Their long, strange trip isn’t quite over, but the Grateful Dead gave its Bay Area fans a fond farewell over the weekend.
Guitarist Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh, and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann reunited under the rosy banner of the Grateful Dead at Levi Stadium on Saturday and Sunday. The “Fare Thee Well” shows, marking 50 years since the band’s formation behind late singer Jerry Garcia, as well as the surviving members’ last shows together, will conclude in Chicago starting Friday.
Fortified by Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio, taking over for Garcia, and keyboardists Jeff Chimenti and Bruce Hornsby, the band plumbed its earliest catalog from the show’s opener, “Truckin’,” to the encore, “Casey Jones.” At Sunday’s show, the noticeably tighter band played more recent songs like “Feel Like a Stranger,” “Eyes of the World” and “Wharf Rat,” which was a highlight of the post-intermission set.
There were no holograms of Garcia, who died of a heart attack in 1995, or lengthy speeches, though Lesh did take a moment to thank the donor of his liver transplant. The 60,000-plus audience, which included longtime Deadheads as well as millennials with flowers in their hair, did get to soak up nostalgia during an intermission that included video of Garcia scuba-diving and other vintage clips.
While Levi’s Stadium was a reasonably pleasant, if antiseptic, place to dance and soak up the wafting pot smoke, the location is abysmal. Whoever decided to plop a stadium down amid Santa Clara office parks, with confusing signage and traffic jams, should probably be forced to wash the Deadheads’ vintage VW vans, of which there were several.
Amid the band’s trademark marathon jams, nature and geography provided all the special effects the show needed. On Saturday night, the crowd erupted in cheers as a massive rainbow arched over the stadium during “Viola Lee Blues,” evoking a flurry of photos and jokes about receiving Garcia’s blessing. During the crowd-favorite “Dark Star,” a fireworks show at neighboring Great America lit up the sky behind the Dead.
The band’s upcoming Chicago concerts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday should pack some surprises, but it’ll be hard to top the pyrotechnics at their final Bay Area shows.
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