Sunday, July 5, 2015

Fare Thee Well, Chicago Day 2: Wave that flag!

Well, the reviews are in for Saturday's 4th-of-July Grateful Dead show at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Surely this must have been the show with the highest pressure and the highest expectations, due to the symbolic nature of the date, and the fact that it was the next-to-last of the shows.

And perhaps the pressure got to everybody.

Review: Grateful Dead pay slack tribute to legacy, writes Chicago Tribune entertainment critic Greg Kot, clearly disappointed.

For this weekend’s shows, which the band has said will be its last, the core four brought in Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio and keyboardists Bruce Hornsby and Jeff Chimenti to fill out the lineup. But despite the formidable chops of the newcomers, the show developed little pace, with slack arrangements and some deep cuts that felt indulgent rather than revelatory.

In Rolling Stone, Will Hermes chimes in: Grateful Dead's Goodbye, Night Two: Chemistry Lost, Cash-Grabs Abound

And the chemistry wasn't there like it was for Night One, or the best parts of the two warm-up shows in Santa Clara last week. Tempos were sluggish or weirdly accelerated; there was little overarching sense of flow. The ringers — Anastasio, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, pianist Bruce Hornsby — played well, but didn't always sync with the original band members, and rarely tapped into the musical mind-meld characteristic of the best Dead shows.

As happens during dull stretches, attention wandered. One might have thought about shows past. About what a shame it is to have to sit through songs as boring as "Liberty" "Lost Sailor" and "Saint of Circumstance" — even when lit up with nice spots of improvisation — during such a special night, or another pro-forma bar-band run-thru of Willie Dixon's "Little Red Rooster." Looking up to the sky above Soldier Field, one might have pondered the Direct TV blimp with the flashing side panel, which alternated quotes from Grateful Dead songs and animated dancing bears with ad pitches ("HIGHER SATISFACTION THAN CABLE" "THE MOST PGA COVERAGE" "STREAM ON ANY DEVICE"). And it might have driven one back to the concession stands for another $11.75 beer.

But who knows? As the gang at JamBase point out, a large part of this event was about the event itself, rather than the details of the shows.

Deadheads from around the U.S.A. and well beyond have descended upon Chicago for the run making for an International crowd heavy on those from out of town. Attendees have been swapping stories, making new friends and meeting up with old friends all weekend long in The Windy City.

Just as with on Friday, the energy in Soldier Field was far beyond any typical concert as many of those in attendance spent an ungodly amount of time and money making their Chicago trip a reality.

I certainly had that experience last weekend in Santa Clara. Hanging out in a line for something-or-other, I started chatting with the fellow in front of me, who had driven all the way from Colorado with his family, making a summer-vacation-in-California out of the experience, taking his kids to the beach, and using the show as an experience to make it all happen.

And even though I could take a pass on Standing On The Moon and Saint of Circumstance and West L.A. Fadeaway, this show still had Me and My Uncle, Deal, Bird Song, and (but of course, it was the 4th of July) U.S. Blues.

And of course it had to close with One More Saturday Night since it was, after all, Saturday night.

And what about this neat trick for the encore: Grateful Dead Celebrate July 4th With Empire State Building Light Show

The Grateful Dead celebrated Independence Day Saturday night with a synchronized light show atop the Empire State Building in New York City that was broadcast live to the sold-out crowd at Chicago's Soldier Field during the band's encore performance of "U.S. Blues."

The LED tower lights glowed red, white and blue — colors fit for both the Stars and Stripes and the famous Steal Your Face skull — while an assortment of Grateful Dead imagery appeared on the mast of the Empire State Building. The display was coordinated and created by the band and Empire State Building lighting designer, Marc Brickman.

There's a nice copy of the video on YouTube, synchronized to the original studio version of the song.

Wave that flag!

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