Grate­ful Dead en­thrall faith­ful in first of their five fi­nal shows

The China Post - - ARTS - BY LISA LEFF

The songs still ran long. To the unini­ti­ated, the com­mu­nal rit­u­als of the faith­ful fans prob­a­bly looked strange. Was it trippy? Well, this was a Grate­ful Dead show, af­ter all, the first in a hand­ful over the next week that are said to be the last.

The four sur­viv­ing mem­bers of the Dead, joined by a trio of well- versed com­pan­ions, launched their “Fare Thee Well” mini- tour on Satur­day night in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, where the leg­endary jam band got its start 50 years ago and al­most two decades af­ter the death of beloved lead gui­tarist Jerry Gar­cia.

Dur­ing a per­for­mance that fea­tured a lit­tle more than 3 1/ 2 hours of mu­sic, the group’s so­called “core four” — rhythm gui­tarist Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh and per­cus­sion­ists Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutz­mann — un­reeled a set list fea­tur­ing both crowd- pleasers and more ob­scure pieces from their early cat­a­log.

The band got the Levi’s Sta­dium crowd of about 80,000 into its cus­tom­ary loose- limbed groove at the start with fa­mil­iar ren­di­tions of “Truckin” and “Un­cle John’s Band.” From there, the rest of the first set veered un­evenly through “Cum­ber­land Blues,” “Born CrossEyed” and a 20- minute- long “Vi­ola Lee Blues” that gave Phish front man Trey Anas­ta­sio, who had the honor and pres­sure of serv­ing as Gar­cia’s sur­ro­gate on guitar, his first chal­lenge on a solo.

As “Vi­ola Lee” was end­ing, a rain­bow arced across the sky above the sta­dium like a smile from be­yond.

The vast ma­jor­ity of the au­di­ence, which in­cluded for­mer flower chil­dren with more than a touch of gray in their hair as well as mil­len­ni­als who were ba­bies when Gar­cia died — were in­clined to ap­pre­ci­ate ev­ery chord, so grate­ful were they just to be there.

‘ This is the end, but it isn’t

the end’

“The only dif­fer­ence is we’re keep­ing our shoes on now,” the ed­u­ca­tor, Michelle Hutchins, 47, said.

The park­ing lots around the sta­dium had more Subarus and lux­ury sedans than VW buses. There were fewer ven­dors selling tie- dyed T- shirts, glass pipes and jew­elry than in the past, but enough to re­mind tail­gat­ing con­cert- go­ers they were in the right place.

“I have this feel­ing about all the bands from the ’ 60s — you want to see them one more time be­cause they gave you so much,” said Larry John­son, 64, of Seat­tle, who went with three col­lege bud­dies.

The sec­ond half of Satur­day’s show got off to a slow start as the re­union band, which in­cluded Bruce Hornsby on pi­ano and key­boards, strug­gled to find its foot­ing on “That’s It For The Other One” and “Dark Star.”

“To me, this show feels like a big re­hearsal,” Erik Kee­gan, 39, of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia ob­served, adding that he still was en­joy­ing him­self. “The notes are all there but they don’t add up.”

The energy started build­ing again when they tack­led the iconic “St. Stephen.” Anas­ta­sio de­liv­ered his finest fret­work on the song. Per Dead tra­di­tion, Hart and Kreutz­mann fully re- en­gaged the au­di­ence with “Space,” an im­pro­vised per­cus­sive in­ter­play ac­com­pa­nied by rhyth­mic psy­che­delic graph­ics.

Bob Weir, the for­mer baby­faced band heart­throb who now has a full head of white hair and a bushy beard that makes him re­sem­ble the Lo­rax, came alive while singing “That’s It For the Other One” and tak­ing the vo­cal du­ties that used to fall to Gar­cia on the melan­choly “Morn­ing Dew.”

“This is the end, but it isn’t the end,” said a hope­ful John Fauth, 20, of Ore­gon, who dis­cov­ered the Dead two years ago around the time he bought a VW bus. “The com­mu­nity can’t just die.”

AP

From left, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutz­mann, Bob Weir, and Mickey Hart (un­seen) per­form at Grate­ful Dead Fare Thee Well Show at Levi’s Sta­dium in Santa Clara, Cal­i­for­nia on Satur­day, June 27.

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