A “Saint” of Circumstance, or, A Tale of Two “Citis”: a review of Dead and Company June 16, 2018 Citi Field, Flushing Meadows, NY
Words By Jeff Rabin and Jeff Winick Photos by Shimmyness and Jeff Rabin
To submit an article an article or review, or to just say hello hit us at [email protected] Editor’s Note: This submission is an embarrassment of riches: Night Two of the Dead’s run in NYC, submitted by two different guys named Jeff, both long term Deadheads and both contributors in the past. Where their opinions differ enough to note, their initials mark their particular opinion.
Night Two of Dead and Company’s third annual pilgrimage to Citifield in Flushing Meadows, Queens proved to be the blooming summer rose we’ve all been waiting for. The night before was an absolute delight and dance party, but Dead and Company may have saved the best for last. It was perfect weather for the second night of Dead and Company’s annual visit to the home of the New York Mets.
The temperature was a little hotter tonight, not a cloud in the sky, the crowd was bigger (Saturday Show) but still not at capacity, and either it was me or everyone seemed to have imbibed just a little more as there was full day for tailgating, without being interrupted by work. The crowd arrived late, the band started early, but everyone seemed fully engaged in the excellent music coming from the centerfield stage. Although there is a big “but” coming later, it was clear that the band came out determined to “go for the gold.” Sugar Magnolia opened the first set and the crowd swelled on the dance floor (unofficial tally from an usher I spoke with told me 8,000 on the floor night one, 11,500 on the floor night two). The Sugar Magnolia opener not only captured the moment-the late Spring sun was just starting to set over the stadium-but also set the tone for the setlist itself. (Would they close the first or the second set with “Sunshine Daydream”, and how would that effect placement of “One More Saturday Night”?)
My (JR) favorite all-time Dead song, “Mississippi Halfstep Uptown Toodeloo”, came on next, and was a rollicking, almost ragtime-like version. (I was with two friends who were both at my first Grateful Dead show, Englishtown 9/3/77, so every song played from that show, like “Halfstep”, had extra importance for us.) (JW) The band showed off their improved harmonies, or maybe the soundboard is turning up the microphones for Jeff Chimenti and Oteil Burbridge to provide backup. Peggy 0 was slowed down in just the right spot to make it soulful with the words coming off of everyone’s lips. Weir now seems very comfortable switching on and off acoustic guitar, and “Peggy-O” was his first such venture. It also was the first of the English/Scottish-style numbers sung by Bobby, continuing with “Jackaroe” and the “William Tell” vocal intro to “The Eleven” in the second set.
Bertha then sent the dance floor into a frenzy as John Mayer has expertly nailed this tune down on so many levels and his southern drawl really works here. (JW) Oteil then sang his jazz inspired version of Comes A Time, which I felt was one of the missed cues of the night; the crowd wanted to dance more and while Oteil did a stellar job, everyone seemed to talk through the song. Probably a better placement, would be in the second set when the sun has already gone down. “Comes A Time” was sung beautifully, I thought (JR) What a gorgeous singing style! Why isn’t he singing more? The end jam could have used some of Jerry’s searing, emotional tone, but the jam took on an “Eyes Of the World”-type jazz groove (foreshadowing, perhaps?) In fact, there were many jazzy moments throughout the entire show, including the delightful “Birdsong” that ended the first set (wrapped around a bluesy “New Speedway Boogie.”).
Jack A Roe, Birdsong/New Speedway Boogie/Birdsong and you could see the surprise on everyone’s face as they realized that D&C didn’t sing the last verse to Birdsong, intentionally. It’s also a nice surprise to intersperse a song within a song in the first set. I can’t remember seeing any version of this 53 year old band do that in a first set (JW). The music in the video below starts at the 12 minute mark.
Set Two, and now it’s time to get down to business, stadium lights go down, stage lights go up and those first four magical notes from Help on the Way spread across the field like a Nikola Tesla electricity coil. “Help On The Way”/”Slipknot”/”Franklin’s Tower” is the highest form of second set opener, and this jazz-rock combo was played to perfection. You can feel the waves of music and the wash of lights hitting with impact and you remember all those magical big stadium shows from 30 years ago and smile, as you realize this iteration of the band, certainly tonight, has regained much of its footing. The Slipknot interlude is really taken out for a long cosmic stroll, losing all of its recognizable form (who doesn’t love that?) before it finds its way back to its structured end. Maybe it’s me (JW), but I’m not always positive Franklin’s Tower is a given anymore in this trio grouping. (An unnamed Dead cover band I like a lot, only plays 2 out of 3). Tonight, Franklin’s Tower marched in like welcoming a good friend back to your home.
