When we think of the Dead and summertime, we often harken back to the stadium and amphitheater shows of the late 80s and early 90s, and it is no wonder, given they dominate the dates from this period in Dead history. Today, for our Dead of the Day, we head to one of those shows down at the Carter-Finley Stadium on the grounds of North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Jack Straw opens the show with Hornsby on accordion. Like so many Straws, it is a pleasure to hear, but there is a little something extra in it, suggesting it was going to be a special night. Loser unfolds next with Jerry’s sonorous vocals and arcing guitar leading the way off into the clouds and a lovely, tremulous jam in the latter half. Next, Brent comes to the fore, putting his all into a We Can Run, the lyrics all the more powerful and prescient looking back on events that have transpired between then and now. A quick and ripping Me and My Uncle comes out next, followed up by a similarly upbeat Big River with Brent’s keys giving it some extra spice. Hornsby takes the stage again after that, helping the boys through the rest of the set, with a particularly immaculate Bird Song providing some extra luster as you might have expected. Rain, thunder, and lightning had been bedeviling the crowd throughout the set, and it seems to have finally struck the band during Promised Land as the power went out, forcing them to finish the tune in two parts. An Iko leads the band out of the set break and gets the audience shaking their bones. Bruce’s accordion is turned up in the mix, putting a New Orleans jazz twist on the traditional tune. Still, the fireworks really begin next with Playin’ In The Band, again with Bruce and Brent delivering a sweet edge to the rest of the boys’ rocking. By the latter half, things get pretty spacey – running off towards some cosmic meeting point – before coming back around to an Uncle John’s. After each verse in that tune, the boys head right back into interstellar space, but always stay true to the Uncle John’s theme, allowing them to return seamlessly to the lyrics. And instantly after the last chorus, they get back into Playin’, jamming it in a restive, exploratory fashion that is so heady. Drums and Space come next with the latter like some orchestral piece on acid, dripping with intelligence but driven by a warped, weevil-eaten vision. Out of that mind-melting dream comes a light – for such a musically heavy song – version of The Other One. It could be Brent’s twinkling keys that take some of the weightiness out of the tune, but it seems the entire band is playing with a little less might, though it does not suffer for it. And then an almost soporific Stella follows, though it, too, is nothing less than brilliant. After that, they end the set with a Not Fade Away that brings back the feet-stomping goodness of the Aiko opener and mixes in a good deal of the twisted, jamming exploration of the rest of the set. Finally, do not miss the Brokedown encore, always a treat sending the crowd home.
Carter Findley Stadium
Raleigh, North Carolina