Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Dead @ The HSBC Arena 2009-04-21

I couldn't have been more excited going into this concert. The Grateful Dead have been one of my favourite bands since high school. The first song I really ever learned to jam to on guitar was "Eyes of the World" and I still jam on it profusly, be it with friends or by myself on my looper pedal. I had seen Bob Weir & Ratdog a couple of years ago and had declared it my favourite show ever after dancing without coordination for four hours straight. The setlists for The Dead had been looking tight. Like any good deadhead I listened to the early shows from the 2009 tour on and they were stellar. I expected nothing but greatness from the boys while in Buffalo. After briefly hitting Shakedown Street (which was wild to say the least) me and my buddies hit the HSBC Arena. It is difficult to describe the good vibes that were felt in that building before the show even began. The sense of community and happiness I felt was more akin to what fellow jews had described what going to Israel for the first time felt like. The simple fact that every single person at the show had gathered together for the sole purpose of throwing their inhabitions out the window for three or four hours to simply listen to phenomenal music and experience one of the few parts of the 1960s that still exists in our culture today. For that night, the HSBC Arena felt like home, and we were all in good company. The boys took the stage at around 7:30 and came out swinging. They opened the show like so many of their sets in 1972 and 1973 with "Promised Land". I am always a little skeptical when Bobby steps up to the mic. These days he has a more speaking style approach to singing, not usually holding notes to their full extent most likely due to the toll it takes on his vocal chords. To my surprise Bobby sang the song, and he sang it well. Next up was a playful version of "They Love Each Other". I have always been a bigger fan of the early version of this tune which is sped up. The Dead played it in the slower manner (think 1977), with Bobby taking vocals once again. It was a pretty standard version but fun none the less. Later in the set came "Stella Blue" with Warren taking the vocals. "Stella Blue" is a Jerry ballad through and through and thankfully for Warren, he's got pipes. His vocals shined through this tune and Jerry would have been proud. Closing the set was a rousing rendition of "Big River", one of my favourite songs in the Dead's canon. It was jammed out nicely with some great solos by Warren.
After a short set break came the standard set 2 meat and potatos. The boys jammed into "Playin' In The Band" which was hot. The vocals from everyone were quite strong, and the jam itself dripped with goo. It segued into "Me And Bobby McGee", where Bobby took the strongest vocal performance of the night. It was a slightly extended version and was really great. Later on in the set came a nicely jammed out version of "Ramble On Rose". At this point in the show the HSBC was one big sing-song. Everyone was belting out the lyrics at the top of their lungs, the vibe was heavy and fun. The "Drums/Space" segment came not too much later and was very heady. Its intro theme really reminded me of Radiohead at the time, with lots of digital noises acting as a soundscape for Billy and Mickey to rock out over. This eventually segued into a standard version of "Maggie's Farm", a song a really despise, and simply didn't enjoy at the show. Thankfully "Maggie's Farm" segued into a hot version of "Eyes of the World" with Bobby, Phil and Warren trading verses. Warren's playing really shined here and I felt for the first time that his playing truly fit what The Dead were trying to achieve. It was the first time of the night that Jerry's presence could really be felt. As "Eyes" toned down, the familiar riffs of "Playin'" began to be teased, with the reprise capping off the set. As set 2 ended Phil came out and thanked us for being such a great and attentive audience. He also encouraged us all to be organ donors, after his life was saved after a liver transplant. The boys treated us to a "Truckin" encore which featured a wild ending jam. The show came full circle, ending on a serious high note. After seeing The Dead for my first time, its safe to say that I am going to need another fix before the summer is over. Although the setlist was great, I have so many favourites that it would have been impossible to hear them all. Needless to say it was one of the most important concert experiences of my life, and hopefully I will be able to experience The Dead once again.

Setlist: Set I: The Promised Land, They Love Each Other, Mama Tried, Loser, Smokestack Lightnin' > Stella Blue > It's All Over Now, Baby Blue, Big River
Set II: Jam > Playing In The Band > Me & Bobby McGee, Loose Lucy, Ramble On Rose > Drums > Space > Maggie's Farm > Eyes of The World > Playing In The Band (reprise)
Encore: Truckin'

Here is The Dead playing "Truckin'"

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