Well, that was both different, ...
... and the same.
Roughly 25 years after the last show I attended (New Year's at the Kaiser Auditorium in 1990, I think), we made it down to Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara last night for Fare Thee Well, a reunion concert of the Grateful Dead, consisting of the 4 surviving original band members (Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzman) joined by guitarist Trey Anastasio and keyboardists Bruce Hornsby and Jeff Chimenti.
We arrived early, and were able to navigate the legendary Levi's Stadium traffic (the stadium is built in the middle of a high tech office park, and leases the parking lots of the nearby office buildings to serve as stadium parking). 2 blocks away was the giant dirt lot that is normally the tailgate area for 49ers games, and it had been turned into a scene from Golden Gate Park in 1967.
After about 90 minutes of enjoying the scene, we made our way over to the stadium, where we had comfortable seats with a beautiful view in delightful near-perfect weather.
Even when night arrived, and a (very) light rain began to fall at about 9:00 PM, the weather remained perfect, as we were treated to a glorious rainbow above the stadium, perfectly framing the stage.
The band dug WAY back into the old days, and although they played two of my favorite songs (Uncle John's Band and Cumberland Blues), the bulk of the show drew on some of their oldest, freakiest, least accessible material, with pieces like Alligator, Born Cross-Eyed, and Cryptical Envelopment.
These were not sing-along crowd favorites (though they did open and close the show with those: Trucking to start and Casey Jones to end), but rather were dreamy "jam" pieces, stretching out for 10 or 15 minutes at a time, complete with light show playing across the enormous stage.
These long, instrumental pieces fit well with the composition of the band, as Hornsby and Anastasio are really more jazz musicians than folk artists, but really my favorite work by the Grateful Dead was always the folk and bluegrass sensibility that was truly Jerry Garcia's thing.
And, yes, they did indeed play Dark Star, and 75,000 grizzled old codgers (and a surprising number of what, 3rd generation Dead Heads?) sung along with "the transitive nightfall of diamonds".
So while it's no surprise that the show went the way it did, it's also probably no surprise to hear that it left me content, yet simultaneously even more wistful about the terrible loss that was Garcia's vastly premature death in 1995.
After 2 hours of driving, 2 hours of wandering around through the pre-show scene, and 5 hours (yes, they started at 7:00 and didn't finish until after midnight; a typical legendary Grateful Dead set list) of show, we were both exhausted, yet pleased that we were there.
It was a memorable event, and even though I'm not the lad I was 42 years ago when I heard my first Grateful Dead song (Tennessee Jed, as I recall), you can clearly take the Bryan out of the Grateful Dead, but you can't ever quite take the Grateful Dead out of Bryan.