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Words by: Jake Krolick | Images by: Rod Snyder
The Dead :: 05.02.09 :: The Spectrum :: Philadelphia, PA
I went to my first Dead show at the Philadelphia Spectrum in 1994, a year before Jerry Garcia passed. It was, as many would say, a life altering experience. And though I don't remember everything, I remember the feeling of freedom as I watched the band and the crowd, positive that I was in the right place. Little did I realize that by the time that show had ended my life would change and I would walk through The Spectrum's lot years later a different person. It is now 2009 and I found myself back in the same spot I was 15 years prior, navigating the most extraordinary shakedown streets and alleys surrounding The Spectrum. However, this was the last night that the original Grateful Dead members Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Billy Kreutzmann would play together in the aging venue before it is torn down.
|The Spectrum :: 05.01.09 :: Philadelphia, PA|
The hiss of tanks mixed with the low drawn out voices that accompany the gaseous high. A sea of smiles and fingers-up surrounded the parking lots next to I-95. Philly lays claim to many reputations, but our shakedown is one of the wildest, most unreal places on Earth to spend an afternoon before a Dead show. You want something unusual, unique, hard to find, "special" – we've got it and it comes in 27 flavors, 1000 colors and any size, shape or portion you desire. In 1994, I followed U-Haul trucks with massive speakers blasting out a swirling mixture of funk and Dead tunes. Now, I found myself wading through rivers of bodies flowing up and down rows of vendors, cars, Deadheads and dogs. The night lot was a different animal, one that these days I prefer to avoid, but Saturday early evening, as the sun set, The Spectrum glowed with an energy that only a sold-out Dead show could bring to the city of brotherly love.
Yeah, uh huh, there's gonna be a party tonight! After hearing the calls from under the shadow of the Phillies game, "One More Saturday Night" was an obscure and rocking start to the last Dead show in The Spectrum. The placement was as odd as the Harlem Globetrotters playing a game on the roof. Sounds bizarre, right? It was one song that hadn't begun a show here or almost anywhere else ever. And remember that The Spectrum has hosted the band every decade since the 1960's. Warren Haynes had a splendid start producing a melting, buttery-warm tone on guitar that sounded phenomenal during "Brown Eyed Women," and Lesh sang a version that ranked up there with some of the choicer Garcia-era takes. Weir lashed out, gangly but growling on "Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl." Haynes stepped in with a partial save, adding his bluesy but nicely warming touch to the song. Lesh's tacky bass clung to the old Spectrum hockey boards surrounding the floor as Haynes sung a nice rendition of "Althea".
|Lesh & Weir :: 05.01 :: The Spectrum|
Then, as if the Philadelphia crowd wasn't already radioactive enough, The Dead pulled out a sweet segue of sing-alongs for us. The simple lights for this tour really allowed the music to be the star. There was no hiding behind a large stage show as Weir and Haynes sung the chorus to "He's Gone," joined by thousands of fans surrounding them. Lesh, Kreutzmann and Hart worked the jam out into a funky strut down the scales, landing us right into the kindest hoedown of "Uncle John's Band" that us scrapple-loving masses had seen since 1995. Philly is definitely a Grateful Dead town! Lesh tore through "Mason's Children," the second of the Workingman's Dead tunes of the evening, to end the first set. All understood why Weir was quoted as saying, "The Spectrum? Oh yeah, that joint always jumps."
The band's first set was good and we got a nice taste of Weir, Lesh and Haynes showing us their varied vocal styles. The set break was our chance to really shed the outside world. We were in it now, baby! If you were like me, you wormed your way around an intense and boisterous maze of bodies, hiking up and down stairways. You probably peed out your cares into a urinal that was peed on during 55 other fantastic (and not so fantastic) nights with the Dead. You may have stumbled down gullies filled with oddly familiar fading cream-colored paint and faded red seats. Remember folks, The Spectrum is an elder statesman of the arenas built in 1963 well before the modern day use of color to spark imagination and creativity like that shown by a young Jerome John "Jerry" Garcia - the myth, the legend, the modern day Santa Claus who bent realities and shaped minds on the notes of his strings and his golden voice.
|Weir & Haynes :: 05.01 :: The Spectrum|
Everybody remembers that The Spectrum's roof blew off on March 1, 1968. People forget it happened two weeks earlier, also. I doubt they will forget that The Spectrum had its roof blown off for a third time on May 2, 2009 during the second set. The set started bouncing with versions of "Good Love" > "Cumberland Blues" that sent me back to the Brent Mydland days with Weir and Haynes trading lines and riffs as the audience settled in. "Cumberland Blues" did a pirouette and sashayed across the stage. Weirs finger dance rained down across his guitar strings as Jeff Chimenti followed on his heels, interjecting a skip and jump of keys while the crowd erupted in cheers. Holy shit, Philly! Yell and holler because this was as epic as when the 76ers beat the Chicago Bulls in '83. There was so much pep in that "Cumberland Blues" that if you held up an empty cup you would have caught the sweat shaking off your neighbors.
