Looking at the comeback shows last week in Santa Clara, Calif. and now in Chicago (night 2 set another attendance record, with 70,844 packing Soldier Field), we see the band deliberately striving not to repeat itself, thereby insuring the revival of many less-remembered songs and a number of concert rarities. With so much well-documented history and an imposing repertoire, the Dead boast loads of secret handshakes with iconic catchphrases, poetic lyrics, idiosyncratic musicianship and truly universal imagery.
It must be acknowledged that guitarist Trey Anastasio was the proper choice to fill the guitar chair left empty by Jerry Garcia. While other musicians could have fit the bill, Anastasio's talent speaks for itself and the loving crowd's enthusiastic partiality to his apt contributions have helped bridge the generation gap between the band and their fans.
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While still adventurous, the band's template for performance is less spontaneous than it once was. Nowadays, the set list is well considered in advance and as a result the structure of the show was solid but a bit clunky. As ever, factions of fandom exist while the band performed as democratically as possible, spreading the lead vocal chores around fairly equally. That said -- Saturday night's performance leaned heavily towards singer/guitarist Bob Weir, for better and for worse. The evening's song selection was interesting but also resulted in less of a flow.
There's been some fuss over the singing -- but time has revealed these tunes as truly important songs that simply need to be sung. The vocals -- whether by Weir, Lesh, Hornsby or Anastasio -- were wobbly at times and the harmonies hit and miss, but this has been a criticism of the band since it's inception. The first set started out decisively with a funky "Shakedown Street" followed by the Independence Day-appropriate "Liberty." Things became somewhat countrified with familiar tunes like "Me and My Uncle," "Tennessee Jed" and an upbeat "Friend Of The Devil." The blues were represented with Weir singing "Little Red Rooster," and the set ended with a rocking version of "Deal."
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Pianist/singer Hornsby gave the band a nice musical boost, and Trey Anastasio's fretwork was duly appreciated since the band's material so often relied on his rousing lead guitar. Anastasio stretched out on the second set's opener, "Bird Song" and his comfort level within the band is growing. The vintage tune "The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)" had the crowd boogieing righteously, but less familiar Weir tunes like "Lost Sailor" segueing into "Saint Of Circumstance" slowed things down. The Weir dominance continued with a lengthy, winsome "Stella Blue" before the well-chosen finale of "One More Saturday Night." Equally fitting, the encore of "U.S. Blues" was a patriotic farewell from a band that has been integral to American music culture for five decades. Then came the fireworks, accompanied by an orchestral rendering of "The Stars and Stripes Forever" mock-conducted by Lesh. The show ended just before midnight. Let the countdown to the final gig begin.
Standing On The Moon
Me and My Uncle
Little Red Rooster
Friend of the Devil
The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)
Saint of Circumstance
West LA Fadeaway
Foolish Heart >
One More Saturday Night
Fireworks (w/ The Stars and Stripes Forever)