Every show you go to, for a while, was “the greatest” show you have ever seen.
Seeing Bob Weir was no exception, but, without getting too melodramatic… it was a transformative event. It was at once the most mellow and yet deeply exciting show I think I have ever experienced. Truly.
Coming after a summer/fall wherein I may have used the Grateful Dead and in particular Bob Weir as a soul tonic during some hard times last year, to be able to see him play live was an event that seemed essential. When tickets went on sale I bought one.
A Little History
My connection to the Grateful Dead goes back to high school when it was music that few people in my circles listened to, and I wasn’t really sure about until the fateful day when I purchased “The Grateful Dead – Working Man’s Dead” as a cut-out from the Meijer Superstore in Ann Arbor Michigan. That batch of songs I could get behind. To this day that is my favorite Grateful Dead album.
Grateful Dead live was something that I wouldn’t pick up on until I was into my late 20’s working in a factory. A guy that I worked with brought in some tapes for me to copy. We had had conversations about my tape trading efforts and he thought I might dig ’em. One was a Smashing Pumpkins bootleg and the other was a Grateful Dead bootleg. Both were in fact really really good.
These days you can download endless hours of Grateful Dead music in a snap, but it was a whole other thing back then.
When the downloadable era hit, and my technology caught up to the times, I dabbled again in The Grateful Dead. I got all the library had for CD’s and did download a handful of shows from the internet. I always dug those, but still for me the real love of the band was kind of a fair weather friend. There were only certain times when I would dig that stuff out and listen to it.
Jerry Garcia was my man in those times. I even got myself some Garcia/Grisman and Jerry Solo shows. I laugh to think about it now, but I was annoyed by songs like “Mexicali Blues” and “Me and My Uncle” and preferred the slower folky Garcia tracks.
Every so often I would get on a kick and get some more Grateful Dead shows. Songs began to get in my head and I kept going back for more and soon began listening to shows while I worked.
Then came the time I discovered Dead & Company. It was during a time I was having a lot of difficulty handling changes that my mother was going through. The Dead & Company shows, which I furiously downloaded, really were a balm as I drove back and forth visiting Waunakee. The music calmed me and touched a part of me that was a little broken frankly and soothed me. After my wife, I credit John Mayer and Bob Weir as personal heroes during those days.
Suddenly, though I have a peculiar thing about bands with names such as Blah and The Blah Blahs… I was curious about the many transformations of Bob Weir after the passing of Jerry. Bands like Rat Dog, and Bobby and The Midnights and Bobby Weir and The Wolf Brothers. What was that like?
Instead of playing a Grateful Dead show one day while I was working I played a Ratdog show. It was fantastic. Then I tried a Bobby Weir and The Wolf Brothers show. My feeling was like “where has this been all my life?!” I was totally off the rails digging Bobby’s variations and cursing myself for not dipping my toe in that water years ago.
I even bought “Bob Weir – Ace” on vinyl when I discovered that suddenly songs like “Mexicali Blues” and “Me and My Uncle” no longer annoyed me and that some of my very favorite songs from Grateful Dead shows were really Bob Weir solo songs that the Grateful Dead played!
The is no denying that Bob has aged. He now sports a giant beard and mustache, but his voice is still strong and I, sigh, can identify with the aging. Found this side by shot. Makes me wonder what a similar shot of me would reveal.
So… as you can see, after years and years of Grateful Dead, and then the sudden insurgence of Bobby Weir into my life, seeing him play live, right in my back yard, was un-pass-upable. Period.
The night of the show, I found myself driving past The Sylvee well before doors which were at 6:30 instead of 7. I had planned to hang out in my car for a while, but was getting a primo parking spot by getting there early. When I passed by though, there was already a line. So I parked and instead went to hang out way early. I was hoping to get down front for the show, but knew it was sold out and with a line outside already, if I had any chance I had to go stand.
There were 3 tour busses.
No playing around.
I made my way to the end of the early bird line and found I was about 20 deep at 5:45. So 45 minutes to wait to get in, then an hour and a half until show time.
As people were filling in behind me, and walking past the line with 1 finger in the air (still not sure if they HAD ticket or NEEDED tickets) I made some comments to the folks around me then suddenly discovered that the man I was standing behind in line was Vince whom I had worked with at the factory almost 20 years ago. It was cool to catch up and it made the time waiting go fast. Thanks Vince!
The “Fast Pass” line entered at 6:30 and THEN our line went in. I thought that there would be absolute zero chance of getting on the rail as I finally got in and headed down front. There were people 3 deep in the middle, but it thinned out on the sides. I found a tiny spot! I was on the right but still in full view of Bobby’s mic stand. I was surprised and satisfied.
