Setlist & Recap | Fare Thee Well Grateful Dead 50 Finale
Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart and Bob Weir first shared the stage together at San Francisco’s Straight Theatre on September 29, 1967; when Kreutzmann invited Hart to sit-in for the Grateful Dead’s second set. By the end of the night Hart had become the newest member of the band and performed with Lesh, Kreutzmann and Hart over a thousand times over the course of five decades. On Sunday night the Grateful Dead’s “core four” performed together for what’s been billed as the final time at Soldier Field in Chicago, where they teamed with keyboardists Bruce Hornsby and Jeff Chimenti as well as Phish frontman Trey Anastasio to bring Fare Thee Well -Celebrating 50 Years Of Grateful Dead to a close.
After a show focused on the ’70s and a performance that leaned on the Dead’s later years, the Fare Thee Well septet pulled from nearly every era of the Grateful Dead’s touring career on Sunday.
The energy at the sold-out football stadium was through the roof as the band took the stage and assembled for a deep bow. They then huddled at the middle of the stage for a group hug. Each member took their spots and “China Cat Sunflower” began. Bruce Hornsby and Trey Anastasio shared lead vocals on “China Cat,” which the Grateful Dead played over 500 times between 1968 and 1995. A few of Robert Hunter’s lyrics tripped up Anastasio, but he had no problems instrumentally as the guitarist added his own signature flourishes to the iconic transition that leads into “I Know You Rider.” All four main vocalists shared the “I wish I was a headlight” verse which Garcia always sang so powerfully at Grateful Dead performances. Hornsby provided a perky, upbeat piano solo in “Rider” as a crowd including celebrities Bill Murray, Perry Farrell, George R.R. Martin and Bill Walton roared its approval.
Following “China”/”Rider,” Bob Weir stepped to the mic to deliver his first Sunday sermon of the evening in the form of “Estimated Prophet.” Anastasio utilized a Mu-Tron envelope filter to nail the tone Garcia favored during the composed sections of the song, but changed to a more aggressive tone for the course of the meaty improvisation that came out of “Estimated.” Next, the band called upon the title track from their final studio album, 1989’s Built To Last. The vocals are right in Hornsby’s wheelhouse, so thankfully he was tasked with singing the song. Weir then took attendees back to church as he spit “Samson & Delilah” with passion and fire.
Phil Lesh had his first turn of the night fronting the band on “Mountains Of The Moon,” which the Grateful Dead only performed live a handful of times in 1969. The septet’s sparce arrangement of the Hunter/Garcia Aoxomoxoa track gave Anastasio plenty of space to maneuver and he took the jam to a territory frequently explored by his main band. It was then back to Bobby preaching as Weir growled the lyrics to one of the Dead’s last protest songs, “Throwing Stones.” The guitarist was full of emotion as he yelled, “You can buy the whole goddamn government today!” towards the end of the song. The tempo, as with much of the first set, was decidedly slow-paced. The laidback tempo made for a shock to the system when Anastasio shredded a strong peak to bring the set its conclusion.
Chris Robinson Brotherhood/Hard Working Americans guitarist Neal Casal composed five hours of music to be played during setbreak of the five Fare Thee Well concerts. All of Casal’s music was necessary to cover the hour-long intermissions the band took each night including on Sunday. Another Fare Thee Well setbreak tradition was the use of the narrow, digital scoreboards that lined the full lengths of Levi’s Stadium and Soldier Field. The scoreboards were illuminated with deep blue light which made the venues glow. Show organizers had one more setbreak surprise in store on Sunday as a full fireworks display was fired above Soldier Field.
The band returned to the stage towards the end of the fireworks show to open the second set with “Truckin,” the first song they performed eight days earlier at their Santa Clara debut. A repeat of “Truckin” gave the audience of Deadheads a final chance to scream and shout the “what a long strange trip it’s been” lyric. It was then back to Fare Thee Well debuts for Weir’s “Cassidy.” which featured a blissful jam filled with impressive interplay between Weir and Anastasio. Bobby would come up with a rhythmic melody that Trey would pick up on and add his own spin to before moving on to the next musical idea. All told, the well-jammed “Cassidy” stood out as one of the improvisational highlights of the five-show Fare Thee Well experience.
Anastasio continued to make the most of his lead vocal opportunities when “Althea” came around. He also shined in “Althea”s short but sweet and groovy jam. Lesh seemed especially impressed as he embraced Trey and whispered something in the guitarist’s ear after “Althea.” Next up was “Terrapin Station,” a song Phish famously performed on the third anniversary of Jerry Garcia’s death ending a 12 year span in which the Vermonters didn’t perform any Grateful Dead covers. Phil Lesh and Bob Weir shared lead vocal duties on “Terrapin.” While far from a perfectly played or sung “Terrapin,” there were plenty of moments of beauty within before “Drums” started. The Rhythm Devils showed off their skills for a stadium-sized crowd one last time before the instrumentalists presented a “Space” feast for the senses.
“Unbroken Chain,” a song the Grateful Dead recorded for 1974’s From The Mars Hotel but didn’t perform live until 1995, emerged out of “Space.” The same “Space” > “Unbroken Chain” sequence was played at the final Grateful Dead show on July 9, 1995 at Soldier Field. Phil Lesh struggled with the lyrics at points which could have been more the effects of the emotion than not knowing the words. The keyboardists both added sparkling solos to the “Unbroken Chain” breakdown jam. From there, the band served up a particularly slow and plodding version of the last song Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter wrote together -“Days Between” -which was sung by Weir. “Not Fade Away” then picked up the energy and brought the crowd back to its feet. The budding Bobby/Trey romance was on full display for “Not Fade Away” as the guitarists egged each other on and exchanged goofy grins throughout the solo. The band members left the stage one by one, but the crowd didn’t stop chanting “you know our love will not fade away.” The chant continued until Phil Lesh came back and gave his nightly “Donor Rap” and even returned following the bassist’s talk about his organ donor.
“Touch Of Grey,” the Grateful Dead’s lone Top Ten hit, was sung by Trey and Bruce as the first encore. Bob Weir offered up the lead vocals on the final few verses and showed off his sense of humor by sporting a “Let Trey Sing” t-shirt for the encore. The band came out for one more, a beautiful and powerful “Attics Of My Life” which featured Weir on acoustic and Lesh and Anastasio singing sans instruments. Portrait photos of each musician were displayed on the screens at Soldier Field giving fans one last chance to cheer for their favorites. Following one more group bow the “core four” went their separate ways, though Weir, Kreutzmann and Hart are rumored to be plotting a fall tour with John Mayer. Fare Thee Well -Celebrating 50 Years Of Grateful Dead was a wild and crazy ride. Now comes the years of debate and endless re-listens to all that went down in Santa Clara and Chicago.
Set One: China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Estimated Prophet, Built To Last, Samson & Delilah, Mountains Of The Moon > Throwing Stones
Set Two: Truckin’, Cassidy, Althea, Terrapin Station > Drums > Space > Unbroken Chain, Days Between > Not Fade Away
Encore: Touch Of Grey
Encore2: Attics Of My Life
Head here to purchase and watch video-on-demand of all five Fare Thee Well performances for $49.95.