Peter Shapiro's "Fare Thee Well" hype tornado touched down last night at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California tossing cows and Chryslers without regard for consequences. The show was a sell out at 75,000, although tickets could be had in the lots for one third the cost of parking. Despite Mr. Shapiro's money back guarantee, many of the 75,000 likely did not expect a 50th anniversary history lesson with no song newer than 1970.
Fare Thee Well is the remaining four members of the Grateful Dead, Bob Weir on rhythm guitar, Phil Lesh on bass, Bill Kreutzmann on drums, and Mickey Hart on percussion, joined by Bruce Hornsby on piano, Jeff Chimenti on keyboards, and Trey Anastasio on lead guitar. Undoubtedly, this is one of the best rock music ensembles out there with a combined age over 400.
The most impressive element of Fare The Well was the crowd. Every one of the 75,000 suffered some Shapiro-fueled indignity, including dynamic pricing, sand trap parking, and plastic bag backpacks -- but the scene remained relatively calm and optimistic that the music would overpower the hype. For an organism with a total weight exceeding that of the stadium, the crowd had a pretty good groove. We were in the lower bowl in Section 113 with seat neighbors from Denver, Los Angeles, and Boca Raton. Thousands of "no view" tickets ensured that seat hoppers would be in action. Some of the older generation were surprised at the temerity of the young seat hoppers plopping along like the stadium were named for Southwest Airlines. We tried the no view corner of Section 227 in the second set and the sound and view were fine.
Bob Weir was alive all night and was entirely sincere with his Jerry vocals. He really tied the room together. Bob is a walrus sporting aggressive Wilfred Brimley facial hair. If there were a Jerry Garcia Mr. Potatohead, you would use 3/4 of the Jerry beard parts to make a Bob.
Phil Lesh looked happy and healthy. His silver fox zipperhead coif presumably is what Mike Gordon is aspiring to. Mr. Anastasio looked uncomfortable and concerned for his reputation, but he did have a schoolboy hair cut that accentuated how hard he appeared to be trying. Given the ancient setlist, it may be that Mr. Anastasio is learning the Grateful Dead catalogue in chronologic order. Mr. Anastasio was terrific, but less fluid than with Phish, like the Grateful Dead catalogue requires more muscle. But there is no doubt that Mr. Anastasio earned his paycheck.
Truckin: "...what a long strange trip it's been..." Slow build with Wang Dang Doodle and Smokestack Lightning teases.
Uncle John's Band: "...where does the time go?" The sound is light and distracted like the show has not yet started.
Alligator: "...creepy alligator comin round the bend..." Trey wreck. Nowhere near the 4/16/99 hippie olympics Warfield version. Going Down the Road Feeling Bad and I Know You Rider teases as Mr. Anastasio reminds us he can do more if Mr. Shapiro deems it necessary.
Cumberland Blues: "...he can't win for losing..." Rollicking. Mr. Anastasio's fingers are smoking, but it appears they aren't touching the strings.
Born Cross Eyed: "...meet me some morning in the sweet by and by..." Perhaps Mr. Anastasio is trying too hard. One of the skirted beauties in our section invites him to "let it go."
Cream Puff War: "...wait a minute, watch what you're doing with your time..." In the old days, you had to leave the seats to make phone calls during songs like this one.
Viola Lee Blues: "...you may know by now that I've got a friend somewhere..." Swampy with nice tinkling by Jeff. Set one wraps prematurely with a retro funky outro and the Bo Diddley beat.
Cryptical Envelopment: "...you know he has to die...." Intricate. This will not be an 8/6/10 Berkeley Greek dance party. Those hoping for Eyes of the World or Sugar Magnolia will have to wait.
Dark Star: "Dark star crashes, pouring its light into ashes..." Bob, Phil and Mr. Anastasio all take turns at the Jerry vocals. Trey's stylings are sweet, Phil's are strong, but Bob's get the biggest reaction. Throughout the night, Bob does the best Jerry.
St. Stephen: "...wherever he goes the people all complain..." Western groove style. Mr. Anastasio finally turns on his equipment and his blistering earns some respect. "Can you answer? Yes I can..."
The Eleven: "...now is the test of the boomerang..." This deep cut makes it clear this will not be a touch of greatest hits night. With Terrapin Station, Going Down the Road Feeling Bad, Camel Walk, and Like a Rolling Stone teases.
Turn on Your Lovelight: "...let it shine, let it shine, let it shine..." Bob as Pigpen? The 10% of the audience who are thrilled so far by the history lesson are joined by at least another 60% of the assembled crowd. People start to get what they thought they had paid for.
Drums/Space: Mickey and Billy pound it out like they're auditioning for Whiplash. Undeniable talent on a global tableau of tablas. Bill looks like he's just back from deep sea fishing with a red hat and silver goatee. Mickey is sporting Rick Perry specs and Japanese taxi driver gloves. Mickey moves excitedly from the red jazz brushes to the bang bang silver club to the two-handed sledgehammer and then removes his gloves to stroke the nebuchadulcimer sending his good vibrations beyond the bay.
What's Become of the Baby: "...waves of violet go crashing and laughing..." Aoxomoxoa for the masses.
The Other One: "Spanish lady comes to me, she lays on me this rose..." Sugar Magnolia, Scarlet Begonias, Truckin teases as Mr. Anastasio practices simultaneously to doing his job.
Morning Dew: "...guess it doesn't matter anyway..." An emotional closer. People never cry at Phish concerts. Phil closes the set with a quick donor rap.
Casey Jones: "...trouble ahead, trouble behind, and you know that notion just crossed my mind..." Show ends with Bill K recognizing the rainbow over the stadium earlier in the night and the rainbow flag flying next to the bear of the California Republic. Flags matter.
See you tonight in the suburbs!