Unlike the mellow jam that began Saturday night’s concert, Sunday’s show started off with a jolt of energy as the “core four” remaining Grateful Dead members -drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, bassist Phil Lesh and guitarist Bob Weir -along with Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio and keyboardists Bruce Hornsby and Jeff Chimenti, kicked the night off with “Feel Like A Stranger.” The subsequent “New Minglewood Blues” showcased Weir’s slide guitar work and set the tone for a laid-back, bluesy first set. After an abrupt conclusion to “Minglewood” the ensemble jumped into “Brown-Eyed Women” which allowed Bruce Hornsby to get into the action, singing lead and dueling with Chimenti on the organ.
A slow-tempo rendition of “Loose Lucy” was punctuated by Weir’s growling vocals and Anastasio’s assertive work on lead guitar. Both keyboardists featured prominently during the tune. Hornsby, who had not sung lead much at all the first night, took lead duties for the second time in the set, handling “Loser” with beautiful ease. Anastasio again stepped forward with a signature solo toward the end of the song. Weir then strapped on the signed D’Angelico guitar Headcount is putting up for auction before taking lead on “Row Jimmy.” A spirited “Alabama Getaway” sung by Anastasio and prominently spotlighting Chimenti livened the arena up.
The blues-forward “Black Peter” that followed heightened the emotional intensity behind Weir’s emphatic vocals. Bobby got back to work playing slide riffs that intertwined with Anastasio, Chimenti and Hornsby who also delivered a lovely piano solo. Kreutzmann and Hart propelled the set closing “Hell In A Bucket” that was dominated by Anastasio’s most confident playing through the first three sets.
After a long setbreak the band returned for the second set launched with Phil singing “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo” which provided Bruce another chance to shine on piano. The second set opener soon turned to a full band improvisation with each of the members gelling and settling into a patient and interesting jam. As one solo lead to another, the jam progressed to an effortless segue into “Wharf Rat” that didn’t come off like a band only playing its second gig together. Bobby gave a moving vocal performance on “Wharf Rat” which soon dissolved into a dark and spacey jam.
Out of the darkness emerged “Eyes Of The World” driven by Trey’s nimble guitar playing and Hornsby’s equally bright piano. A somewhat hesitant jam didn’t make it far before the first notes of “He’s Gone” began to sprinkle the stage. Confusion over vocal duties between Trey, Bruce, Bobby and Phil was cringeworthingly awkward, but ultimately laughed off with the, “Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile” lyric. The mood soon shifted as Weir, backed by Anastasio, passionately howled the song’s concluding lines, and the echos of “Nothing’s going to bring him back” filled the air.
The “Drums/Space” portion of the second came next, aided by Sikiru Adepoju on talking drum. A relatively short “Space” saw the first notes of “I Need A Miracle” slowly roll out in advance of Weir singing lead. Digging deep into the The Dead’s back catalog, Weir then sang lead on a cover of Rev. Gary Davis’ “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” further accentuating the blues influence on the evening’s setlist. The ebb and flow from heavy to light continued as Bobby lit into the beginning chords of “Sugar Magnolia,” turning it over to Anastasio to energetically fire up the song. Bobby let loose a few impassioned screams before the tune and second set drew to a close.
Before the encore, Lesh gave his donor rap, mentioning his liver donor Cody -whose name he wears on a wristband and Weir asked for a moment of silence to remember those “who couldn’t be here tonight.” Fittingly, the first weekend of Fare Thee Well concluded with a stirring performance of “Brokedown Palace” -the song whose poignant lyrics inspired the name of the event.
All told the two nights in Santa Clara amounted to four sets of music that made true on their word to celebrate a half century of Grateful Dead. Last night’s attention to early songbook entries and tonight’s career-spanning presentation were not without flaws, but putting aside the nerves, lack of familiarity, rust and expectations, the moments that the band clicked were inspired and exciting, leaving expectations for Chicago next weekend even higher than they already were before.
Set One: Feel Like A Stranger, New Minglewood Blues, Brown-Eyed Women, Loose Lucy, Loser, Row Jimmy, Alabama Getaway, Black Peter, Hell In A Bucket
Set Two: Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo -> Wharf Rat -> Eyes of the World -> He’s Gone -> *Drums/Space -> I Need A Miracle -> Death Don’t Have No Mercy -> Sugar Magnolia
Encore: Brokedown Palace
* with Sikiru Adepoju on talking drum
A tradition continues this June for Widespread Panic.
New Hope rockers Ween have confirmed a pair of Midwest concerts leading up to their return to Red Rocks.
British electro-funk act Jamiroquai has confirmed their first show in New York City in over 12 years.
Umphrey’s McGee closed out a two-night stand at the Crystal Ballroom by welcoming out saxophonist Russell Scott for a Herbie Hancock cover.
A series of six co-headlining shows featuring Gov’t Mule and The Avett Brothers along with opener The Magpie Salute have been confirmed.
Listen to Widespread Panic dust off a Beatles cover for the first time in over 12 years as part of their first of three shows at The Theater At MGM National Harbor.