Words by: Andrew Croke | Images by: Jay Blakesberg
Change Rocks with The Dead & The Allman Brothers Band :: 10.13.08 :: Bryce Jordan Center :: State College, PA
Before The Dead's reunion at the Bryce Jordan Center, two Deadheads in the parking lot carried a banner that read, "Hope on the way," echoing Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign theme.
|Weir & Haynes :: 10.13 :: Obama Benefit, PA|
Expectations seemed to fill the air as much as the music from car stereos. This was, after all, a historic show. Not only would it be the first time in four years that all four surviving members of the Grateful Dead would perform together, but it was for a purpose that the crowd seemed enthusiastic about, i.e. to help elect Barack Obama as the next president of the United States. There had to be people present that didn't support Senator Obama's candidacy, but they mostly kept quiet and to themselves. Many Deadheads wore t-shirts featuring the Obama campaign logo inside the "Steal Your Face" skull. Others - not official campaign volunteers - passed out Obama stickers and buttons. The only political statements other than support for Obama seemed to come from vendors hawking "Nobody for president" and "I'm still voting for Zappa" bumper stickers.
It couldn't have been a more perfect day for hanging out in a parking lot, drinking beers and talking with friends. It was mostly sunny and warm, and at one point a rainbow could be seen glowing directly over the Bryce Jordan Center. Tickets were plentiful, even though the show had sold out immediately when it went on sale. Some tickets were held back and sold at the box office in the afternoon before the concert, and it seemed everyone in the festive crowd that wanted to be inside found a ticket.
Inside, not even the draconian security of the Bryce Jordan Center - the stuff of legend - or the muddy acoustics of the hall could dampen spirits. The Allman Brothers Band took the stage and played a flawless two-hour set, starting with a long version of "Revival" that perfectly captured the mood of the day. Yes, the people could feel it – love and hope were in the air. The Allmans' set was designed to please the crowd, with their recent material forsaken in favor of old, familiar tunes. The band played no material newer than 1972's Eat A Peach, and covered Howlin' Wolf, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and Derek and the Dominoes. Ron Holloway joined the band for some soulful sax on "Dreams" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right." The later was sung by Susan Tedeschi, who also sang Derek and The Dominoes' "Anyday."
The Allmans were followed by the political portion of the evening's program, with a video documentary about Senator Obama projected on a screen lowered to just above the stage. That was followed by a number of speakers including the Nittany Lions' quarterback coach Jay Paterno and several members of his football team. The speakers were warmly received with applause and cheers. Then, the main event came: Senator Obama, on video tape, delivered a short campaign speech that was almost drowned out by cheering, especially when the candidate promised to responsibly end the war in Iraq and went on to introduce The Dead, making a joke about having a touch of gray himself.
|Allman Brothers w/ Tedeschi :: 10.13 :: Obama Benefit, PA|
The Dead took the stage to a giant roar from the crowd that was as intense as it was loud and long. This wasn't just the normal cheer that erupts when the lights go down and a band appears. It was a recognition of the historic nature of the event. It wasn't just excitement, it was an appreciation of the four musicians, even before a single note was played, for getting together to make music once again.
And the notes themselves were tricky, not that the crowd cared, if they even noticed. The dancers danced, everybody sang along, but the band sounded sloppy and unrehearsed at first. At times, it even seemed the band got stuck and almost stopped. "Truckin'" was rough musically, as if the band wasn't sure when verses started. "U.S. Blues" - appropriate for the times we're living in - was better, but "Help On The Way" was ragged and "Slipknot!" fell apart altogether. "Franklin's Tower," the simplest song musically thus far, was where the band first really seemed to click. Phil Lesh's vocals were strong and the jams were tight and soaring. "Playin'" was well played, with a long jam that gave way to a short and quieter "Dark Star" that failed to achieve liftoff.
After "Dark Star," the band actually stopped playing, as if they needed time to think things over before starting again. "St. Stephen" featured a jam that went out so far that, unfortunately, the band had difficulty reeling it back in. "Unbroken Chain" was sweet, possibly because it's a song that really only matured as a live piece when Warren Haynes played in Phil's band. An otherwise powerful "The Other One" took some time to develop, as if the band had to practice playing in twelve before really taking it on. And then a strange thing happened.
|Lesh, Kreutzmann, Hart, Weir - The Dead :: 10.13 :: PA|
The house lights came on in the middle of the jam. The reason for the lights was the subject of speculation, but it seemed to many of us that the venue's management had tried to end the show. The band kept playing, charging through a fiery jam that was perhaps the high point of the whole performance, and eventually the lights were turned back off. The event seemed to energize the band, which went on to play strongly for the next forty minutes. "Throwing Stones" featured a fun jam, even if the sequence of the song's sections was out of whack. A little jam led back into a reprise of "Playin'" and The Dead left the stage, but not before the crowd watched Bob Weir and Phil embrace.
Before the encores, Weir quoted the late Hunter Thompson: "If every Deadhead in Florida had voted, the world would be a different place." The setlists onstage listed "Liberty" as an encore, but that was jettisoned, probably for time, and the band made a statement instead: "We will survive," the chorus of "Touch of Grey." A final, rocking, flawless "Not Fade Away" closed the night and summed up the feeling of the crowd, and presumably the band as well.
This was an event as much as it was a show. As such, it's hard to judge. Deadheads had a chance to once again hang out and dance and sing along with a band that has meant so much to them for more than forty years. At the same time, the actual performance was ragged. Later, in the lot, one happy head grinned and said, "If this was a show on a tour, I'd be pissed."
However, the band did succeed in one way. As they bowed to the audience at just about midnight, and the house lights came up - for real, this time - the crowd exited the arena filled with hope. Hope in the candidacy of Senator Obama and the future of our country, and hope in an anticipated 2009 tour of The Dead, hopefully with a bit more rehearsal.
The Dead :: 10.13.08 :: Bryce Jordan Center:: State College, PA
Truckin' > U.S. Blues, Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Franklin's Tower
Playing In The Band > Dark Star > St. Stephen > Unbroken Chain > The Other One > Throwing Stones > Playing Reprise
E: Phil Donor Phil Rap > Bobby Rap > Touch of Grey > Not Fade Away
The Allman Brothers Band :: 10.13.08 :: Bryce Jordan Center:: State College, PA
Revival, Statesboro Blues, Who's Been Talking, Midnight Rider, One Way Out, And It Stoned Me, Dreams (w/ Ron Holloway, sax), Don't Think Twice (w/ Susan Tedeschi, guitar & vocals; Ron Holloway, sax; James van der Bogert, drums) Anyday (w/ Susan Tedeschi & Oteil, vocals), Melissa, Trouble No More, Ain't Wastin' Time No More, Jessica
E: Whipping Post
The Dead :: 10.13.08 :: Bryce Jordan Center:: State College, PA
Continue reading for more pics of The Dead and Allmans backing Obama in Pennsylvania...