The Dead :: 05.02.09 :: The Spectrum :: 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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…
The Dead are on tour now, complete dates available here.
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