With an hour and a half to wait it was all about the balloons. There were several and as they got bounced around the air flow sent them towards the front constantly. The Security staff (who were nice and chatty) probably picked up the balloons 50 times and threw them back into the crowd. Some popped, but the one that survived was a yellow balloon with a smiley face on it.
At one point it came my way and in an unfortunate miscalculation I bounced it out of range and up on top of some speakers that were between the stage and the rail. There was a murmur of disappointment from behind me and I suddenly had the notion the crowd was going to turn on me. Thankfully someone was able to get the attention of Security and the balloon was returned to the fray. Whew!
At one point Security was walking the rail and being friendly so I asked if one of the guys could take my picture. I never see myself from that angle, so it was cool to see when I reviewed the pics.
The stage seemed pretty simple, but the light show that was to come was a nice bonus. At around 8 the smoke machines kicked in and about 8:10 there was a huddle with Bob on the far side of the stage. I likened it to a football huddle. You can see Bob’s gray shirt closest to the light.
He drank something, wiped his mouth and then they all sauntered out onstage.
I have to give props to my phone’s camera. I got a new phone over the Holidays and it takes pretty damn good pictures. I used it for The Charlatan’s/Ride show and noticed it then and tried a lot of zoom shots for Bob and they came out great.
Although there were pockets of hippie dancers here and there, for the most part the crowd just stood and absorbed it all. The first song was “Hell In A Bucket” and it was completely amazing. Probably one of my top 5 Grateful Dead songs. The crowd singing along was cool beyond measure.
The light show was a nice touch too. Most shows I go to have little or no lights, relying on some spotlights that may of may not move around. The lights at this show were definitely pro.
“Hell In A Bucket” was followed by “The Greatest Story Ever Told” and then he played “Mexicali Blues” and I have to say that seeing it live forever wiped out the meh feeling I once had for this song. Completely.
After some quick chatter about the origins of the next song and a switch to acoustic he played Peggy-O. I knew and liked the song, but again, seeing it live and the subtlety and sweetness he played it with will stay with me a long while.
After that he played 2 I was not familiar with. “Catfish John” and “Lazy River Road”. Even though I didn’t know them, they were great to see performed. Then came a medley of “Little Schoolgirl” into “Hound Dog” and then back to “Little Schoolgirl”.
Sandals, short pants and a simple polo. So unassuming, but those hands and that voice were making magic.
Honestly at some point I stopped taking pictures and just enjoyed it. The first set was done and there was an intermission. This is the first show I have ever been to where there was no opener and there was a break.
When they came back out for the second set, it started with “Me and My Uncle”. It was another crazy moment where I laughed to myself that long ago I didn’t like it that much and now I found myself singing along at the top of my lungs. Funny how we all evolve.
Then the tone shifted a bit and we went into:
Dark Star 1 > Milestones > Dark Star 2 > Estimated Prophet > Corrina > Franklin’s Tower and then to Terrapin Station Suite.
It was a times jazzy, at times rock and roll and the “Wolfpack” was featured a lot. They were amazing.
During this set the Security folks jumped the rail literally right over my shoulder to get to a kid that had either fallen or passed out. They were really on their game and handling things well. They also passed out water, tons of it, which was nice. I’ve seen them do that before, but not even close to the amount they passed out that night. They also CONTINUED to toss the smiley face balloon back to the crowd. Bravo Security. You were on it.
When I snapped out of my stupor and continued getting some pics I tried to get Bobby in the web of some of the cool ribbon lights.
When they started playing “Terrapin Station Suite” the guy next to me (who had seen many shows) brought his friend (who also had never seen Bob, like me) went nuts. This was what he was waiting for. He looked at me and put his hand up for a high five. I obliged him with a smile.
I have always found this one to be weird and dramatic, and hearing and seeing it played live was incredible. It was a trip for sure.
When that whole suite was over they left the stage for a short bit and then came back and played the encore, which turned out to be “Touch Of Grey”. I love that song and listening to the words as he played it I never really connected with it as much as I did that night.
Then it was over. They all came down front and applauded us as we applauded them. Then after some bows, they were done and the house lights came up.
I was in a trance over how good this show was.
I hit the bathroom (in line at 5:45 and now it was 11:45!) and then made it to the merch table and bought a hoodie.
Made it home by 1:15, tired, but still amazed.
So, again, not to be dramatic, but this show was the culmination of my Grateful Dead, Dead & Company and Bob Weir resurgence and it was 100% totally cool. This was the kind of show that you will never forget.
Also, so you can listen and judge at least the music without the atmosphere, it was simulcast and you can listen to it on YouTube.
You can see about the whole show if you check out Scott’s YouTube playlist:
and Thank you Bobby for coming to Madison. We’d love to have you back! Soon!