I don’t keep track of previous set lists in a tour anymore (JW), so every song is a surprise for me, but many people around me were waiting on St. Stephen and not only did they deliver, they added in William Tell Bridge (a first for me) and then the Eleven (psst, it’s the 11th show of the tour). The vocal section was performed skillfully, and the jam was one of the best I’ve ever heard from Dead and Company. They burned through endless variations of the 11/8 mode, at times sounding like jazz-fusion, at other times featuring the complex syncopation of Brazilian rhythms. It turns out William Tell Bridge is a very serious Dead Head subject on whether it’s part of St. Stephen or part of The Eleven.
“Drums” and “space” went deep and were thoroughly entertaining. Then came an “Eyes” that ranks up there with the best of them (IMHO,Englishtown, of course, but also the Branford-Nassau “Eyes.”) Mayer was amazing; he had a synthesizer-like tone, playing a solo one might expect from Chick Corea. Jeff Chimenti ‘s keyboard solo made me think I was at Carnival in Rio; once he realized the crowd was behind him, he rode the audience like a wave, until that wave crashed to the shore with wildly enthusiastic applause.
I still have issues (JW) with Bobby doing Jerry ballads at this section of the show, with his off paced timing of the lyrics; but it’s his band now and Stella Blue wistfully draws out the night. (JR) Although sung in a Weir-ly cadence, I thought it was performed in a beautiful, cinematic manner. Everyone can guess the end of the show with Sunshine Daydream/ One More Saturday Night in their predictable spots (too bad they didn’t switch positions on those songs) but the crowd soaks it up with joy, glee and ovations to dance off into another NYC summer weekend.
All in all, it was a really great show, BUT…one song nearly killed the entire show. Audio replay might help, but here is my recollection: The band was about to sing the second or third verse of “St. Stephen”, I can’t remember which. Well, they couldn’t remember which, either. Weir started singing one verse, Mayer a different one. In most songs, switching verses has no effect. But the third stanza of “Stephen” is not a typical verse; you need it to guide the song into the “Ladyfinger” Bridge. Bob and John looked confusingly at each other, nobody could decide what to do, nobody took control.. and the band and concert came to a grinding halt! After what seemed like a couple seconds of total silence, and a large moan from the crowd, Bobby started playing chords to get them into a jam. But all that would have done was delay the need for the third verse so they could get to “Ladyfinger.” Someone wisely began singing the “Wishing well” verse, and the band was able to limp to the Bridge, next verse, and finally to the next jam. But just as they seemed to regain their earlier form, it happened again! Bob and John began singing different verses…the crowd let out a bigger moan…yet thankfully the drummers kept drumming, someone began singing the correct lyrics, and they finally got through the song. Yes, I’ve seen the Dead make mistakes before, and even have to restart songs before. But I’ve never seen them look so clueless and helpless, and never seen them make a second major error in the same song.
“All the years combine…”, Bob Weir sang at Citi Field, and some things have not changed over time: part of the charm of the Dead family of bands has always been their willingness to risk musical imperfections as they attempt to scale incredible musical heights. Happily, the miracle on this evening was that despite butchering one of their oldest and most defining compositions, this band was able to dig out of the hole and return to a very high level of playing. All told, I was glad to have heard such an amazing, albeit imperfect, Dead concert. As always, please come back next year, (as somebody has to win in this ballpark) for a fourth year in a row, we’ll be waiting. Unless we see you sooner at MSG….
FULL SHOW AUDIO:
From setlist.fm Set 1: Sugar Magnolia Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo (>) Peggy-O (Bob Weir on acoustic guitar) (>) Bertha Comes a Time Jack-A-Roe (Bob Weir on acoustic guitar) Bird Song (>) New Speedway Boogie > Bird Song (reprise) Set 2: Help on the Way (>) Slipknot! (>) Franklin’s Tower St. Stephen (with ‘William Tell bridge’) (>) The Eleven(live debut by D&C) (>) Drums > Space (>) Eyes of the World Stella Blue Sunshine Daydream Encore: One More Saturday Night
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