I attended the retirement shows for the Grateful Dead in Chicago, from July 3-5, 2015. What follows are some impressions, written about 3 weeks after the shows.
In summary, I think the shows were very well played. The Grateful Dead were fit, focused, and appeared to be having a lot of fun. They played better than I had heard them play since at least 1990, and before that Spring 1990 tour, since at least 1985.
It was clear that they spent a lot of time preparing for these shows. “They” means not only the members of the band (and they certainly prepared, rehearsing at least 85 songs for the 5 shows in Santa Clara and Chicago), but also the support people who prepared video and audio entertainment for the shows, the people who prepared programs, and distributed roses to all of the fans, etc. These shows took months of preparation, and it was obvious.
What was a little bit different, is that the Grateful Dead always had an unsentimental approach to their music. In the past, they didn’t dress up to play, they didn’t prepare setlists in advance, they never did anything dramatic or flashy onstage.
These shows were clearly prepared in advance, with setlists and rehearsals. The band clearly went through their catalog, and prepared 5 shows (2 in Santa Clara and 3 in Chicago) that represented their musical legacy.
These shows did have a touch of sentimentality. There was a video montage playing before the show, and during intermission, that almost looked like a scrapbook of their 50 years together. Someone clearly took a lot of time to prepare it, because each montage was different (I watched them all).
One thing was missing, which was kind of strange. No one ever mentioned Jerry Garcia from the stage. That would have been a very welcome bit of sentimentality for the fans. The fact is that no one in those stadiums would have been there, had it not been for Jerry Garcia. Without him, there would not have been a Grateful Dead, and there would not have been Dead Heads. There were some photos of him shown in the video montages before the shows and during intermissions, but a brief moment of silence, or a chance to cheer for him together, would have been a perfect touch on the last night.
What follows are some show-by-show thoughts. They will probably be of interest only to long time Dead Heads.
July 3, 2015-Show One
I loved the walk from the parking lot to Soldier Field. Thousands of Deadheads were walking towards the venue, and it was the first time in 20+ years that I felt the kinship of my fellow Deadheads.
I really enjoyed the pre-show and intermission music and visuals compiled by Justin Kreutzman.
The following were my musical highlights from the first show:
- The opening trio of songs had a manic energy that I hadn’t felt since at least 1990. The Box of Rain was sweet, the Jack Straw may have been a “best ever” for me, and the Bertha (Let Trey Sing!) was a lot of fun.
- Passenger was last played 12/27/81- 34 years!
- The Music Never Stopped was a lot of fun.
- Mason’s Children played on 18 times, last played 2/28/70 at the Family Dog, and an interesting way to open the second set
- Scarlet Begonias (Let Trey Sing!) was a great version-possibly a “best ever” for me.
- New Potato Caboose, played only 27 times, last time 5/9/69 in San Mateo
- Six songs after drums
- Help On The Way>Slipnot!>Franklins Tower to close the second set (I’m not sure they ever did this to close a show?)
- Ripple, only played 40 times. We saw the last one 9/3/88 at the Capital Centre. This is such a sweet song, and such a sweet way to close the first show.
- Trey sang 4 times.
July 4, 2015-Show Two
The following were my musical highlights from the second show:
- Standing on the Moon was beautiful
- Me and My Uncle and Cumberland Blues were split, which was interesting.
- Tennessee Jed was very well played
- Deal was very well played
- Birdsong was an interesting second set opener
- The Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion played only 4 times, last played 6/8/67 at the Cafe a Go Go
- Six songs played before drums
- Lost Sailor-last played 3/24/86 at the Spectrum, we saw it
- Fireworks after the show
July 5, 2015-Show Three
The following were my musical highlights from the third show:
- Chinacat Sunflower>I Know You Rider to open the show (I’m not sure if they ever opened a show this way?
- A second set approach in the first set
- Mountains of the Moon-played only 17 times, last played 7/12/69- I really enjoyed this-I can’t explain why-it really moved me.
- A great version of Throwing Stones
- The separation of Throwing Stones and Not Fade Away
- Fireworks before the second set
- A first set vibe in the second set (Cassidy, Althea)
- Unbroken Chain- we saw the first ever, at the Spectrum 1995
- The Days Between-another very moving version-it gave me a few minutes to reflect on Jerry Garcia, his contributions, his passing, and his legacy.
- A double encore
- Attics of My Life, played only 48 times, and a great choice to end the stand
- The view of hundreds of people hugging, and crying, and clapping, not wanting to leave.
Some other things I loved about the weekend, in no particular order….
I must be a Dead Head. I saw the previous last versions of Ripple (1988) & Lost Sailor, and the first version of Unbroken Chain in 1995.
The city of Chicago did a great job hosting us. We are not an easy group of visitors. I loved that there were billboards, planes with banners and blimps overhead. It made it feel like a big event (which it was). The Chicago Museum had a special “Everything is Dead” event. An office building was lit up with “GD” in the distance. We started seeing Deadheads traveling to the show 700 miles from the venue. The weather was perfect all three nights.
The Deadheads who attended all really wanted to be there. I spoke to one woman whose first show was at Winterland 1977, and another fellow who had seen 400 shows. People brought their children, and their families. I think most people who attended had seen at least 100+ shows apiece. I saw people offering $500 for a ticket, and no one was selling.
The stage was packed with family and friends of the band. Celebrities were there too (Bill Walton, Bill Murray, two members of Phish, etc.)
Trey Anastasio-he had to rehearse (at least) 82 different songs for the 5 shows in Santa Clara and Chicago, and he sounded great, both on guitar and vocals. And he looked like he was having the time of his life.
The light show, the video boards, and the sound, were all flawless.
I will remember this weekend always.