When we set up in the parking lot outside the Spectrum, we started talking with a local about what would happen to the building once it is torn down later this year. He said there were the two Dead shows, followed by an extended run of the circus.
My response: “No no no — the circus begins tonight.”
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Conventional wisdom would hold that I should be an outdoor show guy. And much of the time, that’s true.
Once in a while, though, it’s good to cozy up with 20,000 of your closest friends inside, where the sound and the lights and the cranked-up intensity can turn a barn like Philadelphia’s Spectrum into a room of surprising intimacy.
I don’t have a lot of history with the Spectrum — I’ve seen just two shows there, on Friday and a Phish show in 2003 — but in its last few weeks before it’s torn down, it does deserve a little respect. Yeah, I know, it’s ground zero for Flyers history, but you could argue that it’s ground zero for Dead history as well; it was the first East Coast venue of a significant size the band played with any regularity, and it, along with Winterland and the Cow Palace, was the reason for the development of the Wall of Sound sound system — and all the subsequent attention the band has paid to making barns sound good over the years.
It should be noted: the band was aware as well. The encore Saturday night? Samson and Delilah, with the line “If I had my way/I would tear this whole building down.”
Friday’s show in Philly was not just a nod to the past — the Dead, in its various iterations, played there more than 50 times, at least 20 more shows than Mr. Springsteen, the next-closest artist. To me, it was something of a re-birth as well. After settling on a lineup that includes Warren Haynes and Jeff Chimenti, I got the sense that things have settled down for the band — they’re never going to tour like they used to, but when they do, they won’t be starting from scratch each time.
Here’s what we heard:
1: Playing in the Band / Mississippi Half-Step / New Speedway Boogie / Shakedown Street / Dupree’s Diamond Blues / Hard to Handle / Friend of the Devil / Playing reprise
2: Jack Straw / Alligator / Caution / Space > Drums > Space / Loose Lucy / Comes a Time / Cold Rain and Snow / Sugar Magnolia > Sunshine Daydream
E: Box of Rain
Here’s what I thought:
- During the show, I tweeted something to the effect that Warren really belongs here. My buddy Yohe responded by calling Warren the “Jam-band chameleon.” He does an excellent job of fitting in with whomever he plays, but in this case, I was talking about something different. Warren’s presence has changed the character of the band. During the 2003 and 2004 tours, I heard a band still working to sound like the old days; Jimmy Herring’s guitar work can be Garcia-esque, but I always felt a little bit like the they were collectively trying to be something they weren’t. That wasn’t the case on Friday; the Dead I heard seemed more comfortable with who they are these days, and that can only mean even better things to come the next time they’re out on the road.
- The show itself was very good. The setlist was all over the place, mixing eras and versions in a way that Garcia never really wanted to deal with. The playing was tight and adventurous, and was pushed along by a crowd intent upon making it work. Phil’s comment at the start of his organ-donor rap: “I had forgotten how intense this place can be.”
- I don’t have a lot of Picky Deadhead things to point out. I did notice, however, that between Weir and Warren, they might have remembered about half the lyrics for New Speedway. But then, Bob forgetting lyrics is hardly news, huh?
- I had my moment — the brief rush of emotion over everything I had seen and done and experienced because of these guys — during the beautiful Half-Step. I know this is hard to explain, but it is no exaggeration to say that the time and emotion I have invested in that band informs just about everything I do or say or think these days. To know that it’s still there — and to see it and hear it onstage in front of me — is always a little overwhelming. In a very good way.