Words & Images by: Stratton Lawrence
The Dead :: 04.12.09 :: Greensboro Coliseum :: Greensboro, NC
Reunion and rebirth may mark 2009 in the annals of history, both in our music culture and within greater society. Hampton brought new Phish energy (read up on that here), and the gathering of friends (many new to the experience) felt like the start of something wholly new. That's not necessarily what folks expected at The Dead, who hadn't toured in five years and were debuting a slightly new lineup.
|Lesh & Weir - The Dead :: 04.12|
"This is what it's all about," said 'Papa Bear' during Set One's "He's Gone," grinning his incredibly Jerry-like smile in the seat behind me. The man had a tattoo of Garcia on his arm, a contagious positive energy to his demeanor and a pair of binoculars he handed me to closely inspect the happenings on stage. "They're just an extension of your eyes," he clarified to my glazed over friends.
The Greensboro crowd was an even mix of old and young free spirits, 9-to-5ers donning their old tie-dyes and the expected contingent of ratty wooks. One car blasted RJD2, another MOFRO. The lot felt like a gathering of all hippie/jam/positive/conscious factions of our music loving society.
And it was the tour's first show. How would Warren Haynes fit in without Jimmy Herring by his side? Would they pull some old favorites from the vault? Would they let things get weird?
It was clear from the first strains of the opener that thought had gone into choosing a set list. "The Music Never Stopped" was a fitting kickoff to a show whose songs played out as perfectly as Phish's epic set lists a month prior. "Jack Straw" and a wah-heavy "Estimated Prophet" played out at over ten minutes each, but without much deviation from the musical themes. The band sounded tight, hiccupping here and there, but holding their own as a cohesive unit.
The first real highlight came in "He's Gone," during the relaxed, staggered harmonies of "nothing's gonna bring him back." The same man was on everyone's mind as Lesh, Weir and Haynes jammed vocally on the refrain, while the crowd roared in approval. The Dead's lyrics gain new flavors and poignancy with age, and the band seemed to take that into account throughout the set. "He's Gone" was followed nicely with the "I will get by" sing-along refrain from "Touch of Grey."
|Warren Haynes - The Dead :: 04.12|
Set One ended with a rather straightforward, short rendition of "I Need A Miracle" (including awesome lead work from Haynes) and a "Truckin'" solid in its delivery but a bit lackluster in its outro jam. At about an hour and twenty minutes, the set was clean-cut and concise. A few segues could have included cleaner transitions (lots of nearly complete pauses in the music), but no one was complaining. The band sounded good - certainly better than any of the other thousand bands out there playing the same songs these days.
After set break, the group emerged loosened up and ready to do some trip traveling. Returning to the stage with several minutes of meandering noodling, the band soon featured Haynes with "Shakedown's" first booming chords. "Maybe you had too much too fast," sang Haynes to a crowd that likely included many veterans enjoying their first psychedelic experience in some time. The audience roared in knowing acknowledgement.
By the end of "Shakedown Street," it was evident that Haynes (as he was five years ago) is still the perfect fit for the band. The man knows a thing or two about filling shoes, having served as the Allman Brothers' provider of blazing rocket fuel for two decades. The dirty/smooth guitar licks he laid into the subsequent "All Along the Watchtower" showed Haynes to be the key ingredient The Dead needs to avoid becoming a cover band of their former selves.
Over twenty minutes of "Drums" and "Space" followed a "Caution" highlighted by Lesh's spooky walking bass line, showing The Dead have rediscovered their comfort zones in freeform improvisation. As "Space" should be, looking around the room at slack-jawed faces, no one knew what was going on.
Any band that can explore aimlessly on stage for twenty minutes while a sold out crowd of 18,000 listen in wide-eyed amazement is fortunate. The Dead practically invented 'space' and they use it well. Leaving the lengthy mind-trip with the classic "Cosmic Charlie" had the crowd moving again. "New Potato Caboose" was a fun and much-appreciated classic from the early days, before transitioning smoothly into an epic "Help On the Way" > "Slipknot!" > "Franklin's Tower" package. No notes were taken at this point - only ecstatic dancing.
|The Dead :: 04.12|
The "Samson and Delilah" encore rang as a perfect cap to Easter night. Lesh's appeal to the audience to become organ donors seemed all the more appropriate on the holiday, closing a concert that glowed with the sensation of rebirth.
Jerry Garcia left behind big shoes. In the 14 years since his death, the various reincarnations amongst the Grateful Dead's surviving members have been enjoyable, but perhaps, at times, lacking in a unified spirit. The 2009 version of The Dead seems genuinely promising.
Looking down at Greensboro Coliseum from the nosebleeds, the corn-rows of seats on the floor seemed a bit odd. With everyone assigned to a seat, wandering through the crowd and enjoying the scene from anywhere but your designated seat wasn't possible. Security was a bit much at times, scurrying dancers out of aisles and into the seats. But The Dead's fan base, while growing and gaining young blood, is also aging. Many likely prefer the knowledge of having a seat and not having to push and shove to a view.
Kudos to the Greensboro Police Department for allowing the lot's 'Shakedown' to carry on late into the evening. Those unable to drive or traveling in buses and RVs were even permitted to spend the night in the parking lot - a very welcome invitation indeed. All things considered, The Dead still provide one of the grandest, most amazing experience for fans to trip out in because of they're willingness to push it so close to the edge that at times they stumble (like they say when you're skiing, skating or surfing, "If you aren't falling down you aren't trying hard enough"), and they're also able to still take old songs to entirely new places. Greensboro demonstrated that they'll never become a tribute band - the songs sounded fresh and exciting. They still know how to get you hopelessly lost in the music, but more importantly, they haven't forgotten how to bring you home.
The Dead :: 04.12.09 :: Greensboro Coliseum :: Greensboro, NC
Set I: Jam > The Music Never Stopped, Jack Straw, Estimated Prophet > He's Gone >
Touch Of Grey > I Need A Miracle > Truckin'
Set II: Jam > Shakedown Street > All Along The Watchtower > Caution (Do Not Step On The Tracks) > Drums > Space > Cosmic Charlie, New Potato Caboose > Help On The Way >
Slipknot! > Franklin's Tower
Encore: Donor Rap Samson & Delilah
The Dead are on tour now, next show is Friday night in Albany, NY. Complete dates available here.
Order the show for Download on LiveDownloads.com.
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Images by: Jay Blakesberg
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