Thursday, July 21, 2016

Fenway Park Dead & Company - 2016-07-15

     Well folks, Dead & Company have wrapped up the final leg of their East Coast tour, and are heading west to take their magic back home.  They left a smoking crater behind them at this little place called Fenway Park before they left, though, and some of us are still recovering from it!  My parents and I immediately jumped on tickets to both Fenway shows when they were announced (as well as Hartford, which seems so long ago...), and have been counting down the days ever since.  The weather tried to conspire against us by keeping the temperature in the low nineties all week, but we were not to be dissuaded!  As always, my mom took all the good pictures below, and you can view her entire album here.  The crappy cell picture is mine.

     I got out of work in downtown Boston a bit early on Friday, met my mom, and schlepped on down to the Green Line to head towards the show, where we were not the only Heads riding the train.  We met my dad, uncle, and some friends at this place called the Yardhouse right next to the stadium for some beers before the show, and I picked up the poster for both nights from a merch table.  Security was looking a little tight with metal detectors and attentive looking guards, but we got through without incident.  There was some policing and confiscating of joints going on during the show, but overall it was a pretty mellow vibe in the stadium.

     Small tangent: I grew up a Red Sox fan, but haven't really cared about baseball for a long time.  Even so, I know what a hallowed place Fenway Park is, and I was exhilarated to see my favorite touring band play there.  My dad was totally agog about the whole thing from the second we walked across the walkway over the bullpen; "We're in Fenway Park! I am on the field of Fenway Park."  If you want to read his account of which famous baseballers did what where on the field, and his review of the Friday show, then you should follow this link.  None of the names he mentioned really meant anything to me, but the wonder of the experience was not lost.  Some turf was sticking through the puzzle pieces we were standing on, so I can say, without lying, that I stood on the turf at Fenway; also, the Green Monster is made out of metal, not dreams like they taught me in school.


     Anyway, we found our seats, then realized most of the ones next to them were empty, and moved down maybe a dozen seats or so closer to center field.  We were in section B7 (left field), so we had a different perspective on the stage than we did in Hartford.  We could see pretty much everyone in the band this time, but were still at a bit of an oblique angle and a pretty fair distance away.  We made friends with our neighbors and found the closest beer stand, which only served the "domestic draft" known as Bud Light; our neighbors pointed the way to the good beer next time, through the underbelly of the stadium.  We got back to our seats well before 6:30 (appointed starting time), and to our shock the band came out at 6:40!  There are rumors (I can't find anything confirming this) that Fenway has a 10:30 curfew for concerts, so maybe the band was antsy to get their whole, incredible set in.

First Set (* w/ Donna)
  • Jam >
    • Right off the bat, I called that this was going into "Jack Straw."  I definitely think it's a separate jam, but it's theme was so close to "Jack Straw" that I was sure it couldn't be anything else.
    • Leading up to the show I had worries that the sound in this stadium would be terrible, but those worries were immediately forgotten (tomorrow is another story).  Where I thought it would be all boom and echo, there was instead just crowd chatter and crystal clear sound!  Again, Jeff and Oteil should be a little louder, but we could still hear and feel them just fine.
    • I'll say this once, because it's been talked about and spoofed more than enough: John looked ridiculous in his outfit, but that just made his guitar playing all the more unbelievable!

    • DSC03874
  • Jack Straw >
    • This was huge on the list of songs I wanted to see this band do, and they blew past my expectations.
    • Like he did with Furthur, Bobby has opened the song up a lot more than the traditional Grateful Dead way of playing it, and these musicians filled every niche that the opening left.  John's guitar effortlessly glides across the song, more like an embodiment of the Tao than intentional soloing.  And the whole rest of the band was tighter than I've ever seen them.
    • Everyone has made note of the more laid-back tempo that this band has taken with most of their songs, but I think it's starting to really work for them.  They can lock into such a tight groove, and once they're locked in they can start changing the tempo and playing with the nuances of the song.  They did this all through the first part of the song, and once they got to the final jam they really took off!
  • Music Never Stopped*
    • Bobby started this one off and I immediately thought it was going to be too slow, but instead was more like a new take on the song.  We saw them do this in Worcester last Fall and it was pretty good, but now I feel like this is what they were trying to turn it into.  It's got a much more serious funk to it now, and Oteil is a huge factor in that.  He just gets into a relentless drive that infects the other band members to really get into it.
    • Suddenly I spotted a flash of white on stage, and knew that my prayers from the last week had been answered: Ms. Donna Jean Godchaux had arrived onstage!!  She had made a few other appearances this tour, and I was not alone in hoping she would grace us with her presence.
    • Again, this is a very different "Music Never Stopped" than the Dead were playing last time they had Donna with them, so her parts didn't fit in exactly like they used to, but they made it their own and worked with it!  I think they should maybe rehearse with her a little more so these parts fit in with the rest of the musical machine, but I really had no complaints.