Saturday night, the Grateful Dead banner hanging over section 308-309 stared down at the dance party from the sweetest vantage point in the house. Just as we were wiping our brows, the band blasted us off again into "Cryptical Envelopment" > "The Other One" > "Drums" > "Space > "Morning Dew." The jam in between "Cryptical Envelopment and "The Other One" was one of those jaw dropping moments that had more emotion than most complete shows by other bands. The "Drums" > "Space" was as interesting and wonderful as they come, with Kreutzmann and a particularly amped Hart pounding the skins and percussive instruments into a churn that sounded like electric rain. A feverish jam ensued as the drummers careened along like a speeding train.
|The Spectrum :: 05.02|
All evening a large sign hung off the front rail with the simple message – "DEW??" And as the first "Morning Dew" of the 2009 tour began, the Grateful Dead Flag was removed from the rafters. Banners like memories can carry some powerful mojo. You just don't mess around with the Orange and Black. It may explain why Bobby Weir stared in its direction singing with an extra touch of gravity and a tingling of pain and poignancy. His timing was a bit off but it was still a special moment. Then at the end, as Weir was ready to jump right into the next song, Lesh stayed poised and let the last note fade. The audience let loose a massive wall of applause thanking the band for unveiling "Morning Dew" at the last Spectrum show. Lesh walked over to Weir and gave him a fist bump of gratitude and the cheers echoed almost as loudly as they did back in March of 1995 when "Unbroken Chain" was played.
Oh Spectrum, my Spectrum, you pulled out all the stops for Saturday's show. You will always have my undying gratitude. A green laser shot across the venue as the band kicked off the memories and danced into "St. Stephen." The Dead reigned down a Viking assault anchored by Chimenti's wild finger work on the keys that created a very alluring jam in the center of "St. Stephen." The floor was no longer necessary as gravity disappeared and the crowd just floated above their seats. "Revolution" was perhaps a nod to the city with its line about wanting to change the constitution, but never produced anything truly amazing.
Outside the famous Flyers' good luck charm, the Kate Smith statue, had been draped in a tie-dyed sash. Tonight it may have helped yank out one of many Deadheads favorite suites and another first for the tour, namely "Help On The Way" > "Slipknot!" > Franklin's Tower." The first of the three songs felt a tad on the frail side considering we had been worked into such a frenzy over the previous hour. "Slipknot!" was a tweaked-out bit of weirdness, but it led to that intense place that we all love as Lesh's bass began to bark like a squall approaching. The horizontal beams of The Philly Spectrum appeared to tip at odd angles, playing in the dim light as we rocked back and forth to Haynes' furious guitar and Lesh's deep song in a jovial and bouncing "Franklin's Tower."
|The :: 05.01 :: The Spectrum|
Before the encore, Phil complimented us saying, "Well, I'm feeling the love from Philadelphia! This has been one of the most satisfying performances that any of us have done in a while and it is due to the incredibly high energy of this place." That old myth of The Dead only playing "Samson and Delilah" on Sundays died in Philly. They closed their 54th Spectrum sell out with everyone in the house singing, "I would tear this old building down!" The band finished with a group hug before the bow, and then they blew us all kisses. There should be an alternate version of that famous Robert Fulghum book re-titled All I Really Need To Know I Learned At A Dead Show. Love, relax, dance, be inventive and creative, enjoy lots of music and enjoy life. Lesh's closing words on the stage were another classic bit of Dead knowledge: "Be Kind." When it came to East Coast venues, The Spectrum was really the band's home. It will be sorely missed, but it sure went out with a bang.
|The Spectrum :: 05.01.09 :: Philadelphia, PA|
05.02.09 :: Spectrum :: Philadelphia, PA
Set I: One More Saturday Night, Brown Eyed Women, Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl, Althea, He's Gone > Uncle John's Band > Mason's Children
Set II: Good Lovin', Cumberland Blues, Cryptical Envelopment > The Other One > Drums > Space > Morning Dew, St. Stephen, Revolution, Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Franklin's Tower
Encore: Samson And Delilah
Continue reading for more pics by Jay Blakesberg of The Dead's last show ever at The Spectrum...