Fans were given roses as they entered the stadium, and soon after the band gently began a mellow jam before turning the energy up as they kicked into “Truckin’” proper. Sung by Bob Weir, the first song then gave way to “Uncle John’s Band” which saw pianist Bruce Hornsby assert himself on the keys as Phil Lesh and Weir traded verses. A bit hesitant, it took some time for the first-time band to settle in, and after a brief jam in “UJB,” a somewhat shaky start to “Alligator” -with Phil delightfully emphasizing the “Tear down the Fillmore/Gas the Avalon” line -quickly found some stability in the form of the first bit of real improvisation in the set.
A patient segue into “Cumberland Blues” saw Trey Anastasio asserting himself both vocally and with his guitar, engaging Hornsby in a trading of licks with a bright smile on his face. Appearing more comfortable but still restrained, Weir lead the ensemble through “Born Cross-Eyed,” and keeping with the early-Dead era vibe, moved into an Anastasio-sung “Cream Puff War” that provided Trey another opportunity to lead a short jam segment. Capping off the truly old-school first set, a relaxed “Viola Lee Blues” drew Lesh, Weir and Anastasio together center-stage prior to ending yet one last concise jam to close the first set.
Though there were some signs the “core four” had aged -each with graying hair, Bobby with a stool on stage -set two proved there’s still life in those old bones. As a rainbow covered sky gave way to a light rain and then darkness, the band launched set two with Lesh singing “Cryptical Envelopment.” The night sky allowed the impressive light show produced by Candace Brightman to flourish as fireworks went off in the distance and the band segued to “Dark Star.” Phil, Bobby and Trey each took a verse of “Dark Star” which melted into a psychedelic, extremely loose and free form jam.
The improvisation continued as Anastasio showcased riffs reminiscent of early Garcia, and Lesh locked in with Hart and Kreutzmann to draw back into “Dark Star.” Staying with primal Dead material and without a pause, “St. Stephen” gave Hornsby a chance to link up with Phil for part of the lead vocals that opened up into another majestic and extended jam. A mix up by Bobby on the order of the verses to the “William Tell” transition to “The Eleven” was little more than a hiccup on the road back to more improv. Bobby took charge of the “Turn On Your Love Light” that came next leading to the “Drums” portion of the set. Mickey and Billy’s massive rig was a percussive playground for the Rhythm Devils as both drummers wandered from instrument to instrument (and Mickey jumped on The Beam).
The continuous second set progressed to a short “Space” with the reemergence of the other musicians. Lesh then started to sing the biggest bust-out of the night (if you can call any song a first-time band plays a “bust-out”) in the form of What’s Become Of The Baby” which was played live just once by the original band. The ultra-rarity dissolved into the Weir led “The Other One” bolstered by thunderous bass bombs delivered by Lesh. Weir then had another chance to demonstrate his still powerful singing capabilities passionately presenting a “Morning Dew” augmented by Anastasio’s soaring solo work that drew the set to a powerful close.
“I can’t tell you how good it is to see all of you all again, this has been so magical for us,” Lesh said before delivering his well-known donor rap before the encore. Bruce Hornsby finally handled lead vocals for a rousing rendition of “Casey Jones” that closed out the first night. After the music ended Billy came to the microphone to acknowledge the rainbow that formed at setbreak and tie it into the Supreme Court decision regarding gay marriage on Friday.
Who would have guessed during the “Truckin'” opener that it would be the most recently introduced song in the Grateful Dead’s repertoire? With a nod to the early days of The Dead, this group trying to overcome first-night nerves and meet lofty expectations, if nothing more made the anticipation for the next four shows even stronger than it had been before.
Set One: Jam -> Truckin’, Uncle John’s Band, Alligator -> Cumberland Blues, Born Cross-Eyed > Cream Puff War, Viola Lee Blues
Set Two: Cryptical Envelopment -> Dark Star -> St. Stephen -> The Eleven -> Turn On Your Love Light -> Drums/Space -> What’s Become Of The Baby -> The Other One -> Morning Dew
Encore: Casey Jones
The second Fare Thee Well -Celebrating 50 Years of the Grateful Dead concert takes place again tomorrow night at Levi’s Stadium. Head here to purchase a webcast of the show.
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