    • DSC03896
  • Next Time You See Me
    • They debuted this old gem earlier in the month and I'm so glad we got one.  Another unexpected song to cross of my list!
    • Mayer has mostly (exclusively?) been playing two guitars this tour.  I don't know enough about guitars to name the brand, but one is gold and one is blue.  Strangely enough, he would typically switch to the blue one to play blues songs, like "Next Time You See Me."
    • This song is right in Mayer's wheelhouse and he tore it up.  Jeff, however, was determined to show his mastery of the organ and ripped off some terrific leads.

    • DSC03922
  • Loser*
    • Another song I really wanted to hear this band do, and, again, they did not disappoint!
    • The first time I saw this song was 11/11/11, and Bobby sang it.  Back then he totally flubbed the lyrics, but the playing was stellar.  Here, he absolutely killed the lyrics, and the band was playing spectacularly.  This may also have been Donna's best singing of the weekend.
    • This was another example of the band's seemingly slow pace working for the benefit of the song.  The drummers kept the beat perfectly, leaving the other members of the band free to flirt with other possibilities within the musical playground provided.  Oteil's playing sounds less like individual notes and more like a force of nature, and when he locks with those Rhythm Devils, they can really bring those forces around in a controlled way.
    • This song also provides a great example of what makes Mayer such a great fit for this band.  He so clearly knows the songs, and knows how they were played, but just sounds so very much like himself while still walking in Jerry's shoes when he needs to.  He and Bobby drew the solo section out longer and longer, climbing to new peaks from the troughs they dug into the music with Jeff hot on their heels.
  • Peggy-O
    • Bobby introduced this one as "one for the kids, and another slow song," and I was initially disappointed when they started playing "Peggy-O."  I don't mind the song, I've just seen it so many times, and I've always thought that the versions that Phil does with Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams are the peak of the song.  This version wasn't as good as that, but it was way better than I expected.
    • We saw them do this one in Worcester too, and it was...fine.  Bobby seemingly switched how many beats come after a verse on a whim, and the band would always follow, but never seemed quite with him.  This time, though, they all seemed a lot more together about it.  John and Jeff both had sparkling leads, and the tempo was surprisingly upbeat for a ballad.
    • Bobby has also been playing two guitars, as far as I can tell.  He has his...regular one that he's played for a while, I believe, that's kind of black and orange.  He also has a green guitar this tour that I don't think he's played before, and I absolutely love it.  He played it for a lot of this show, and it has a much cleaner and clearer sound to it.  As we all know, Bobby likes making funny noises, and his other guitar gets pretty squeaky and squawky, but this one always seems more melodic.

