemed as if it could have gone another five minutes into pushing the number forward, Lesh suddenly exclaimed, “That’s time!” and a quick finish was had to shut down the number. Weir’s crack of “Just exactly like a Swiss watch” seemed correct more than ever.
After a nearly 40 minute intermission that mainly consisted of trying to get pummeled by a very large and heavy beach ball that was being tossed around, the houselights dimmed for set number two. It was here that I noticed that the bunny ears originally placed on Haynes amplifier moved up a few feet to Mickey Hart’s set up. Visually, the three circles hanging above the stage usually had the wrinkled image of rumpled earth just as you were about to be sucked in to the rabbit hole, while the Steal Your Face and Dead Lightning Bolt occasionally appeared on the main larger sphere. Also, Hart’s three big drums located behind him as part of the Beast set up, looked as if the drumheads took a ride in the spin art booth with the trippy, tie-dye like images rippling over them.
The second set began in a typical Lesh & Friends manner a Jam to loosen up the bones and dust off those rusty strings one more time. Then, in a surprise move for so early in the tour, but pleasing and much appreciated, “Shakedown Street” popped up as the opening number. Unlike his support role and lack of being heard prominently in the mix, Chimenti’s electric piano solos provided a nice 70s space funk touch to the number. Warren handled the lead vocals on the regular Bobby tune of “All Along the Watchtower.” After that, that’s when the Weirdness began. And I mean that in a good way. As that song faded Hart triggered a tape loop that sounded like several voices talking but played at a faster speed. The synth loop accompanied it in what seemed like a move towards “Drums.” Instead, it built up to “Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks),” winding its way to a spacey Warren solo to Phil and Bobby leaving the stage for what, again, seemed like a move towards “Drums.” STILL NOT HAPPENING! Instead, Warren and Jeff hung around to continue playing within the original tape loop Hart triggered 10 to 15 minutes earlier. With Warren finished Jeff stuck around a little longer before things gave way to complete this Inside Out “Drums” segment. An augmented “Space” followed with Warren and Jeff, then Phil and Bob contributing.
Phil and Bob shared the vocals on “Cosmic Charlie” with a full Phil lead vocals tune next. In another sly shift of expectations “New Potato Caboose” contained that early party band feel from the older Grateful Dead catalogue.
To complete the inverted nature of the set list the second set finished with a “Help>Slip>Franklin” holy triumvirate. Placement at the end rather than in the regular opening spot of the second set during the Grateful Dead’s days actually took place during earlier incarnations of post-GD line ups but remains a welcome closer. Once again, the solo light shined down on Chimenti as he moved from an electric piano solo during “Help” to the B3 organ for work between himself and Warren as we ascended “Franklin’s Tower.”
Based on the deafening cheers that greeted Phil as he entered for the Donor Rap, it was definitely mission accomplished. As he put it, “It’s good to be back with you folks. And it’s good to be making music with my brothers.”
With everyone back in place the pounding drum patterns of “Samson & Delilah,” moved from its original scheduled slot near the end of the second set, kept the ecstatic energy level high for the encore and nearly raised the roof off the place. As the last, “If I had my way” was sung by band and crowd, it seemed almost wrong that the feeling that filled up the space in the large venue couldn’t be bottled and taken home. But, I guess that’s why we travel to places unknown to see our favorite artists, just to bath in the good feelings all over again.