The Dead
Sleep Train Amphitheatre, Marysville, CA

First up: Robert Hunter
OK, let's cut to the chase - it was extremely hot when a solitary man and a guitar started to play before it was even 6:00 PM. Hardly anyone in their right mind was sitting in their seats, and the sun was still beating directly down upon us, frying us. The man with the guitar was Robert Hunter, lyricist of most of the songs we cherish in the Deadhead culture. It was pretty bizarre to be seeing this great songwriter performing in front of a handful of fans, spread out across the facility. I had never been to this venue before, and would basically describe it as a Shoreline clone, minus the style, dropped in the middle of some farmland. Here he was, starting out with "Box of Rain."

Box of Rain
Standing on the Moon
Rueben and Cerise>
It Must Have Been the Roses>
Rueben and Cerise
Mr. Charlie>
Elfin Language Jam>
Easy Wind
Key To Your Room

I don't know if it was tears, or just sweat from the heat, but I found it particularly moving when right in the middle of Reuben and Cerise, where Reuben is playing for the carnival crowd, Hunter Played "It Must Have Been the Roses." He ended "Ripple" with the acapella admonition to "Let there be songs, to fill the air."

The Dead's first set
The band didn't start playing until around 7:35, and even then, Phil's side of the stage was still without shade. Nonetheless, it was one of the best first sets I'd seen in a while. I had not seen the band since last Summer's Shoreline show, so this is what I was comparing this show to in my mind.

To a certain extent, the pluses and minuses from losing Joan Osborne and gaining Warren Haynes were pretty logical and predictable. I missed the feminine side of the music that Joan brought to the band, and since I'm a big fan of Bob Weir's guitar playing style, burying his unique sound under one more guitar doesn't help matters much. But, in Warren's defense, he didn't add too much clutter, sometimes just totally sitting passages out, and is an excellent singer. One of the interesting side effects of his tenure seems to be an uptick in doing more cover tunes. In the first set, his singing of "Built to Last" was impressive, and doing Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic" worked very well. Probably the weakest point for him was integrating into "Hell in a Bucket." This isn't really a jam song, and since this band is not that different than Phil and Friends, everything gets the jam treatment. Warren's solos collided with the vocals somewhat abruptly. But this is just a minor observation. If he doesn't fry himself out this year from touring with the Dead, the Allmans, Gov't Mule, and promoting his new solo release, and sticks with the Dead a while, I look for great things. Bottom line here is what was happening in the crowd. The spirit was invoked, joy was breaking out all over, and that special smile you don't see anywhere else was legion.

Set 1
jam>Cassidy>slow ending jam>
Built to Last (Warren)>
Cumberland Blues
Hell in a Bucket>
Alabama Getaway
Into the Mystic (Warren sings Bobby acoustic)
Dire Wolf
Cosmic Charlie

The Dead's Second Set
I'm not sure why it took an hour before the second set could start, but the sun was down, and it was getting very comfortable. I'd have to say this set wasn't as cohesive as the first set, but there were many quality moments. Bobby grabbed a tambourine to add a gospel flavor to the start of "Samson and Delilah." Very tasty. Mickey's beam segment was more tasteful, less over the top than usual. I heard crowd rumors before the show started about sound checks where Led Zeppelin and Neil Young songs were played, and sure enough, right after the space segment, they started playing Zep's "Over the Hills and Far Away." The crowd went nuts, but I think it worked out pretty well. Warren sang it in a very straightforward style, turning a bombastic classic into a sincere life lesson message.

"New Potato Caboose" came off well, without seeming too much of a novelty. "Shakedown Street" was also played at the Shoreline show I saw last year, and this year seemed less cohesive. This is probably where too many guitars comes in to play. Last year, Jimmy's tone was more bell-like, and sweeter. His tone was harsher, perhaps to stand out from Warren's tone. Still, it's a great song, and the crowd loved it.

Next came a double-header of tunes from the very first Grateful Dead album, "Viola Lee Blues" and "The Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion," which was the band's first single. I think at this point, they were too tired to really kick out the jams on VLB (like the opener in the Phil and Phriends shows) and only Jeff Chimenti's organ riffs helped everyone remember what song we were listening to! This indeed fell into the 'novelty' area, and they should hew closer to the original to bring it off better. "Sugar Magnolia" brought it all to a happy close, and people were still dancing up and down the aisles in glee.

When Phil came out for the 'donor rap,' he made special mention of how the crowd itself was responsible for creating the wonderful energy. I'm sure he's said this before, but tonight, it sounded very right. On a hot night where maybe the band was not at its peak, the crowd provided the essential spark, sanctifying the sacred ground. On a weekend where Fahrenheit 9/11 was the number one movie in America, Bob Weir's admonition to register to vote in the next election, because it "might be the last" was especially noted.

"Going Down the Road Feeling Bad" was nice, in a feel-good raggedy sort of way, and when they wrapped it up with that melody they've used from "We Bid You Goodnight," I expected to hear that song as a closer. Instead, Warren led everyone in their rendition of the Stanley Brothers' "Angel Band," the closer from the 'O Brother!' soundtrack. This was a beautiful ending.

I'm reflecting on how many of my comments might seem negative, but I'm comparing the show to moments from the last few decades, so nothing can really live up to the ideal. I think some of you know what I'm talking about, and maybe some of you attended the same show, and have your doubts as to whether I even attended the same show you saw! I still feel like attending a Dead show, regardless of what they call themselves, is like nothing else on earth, my version of a trip to Disneyland.

Set 2
Playin' in the Band
Baba Jingo>
Sampson and Delilah
Over the Hills and Far Away>
New Potato Caboose>
Shakedown Street>
After Midnight (Warren)>jam>
Viola Lee Blues>
Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion>
Sugar Magnolia
Organ donor rap
headcount rap
Going Down the Road Feeling Bad>
Angel Band

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