    • DSC03859
  • Help On The Way* >
    • I like to think that I have a pretty good ear for what the band is going to play, especially with this song, but they totally snuck this one in under the radar!  Just a couple taps on their pedals and a quick count, and suddenly we were in "Help On The Way!"  Bobby thought he had the first verse, but then realized John went first, and they had to go around the opening chords again, but it just gave them even more time to get everything just exactly perfect.
    • Always one of my favorite songs/ sequences, it is also worth noting that 4 years ago to the day, I was at a Furthur show in Bethel Woods where they ended the first set with "Help/Slip!/Frank."
    • I can't honestly rank this better/worse than the other "Help On The Way"s I've seen live, but I can say that this felt the most...Dead.  Phil, Furthur, and JRAD all do/did great versions, but this one seemed to check off the most boxes for what I picture the song to be.  John's solos skated and twirled fiercely across the musical plane as the rest of the band swirled behind him.  Oteil and Jeff both came out as leading forces, and it felt like every member of the band was firing on all cylinders.
  • Slipknot! >
    • God, I love it when they nail "Slipknot!"  It's such a tricky bit of music, with shifting riffs and timings that don't come easy, but the band didn't miss a single beat.
    • After the opening hooks, the band wasted no time getting into weird territory.  Jeff and John skimmed along the upper reaches of the song, dropping into unexplored parts of the jam, while Bobby and Oteil played with different rhythms underneath.
    • I could have stood another few minutes or so of the song, but you can't be greedy!  Suddenly they all jumped in on Bob's ascending riff that signals the close of "Slipknot!"  Normally Bob does a fairly obvious queue when they do this, but this time they all just slid into it without even looking up.  Once again, they nailed the riffs and we all knew what was coming next.
  • Franklin's Tower *
    • Billy got a little off on the first couple beats, but the band snapped right back together and went right back to relentlessly rocking out.
    • This is probably the best "Franklin's Tower" I've seen live.  I hesitate because the 2015-10-30 one I saw Phil do at the Capitol Theater was so special.  It was Phil's first show since he beat his encounter with cancer, and it was so great to see him playing and singing, happy and alive.  That having been said, I think this Fenway one still took off in every possible way.  The whole band was locked together as tightly as ever, and John was going to solo until his guitar caught fire or his hands fell off.  He was playing very much like himself, but his approach reminded me of Jerry in the way he just seemed so determined to play every possible note.
    • Bobby had been singing this earlier in the tour, but I think John's voice is better suited to it, and his memory of lyrics is much better, so it's probably for the best that he sang the whole thing.
    • The song had so much energy, but for the last lyrics they mellowed down and stretched the song out a little, and it felt like heaven in the stadium.  John's sweet notes gracefully falling after his sweeter singing, and the band rolling the dew away behind him.  They brought the energy back up and came to a spectacular close with the traditional "Slipknot!" ending.

    • DSC03910
  • Voter Rap
    • Bobby has been ending all the first sets this tour by telling people to register to vote at the Head Count tent on Participation Row, and usually mentions something about "voting the assholes out of office."  It's common enough now that I think we should all start labeling it on our setlists, so here we are!

     The band left the stage, the big lights came on, and we remembered we were on the field at Fenway Park!  Not only that, but we had just seen one of the best sets of music we had ever seen, in that same field!  My dad went to get some beers, but my mom and I just hung around our home base for a bit.  We lost some of our water bottles when we moved down the row, but we survived without them.  My friend Jimmy, who had been at the Hartford show, bought the fourth ticket we had left over when my other friend bailed on Friday night.  After sitting in the wrong section the first set, he found us during intermission and hung around for the rest of the show.  We chatted about the set and laughed with our neighbors about John's outfit, and then the lights came down and it was time for the second set!  The second set is, as I always say, where they bring out the dragons.

Second Set (* w/ Donna)
  • St Stephen >
    • I had been thinking "Dark Star" for the opener, but didn't realize how close I came!  "St. Stephen" is always a great second set opener, though, especially for those Boston Heads like my dad who saw its return at the Boston Music Hall in 1976 at the beginning of a second set.
    • This was different from other versions I had seen in that it seemed a little more straight-forward and rock-and-roll than some of the other, more overtly psychedelic versions.  They trimmed some of the more baroque sections of the song down and kept the more basic structure of it.  Not to say this song didn't get far out, they definitely went off the reservation.
    • Bobby tried to blow some of the lyrics in the "lady finger" section, but managed to hold on.
    • The middle jam was fantastic, and it almost seemed like they were closing it early, but instead they just built the closing jam higher and higher.  At one point Bobby seemed to try to signal them to go back into the main riff and the final lyrics, but only Jeff seemed to notice.  Instead of faltering, they just took the hiccup as a chance to bring the jam a little farther out before bringing it back in.  The transition back into the main part of the song has been a little rough with this band, but no train wreck tonight!
    • They finished the lyrics, asking us "what would be the answer to the answer man?", and we weren't sure what it would be until John hit those four notes that can get any Dead Head to freeze in his tracks and grin.

