June 25 2023 Boston MA words by LMNR photos by Joel Shover Photography
How many final shows of the Grateful Dead can there be? There was the final show of The Grateful Dead in the summer of 1995 shortly before the passing of Jerry Garcia and most rightfully declare that the end of The Grateful Dead. And they are right. But it turned out not ot be right about The Dead as a universe. The passing of Garcia led to the creation of The Other Ones, Phil Lesh and Friends, Furthur, and eventually Dead and Company. And let us not forget Fare Thee Well and GD50.
The creation of Dead and Company, and the additions of John Mayer and Oteil Burbridge, seemed to be an effort to bring the band back into stadiums and to create the summer tour caravan that fans remembered from a half decade prior. That band has cruised around for just under a decade and have declared this summer to be its last. So we can add this to the list of ‘end of the line’ tours and shows which most fans won’t mind continuing until their own end of the line comes to them.
I met up with my brother and sister along with a whole slew of friends in the neighborhood of America’s Most Beloved Ballpark and we further established our Yankee cred with a table for 11 at Wahlburgers to pre-show with an accent. We had been reading about rain on this night for a week, and the last vestige of that day’s rain was to fall during our meal, thankfully. We waded our way through the entrance into the ballpark. Unlike the reports from all over tour, the folks in Boston had no problem getting tens of thousands of people into the stadium in a quick and orderly fashion. They have been doing nearly every day of the summer for over a century so the nightmare entrances that plagued other venues was not a thing in Boston.
We had glanced at the prior night’s setlist mostly as a ‘What will they NOT play’ and talked about rumors of Weir’s voice being a little rough the last few shows. I dug out a pen and an old receipt from my pocket to get the set list going when the music started around 640 PM. Yes, I know I can look up the setlist any time I want online easily, but the comfort of writing my own setlist is something I am not yet ready to abandon for Dead shows. The band came out and started with the Sunday night classic, “Samson and Delilah.” They did not start with a long meandering part, but rather just jumped in immediately with a Weir vocal and we were on our way!
The first set did somewhat confirm our thoughts that the band would take it easy on the Weir vocals. John Mayer stepped up to center stage on both guitar and vocals for “Cold Rain and Snow” and he and Weir shared duties on “Jack Straw.” Mayer’s version of “Althea” dates back to the year prior to the creation of D&C when I saw him do versions of that song with Weir and Lesh on separate occasions that previewed the formation of this current band. It’s become a bit of an anthem for him and his sheer mastery of the band’s catalog and the lead guitar role are clear both during this rendition and all night.
Oteil Burbridge stepped up to the microphone for a beautiful rendition of “Comes a Time.” I can’t think of a time when I ever may have seen this in my thirty five plus years seeing all of these bands. Burbridge’s voice is sweet and pure and the choice to have him sing this is a no brainer. Another bluesy song was next with “Mr Charlie” which showcased Mayer’s incredible mastery of the blues guitar, which was evident throughout the set.
A contemplative “He’s Gone” was a relaxing ride down a stream on a tube, the band lazily but methodically wringing every nuance out of the classic Grateful Dead song. The set closed with “Going Down the Road Feelin Bad” and at about seventy minues fans were pleased- both with a great first set, and the setting of the sun which had been blazing during the first set. The songs were concise in first set fashion and really showcased Mayer’s guitar skills, and the band’s general cohesiveness and overall mastery.
A set break of about thirty minutes or so, ample time for everyone to rest, was concluded when set two began. “They Love Each Other” was a fascinating choice to open a set, as I’m not accustomed it being either a set two song, or a set opener. The band really explored it, and the visuals kicked in with great heart shaped fractals displayed on the big screens that surrounded the stage. A more expected “Playing in the Band” was next.
The band launched into an exploratory “Help on the Way” and into the expected and complex “Slipknot.” The band took sharp turns in unison and you can really tell how completely comfortable the band is together. Where we expected “Franklin’s Tower” to come out, a surprise was in order instead. Was it a reference to SEP 1991 in Boston Garden? We’ll never know how purposeful it was when Oteil Burbridge once again took the vocals with a spirited rendition of “Fire on the Mountain.”
“Drums” followed with a lengthy section that seemed to be only Mickey Hart. Newest drummer Jay Lane and I believe Oteil were with Mickey at the start of “Drums,” but gave him the stage to spend time exploring his array of weird percussion instruments. It wasn’t long before the front line returned for a relatively short “Space.”
There were moments where I heard “Uncle John’s Band” coming out of “Space” but I think it was just my mind making the connection between that classic and “Playin in the Band.” In fact the “Playin’.. (Reprise)” was the actual next song and it gave way to “The Other One.” My brother leaned over when the opening jams clearly indicated where we were headed saying “I think that they played this last night??” So when the vocals finally kicked in Weir was singing a later verse “We came upon lily fields…” so in a way it was a “Playin Reprise” into a “The Other One Reprise.” Both were played with gusto.
Weir was feeling fine by this point in the show, and unfolded a lengthy and soulful “Standing on the Moon.” His vocal rhythm is a bit different than the standard Jerry versions, but I completely recognize Weir as a songsmith and his ability to choose to do a song any way he wants. This song is also a vehicle for Mayer to really showcase why he is right at home on lead guitar in this band. He dazzled and shone throughout a lengthy solo and we all ate it up.
The crowd roared when the band veered into the set closer “Not Fade Away.’ Feelings of nostalgia, comfort, and closeness all combine with this rock and roll classic and the band left the stage with the whole audience clapping and chanting their parts for the few minutes it took for the band to return for their encore.
Another happy classic: The Band’s “The Weight.” Like throughout the show different band members took turns on verses, including Weir, Mayer, Burbridge and even keyboardist Jeff Chimenti whose voice is rich and bluesy. While we may have thought that the show was over, it wasn’t as the band wasn’t done. The ultimate Grateful Dead classic “Ripple” provided us all the perfect singalong to take us out into the Boston night.
If this is my last show with… The Dead… or whatever they may call themselves, I will be deeply satisfied. Was it the single best show I’ve seen by them? I dunno- I’m through chasing those. I’m happy to spend time with family and friends, seeing the band I love, playing the songs I love, in a sea of color and a stadium filled with happiness.
“There is a Road…”
Photos by Joel Shover Photography. Check out his gallery of photos from this night here.
A very rare East coast appearance by Reid Genauer and Assembly of Dust announced for Shea Theater Arts Center in Turners Falls MA on July 15th. The band that night will include Dave Diamond on drums (Zen Tricksters), Zach Nugent on lead guitar (JGB, Dead set), Matt Dolliver on keys and sax (Swimmer, Dead set), and John Leccesse (Percy Hill) on bass.
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