The Grateful Dead were always as much a cultural phenomenon as a musical one, and there continues to be a renaissance-fair quality in the parking lots at Dead related concerts. It is now more structured and has a name – “Shakedown Street” – but it hasn’t lost any the communal vibe that concert-goers associate with the sixties counter-culture.
I had not seen Bob Weir and Phil Lesh on stage together in close to 20 years, and I was curious about whether I was going to see and hear the ultimate Dead tribute band or a band that was still in the process of defining itself. I think that I got some of both.
They opened with, of all things, a cover, albeit an appropriate one – “Here Comes The Sun.” The addition of Sunshine Becker and Jeff Pehrson on vocals was felt all night, but they made their presence known immediately. The rest of the set dug into their vast catalog, but not with any of the expected choices until the first set closed with “Casey Jones.” This version of the song kept building in speed until it reached an almost punk-like drive. While the playing was good throughout the set, there was lack of explosiveness between the opening and closing numbers.
The second set was literally all music. Well-known for having one song segue into the next, this defined the structure for the entire 90 minutes. It could have been 1966 or ‘67, at the Fillmore West or Carousel Ballroom, as the first half of this set featured music from “Anthem of the Sun” and included “Born Cross Eyed” > “Caution” > “Cryptical Envelopment” > “The Other Ones.” This was – and still is – part of the improvisational music that defined early psychedelia.
Lesh and Weir did a great job of weaving in and out of changing melodic lines, while Jeff Chimenti provided needed coloring from the keyboards. What kept everything moving forward was John Russo’s drumming. And then there is John Kadlecik, who provided both the fat notes and swirling climbing solos that recalled Jerry Garcia, but also the harder edges that pushed and pulled at what the others were playing. “The Other Ones” segued into a well received “Wharf Rat,” which flowed into the surprise of the evening, “Eclipse” from “Dark Side of the Moon.” It was well done (those backing vocals again), and got a huge response from the crowd.
I felt certain that we were going to keep climbing higher, but the band seemed to lose some momentum with “Mountains of the Moon,” only to reclaim it with a spirited “Viola Lee Blues” and an audience favorite and sing-along “Uncle John’s Band” that ended the second set.
The encore featured their only song from “American Beauty,” “Box of Rain.” The show definitely had some peaks, and there were no utter collapses, but the roof over the amphitheater was never threatened, either. I think that the elements are there, and if Bob and Phil are willing to let the roles of the other players expand, maybe the roof will need to be better secured the next time they rool into Saratoga.
Review by Richard Brody
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
FURTHUR SET LIST
Here Comes the Sun (Beatles)
Pride Of Cucamonga
Hell In A Bucket
So Many Roads
Lost Sailor > Saint Of Circumstance
Born Cross Eyed > Caution > Cryptical Envelopment > The Other One > Wharf Rat > Eclipse > Mountains Of The Moon > Uncle John’s Band > Viola Lee Blues
Box Of Rain