    • DSC03917
  • Dark Star >
    • Yes indeed, folks, and what a "Dark Star" it was.  All in all, I think it might be the second best "Dark Star" I've seen, after the 11/11/11 one.  It's of course hard to say for sure, because all "Dark Star"s are so different from one another, and you can judge them based on an endless number of criteria.  I've seen spacier ones and more intense ones, but I think this one balanced the extremes of the song very well.
    • They never drifted too far from the theme, which isn't the most adventurous way to play "Dark Star," but they did it in such a cool way.  Jeff was playing the old TC line on the organ and Rhodes for a while, but he was teasing with it the whole time and never did it exactly straight.  John was doing the same thing with his playing, quoting the main riff but doing it backwards or upside down, and twirling it across the different rhythms the band was laying down.  In some ways it was like a jazzier version of a '68 "Dark Star."
    • Bobby sang all the verses on this one, instead of shifting the lyrics across the band members like other Dead bands have done, and he did a great job.  I kind of prefer the shifting vocals, but they should do whatever works for them!   They really nailed the music during the lyrics too; the dragons were out, and the band was playing with the Old Powers.
    • The jam turned towards kind of a poppy, bluegrass/jazz kind of feel, and we were ready for them to go into something like "Cumberland Blues," but they kept playing the theme of the song and staying with this new kind of shuffle they had developed. Then Bobby started singing the second verse while they kept playing this different jam!  I was cracking up, it was so funny and so right!  They snapped back into the regular "Dark Star" sound for the second half of vocals, and drifted off into Bobby's "nightfall of diamonds" outro, and developed into a new jam.
    • This new jam was a real barn-burner, and a real puzzler too.  At the time, I would have bet you a hundred dollars that they were doing the jam in 12/4 that drops into "The Eleven."  Each time they came around, I kept waiting for Mickey (once he got off The Beam) to hit his snare two time instead of three, but it never came.  Then Bobby and Oteil shifted it around, and I would have bet another hundred that they were going into "The Other One!"
  • Terrapin Station* >
    • Instead, the jam kind of petered out, and Bobby led the way beautifully into "Terrapin."  As they've been doing since last year, John sang the "Lady With a Fan" part and Bobby sang "Terrapin Station," and both of them killed the vocals.  Bobby threw in a few "ha's," but what else would you expect?
    • This was definitely better than the Worcester version, partially for a reason we'll get to later, but mostly because the band was just so tight this night.  I still think John needs to cut loose a little more from the basic notes of the song, but he's already playing better than he was (and way better than I ever could).  This is just one particular area where I think John Kadlecik still has a distinct advantage (more about that in a future post).
    • The moon had been slowly making its way across the sky all night, and, though it was not a crescent moon, it was just about dead center over the Fenway Park sign on the clubhouse during "Terrapin."
    • The closing jam was good, and longer than some versions I've heard them do, and while John wasn't stepping out too much, the rest of the band was playing their best, Jeff and Oteil especially coming to the forefront of the jam.

    • DSC03924
  • Drums >
    • John and Bobby stayed on stage for a bit and made some weird noises while the drummers got busy behind them.  As always, Oteil came back out on stage to play some drums, and Bobby and John hit the road.  Like he did in Hartford, Jeff came out on stage and he and Oteil went back to playing with some clown horns and having a grand old time!
    • As I've said in the past, I don't think they need to do "Drums" every night, but I still love it, and this one was a whole of of fun.  The light show was incredible all night, and it really shined (ha) at this point in the night.  They had a big video monitor behind the band that mostly just had videos of the band monitors, and then two screens on the sides of the stage showing band members and visual graphics.  The graphics could be annoying if you wanted to see what was happening, but since we could see the big screen the whole time, they were mostly fine.
  • Space >
    • Mickey started eyeing The Beam and the rest of the band took off -- they knew it was about to get really weird up in here.
    • I don't know why, but I never get tired of The Beam.  It's pretty much the same thing each time: first he plucks it, then he runs that metal slide over it, then he starts wailing on it, maybe gets out the bow, and eventually gets down to those bone shattering frequencies.  Every time he does it though, it just makes me so happy!  It's incredible the range of truly awesome sounds he can generate with that thing; and it makes him so happy too, how could I ever complain about it!
    • Jeff, John, and Bobby came back out on stage and the drummers left, and after toying with some typical "Space," they suddenly fell into one of the most beautiful jams I've ever heard.  It was somewhere between "The Wheel," Bobby's song "Heaven Help The Fool," and an Allman Brother's song.  After such a barrage of noise and low frequencies, hearing these three soaring across the sky together was such an uplifting moment.

