If anyone is interested in rekindling a habit with crack cocaine, a trip to Camden might be for you. The Compton of South Jersey played host to our favorite musicians on a mystical, Full Rose Moon Solstice(or some kinda shit like that) opening night of Summer. Camden, a town where all band members are quick to point out that they’re with Oteil for their own safety, is more or less a shithole with an Amphitheater and an Aquarium. Why build parks for the kids that live there to play when you can build a jail for fish? Speaking of fish, you can cast a line into the neighboring river and catch diverse varieties of license plates and shopping carts. Camden can take solace in being a stone’s throw from the City of Brotherly Love, a city rich in Dead history as well as abundant in cheesesteaks. Often times it’s the dumps that provide the inspiration for some grandiose moments. JFK in 89 and several nights at RFK immediately come to mind. Maybe the need for musical escape is more obvious there. Maybe the rugged energy naturally provides the required tension in between notes that changes a song into an experience. Maybe it’s none of that and just the way the cards fall, what do I know?
The night was as hot as the music was about to be as The Venue named after some large corporation came alive long before the opening notes of Bertha. There are equations that predict the likelihood of certain songs being played that have been part of our scene for a long time. For instance, the more likely you are to be mugged in the city that’s being played, the greater the chances of hearing a Shakedown. The equation was reliable this time around. Increases in gangsta activity in the surrounding areas always increased chances of gangsta tunes. West LA helped to prove the theory once again. Back to back slow Garcia tunes appeared again like FOTD and TLEO in NC but were Row Jimmy and Crazy Fingers this time around. Maybe the band needs a rest in the middle of the set. Back to back slow Garcia tunes, even when they’re good tunes, slow things down too much for me. I Need a Miracle picked it up as always and Big Railroad, a tune that was played somewhat sparsely in Garcia’s last decade, in my opinion, was a fantastic way to end the first set.
Then the business folks running the Dead & Company machine posted on FB that there would be an official live stream for the first song of the second set. While some would go to great measures thanking the powers that be for the kindness, I could only think to myself, “You’re there, you have the equipment and capabilities, Why the hell would you not stream the entire show, and the entire tour, for all that matters?” If the concern was that advance ticket sales didn’t meet expectations, do the management people behind Dead & Company realize that ticket sales aren’t really compromised in Grateful Dead Land if they sell a stream. With US, we will ALWAYS be at the venue whenever possible whether there’s a stream or not. Right now, we’re all streaming from Periscope, Mixlr or FB Live anyway. Why not bring in a bunch of easy money while providing fans all over the world a chance to see and experience the magic in HD? I know I’d buy the full tour if it was offered and I know that tens of thousands of US would buy the HD Streams as well. How about the musician’s families? I bet the wives and kids that aren’t able to be on the road all the time would love to see their spouses. The folks running things are really dropping the ball on this one… That’s all I’m gonna say about that.. Until I say some more…
Everybody hopped off of their Periscopes for a few minutes to catch Playin. It was wonderful to get that in crisp and clear HD before heading back to any other available stream. John is getting psychedelic and his jams during with cosmic meltdowns are improving every day. He’s really starting to go deep under the water and typically only comes up when Weir makes some kind of signal like a scuba diver getting the crew to head back to the surface. The jams, like Weir, are really growing some hair as this thing moves forward. The first half of the second set got some additional longevity with The Wheel, Eyes, Standing On The Moon and Let it Grow. That’s getting your money’s worth right there!
I don’t know why but this brings me to another flashback from days gone by… In the days before Cal Expo in August of 91, we were staying in San Francisco. I had a dream that Weir busted out Lazy Lightning. Back then, unless you were a taper or traveled with one, it could take weeks before you acquired Soundboards of the shows. I was a successful Organic Vegetable Distributor at the time and had way more money than I did sense. As soon as I woke up, I asked my bro, Glen, if he’d drive me to a music store. I purchased a Sony TCD-D3 Portable DAT Recorder and on that day became a taper. As we all know, we didn’t get Lazy Lightning at Cal Expo but we did get that wicked Supplication Jam out of Estimated that was close enough to my dream for me to feel as though I was in universal alignment. Lazy Lightning would be great with this band… I wonder if Bob still has enough air for it? I appreciate the efforts of Tapers much more than most because I fully understand the commitment that’s required. After 2 years, I retired from taping because I was tired of having another obsession within the grand obsession. It was like a job. The thing I appreciated most was being down there with the other folks in the taper’s section. Those folks are ALL there 100% for the music and demand people shut the fuck up while the band is playing.
If you gave me a choice what to hear post Space, back in the day, I would answer without hesitation, “Watchtower-> Morning Dew!” Always one of my favorite post space jams, Watchtower was like a massive wind that blew out of the confusion and put every molecule in perfect order. Mayer’s jams were inspired and the tune continually lent itself to him to be broken down and reconstructed over and over again. It was a strong segment and showcased some incredible chops by everyone.
When it comes to the Dew, Nobody is remotely close to Garcia’s delivery of that song. Not John K, not John M, not John A, not John B, not John C… You get the picture. Some of you think differently, and that’s OK. It sounded great and John has a grasp on the 2 distinct solos that exist now. Each was well played albeit somewhat more brief than I’d prefer. His heart became one with the song and it was delivered with power and precision and completely raw emotionally. I always hoped that final jam on the Dew would go on for about a week and a half. When the Dew has been totally slain, there was often nothing left to say. It wouldn’t matter… Anyway… Other times we get the extra Weir tune to dry the tears a Dew can leave behind, in this case, NFA. The only thing that could’ve made the night more complete would’ve been a Ripple encore and Yup, that’s what we got! What a stellar night in South Jersey.
In contrast to the somewhat erratic and charged energy of a place like Camden, Saratoga Springs is literally a breath of fresh air. Up the road a few hours to beautiful landscape and mature trees that have witnessed many of Garcia’s greatest moments like The Dew of June 18, 1983. Internally, your volume seems to change dramatically when you’re in a place like Saratoga. The surrounding environment makes its way into the center of your being and grafts its characteristics and qualities into your emotional and spiritual makeup. Your shoulders drop and you feel the great exhale of life.
I think environmental vibrations play a big role in the overall experience of everyone involved. From the HD stream, the band seemed to be as tranquil internally as the land that cradled the experience. Everybody just seemed a little less charged and a bit more laid back. The first set started with a sluggish Stranger that got more interesting as it progressed. This brings me to my next flashback. I’ll never forget being in Arizona, December of 92. The band takes the stage on an incredibly bright sunny day. Right out of the gates the chorus of Here Comes Sunshine begins. Chills covered me from head to toe. Each verse reached deeper and deeper into my life and by the time Garcia really dug into the first solo, the sharp and pointed notes tore me wide open and left nothing but a skeleton. That shit may not have happened at SPAC but I was really happy to see them keep the mother rollin’ one more time! That was undoubtedly my favorite bust out in the later years and it was great to hear it played last night.
Loser was another great tune to hear and has always been a tune I really dig. I was perched in the first row of the mezzanine in Albany the night THE Loser was played. The energy that was transferred that night was mindblowingly nuclear. That shit didn’t happen but the Loser was great to hear. Little Red Rooster crowed like a motherfucker! Jeff’s solos were off the hook and he really played an extremely dominate role in that one. Cool slide by Weir but most notably on Rooster was John. Mayer just has an extra gear that most others don’t. That brother’s elevator goes all the way to the top and THEN some! Like it or not, John Mayer kicks fuckin ass and plays better guitar than anyone that has been in that spot since Garcia. You can have arguments pertaining to style preferences but when it comes to technical skills, there’s clearly no argument. Some of you might bitch about his watches or some irrelevant shit like that but if he ever got dosed out of his mind, I’d love to be there when he got to that phase of the high when you start giving all kinds of shit away. I’d take that watch in heartbeat! Brent wore a Rolex and I don’t hear y’all saying shit about that.
Iko Aiko kicked off the second set and was great to hear. That tune never has the same lyrics twice. I got really interested when Weir got a verse and said, “See that girl all dressed in Orange” How was he gonna pull off the follow up verse? The only thing that rhymes with Orange is Chuck Norris and I knew he wouldn’t sing that. If you don’t think those words rhyme, you can take it up with Chuck but I’m not gonna. Bob ended up singing something I couldn’t understand but it was definitely NOT “Chuck Norris”. Estimated is always great and last night was no exception. John got his Chinacat boogie started before he even hit the first notes of Chinacat. Watching that go down and watching how John is progressing through the early stages of this tour, it’s apparent how deep in his neurology the music is embedding itself. It’s a symbiotic relationship that’s feeding player as well as what’s being played and it’s great to witness! It was a much more sedated China Rider than some of the others we’ve heard from D & C. I don’t mean it was any less good, just mellower than previous ones. Uncle J out of Space and a tremendous job on The Days Between by Weir. Is it just me or are there some jams that resemble Lowrider that seem to be circling around Good Lovin? I’ve heard it since the last tour in different parts of tunes and have felt like I’ve heard some elements of Lowrider in certain jams. Maybe it’s just me… It was incredible to see John stretching his vocals and last night on Good Lovin, he provided the falsetto that Weir used to sing. It was outstanding to see John pick it up where Weir left off. I thought that was a noteworthy and wonderful moment that made the tune better than it was previously.
Brokedown Palace always rocks our souls and is typically not followed by anything else. Apparently Billy pushed for one more and Johnny B. Goode provided the adrenaline boost that made the walk back to the car much easier for everyone.
I can’t wait to see y’all at CitiField this weekend but some kind of Oil Change Ampitheater comes next. No time to proofread, I’m out of time. Love y’all long time and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it! See ya soon!
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Dean Sottile (pronounced So Tilly)
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