    • DSC03926
  • Terrapin Station >
    • John started getting a different idea going and the other members of the band came back out, and before we knew what was happening they launched back into the "Terrapin" jam!  We couldn't believe it!
    • I almost thought they were going to do the rest of the "Terrapin" suite, but instead they just jammed on the outro until it had been pounded into the ground of the stadium.
    • DSC03918
  • Morning Dew >
    • Bobby counted this off as they were still rattling around the final chord of "Terrapin," but we knew what they were going into.
    • My dad's first Dead song was "Morning Dew" from 1973-11-30 in Boston (Dick's Picks 14), so this was very cool to get.
    • Like at Fare Thee Well, Bobby sang this song, and he once again killed it.  I bet John would sing it really well too, but if Bobby wants this one I say we let him have it; though I do wish he would sing "I can't walk you out in the morning dew today" before the solo section instead of "you didn't hear no young man moan today."
    • The band did the build-up to the solo section perfectly, and John took it from there.  I think he could have kept going until daybreak, but Bobby needed to sing the rest of the lyrics, so John eventually stepped back down.
    • Instead of starting the closing jam from a mellow place like they used to, Bobby built it up with the final lyrics and the jam started out already really hot.  They built up to climax after climax until Bobby finally closed it off, and then counted them into...
  • Casey Jones*
    • Unexpected, but always such a fun song!  Bobby and John traded vocals, and Donna came back out on stage.
    • Kind of like "Touch of Grey," this song doesn't differ too much from version to version, but it's still a great song.  John really helped build the tempo up to a frenzy at the end, and everyone stayed with him!
  • Black Muddy River
    • They came back on stage, and form their tuning I knew this was what they were going to play, and I was so grateful.  I had always passed this off as another 80's song, until I heard John sing it with this band recently on a recording.  Then I went back to find all the versions  could of it, because it is such a beautifully sad song.  It's Hunter at his best, and the structure of the song is so very Grateful Dead.
    • They totally crushed this version; John sang it perfectly and with so much emotion, and his solos pierced everyone's hearts in the stadium.
  • US Blues*
    • I didn't expect a double encore this night, but suddenly Bobby was counting off again!
    • I've had my fair share of this song already, especially as an encore, but these guys are so good at playing it and we were all having such a great time that I once again found myself with no complaints!
    • Bobby brought it to a close, then seemed to look at a clock to see how much time they had, then brought them back into the final bars of the song for one more go around.
     They rocked the show to a close, and took a bow with smiles on their faces.  Jeff practically tackled Billy off the stage, so I'm pretty sure they were having as good a time as we were!  We waited for the crowd to clear a bit and kept cheering, then headed back out towards the car.  Once again, there was no hope of us getting out any time soon, so we hung out in the lot for a bit.  I ended up walking back to the train to head down to Quincy with the rest of the Heads riding that train.  Got home not too late, but went to bed after not too long to preserve energy for the next day!

     It's hard to say for sure, but this could be the best show of the tour.  Of course being there makes it seem that much better than anything I may have streamed or listened to after the fact, but I think the facts are there.  The whole band was playing at their best, and the song selections were excellent.  Not only that, but they changed things up a bit: "St. Stephen > Dark Star," and reprising "Terrapin" after "Space?"  Unheard of!  I'm open to hearing about which shows were better, but I think this is at least in the top three of Best Shows this particular band has played.  It's definitely the best I've seen them!

     I should have Saturday night's review up in the next couple of days, so stay tuned!


  1. Bobby's green guitar is fantastic! Looks to me like it may have a bit of a hollow body.

    1. Agredd, definitely partially hollow. Notice I didn't make a joke about Bobby's head and hollowness...