Twenty years after the Grateful Dead’s last concert with Jerry Garcia, the band that essentially invented the jam said goodbye for good during a three night stand at Soldier Field. Though the entire Independence Day weekend incited a frantic ticket buying frenzy that will likely never be equaled (unless of course the Chicago Bears make it back to the Super Bowl), Sunday’s “Fare Thee Well” 50th anniversary celebration was exceptionally bursting at its seams with Deadheads filling every millimeter of the field, stands and surrounding areas to get one last hit of Haight-Ashbury at its highest.
Even if it seemed like the concert had concluded, an additional return for the acoustically-framed “Attics Of My Life” was perhaps the most ideal way to cap five decades worth of material. Not only could the reflective lyrics “full of cloudy dreams unreal” be directed towards a collective road well traveled, but as pictures of members past and present flashed across the jumbotron, the cheers could’ve practically levitated the stadium.
As was the case during the entire residency, the line-up consisted of original guitarist Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh, dual drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, alongside Trey Anastasio (guitar), Jeff Chimenti (keyboards) and Bruce Hornsby (piano), who turned in two sets that stretched well over three hours chronicling the longest, strangest trip in music history. After kicking off with Anastasio and Hornsby trading leads on “China Cat Sunflower,” the group of alternating vocalists steadily settled into the groove, touching on everything from Weir’s sturdy address of “Estimated Prophet” and Lesh’s more leathery in comparison “Mountains Of The Moon” then back to Weir for the barnburner “Throwing Stones” (putting a muscular end to the first act as everyone danced, twirled and tripped like there was no tomorrow).
Although an hour long intermission could’ve easily been filled with extra music, faithful were treated to a fireworks show that was exponentially better than the city’s official celebration the day before, perfectly paving the way for an explosive second half. The band came back with a bang as Weir led a massive sing-a-long of “Truckin,” Anastasio grooved through “Althea,” while Lesh and Weir swapped verses on the meaty “Terrapin Station.” Hart and Kreutzmann also took extensive time to experiment on the ever-evolving “Drums” (adapting a tribal meets electronic flavor), however everyone’s return for the otherworldly “Space” fell flat by comparison.
Nonetheless, lulls were few and far between as the swansong built to a climax, initially ending with all four singers sharing The Crickets’ stomping “Not Fade Away,” which was continued by the audience long after the guys left the stage (also foreshadowing the Grateful Dead’s cultural fortitude well beyond this sole farewell show). The set list surprises continued in the encore with Anastasio, Hornsby and Weir taking turns on what’s technically the group’s one and only major hit “Touch Of Grey,” though rather than needing to reinforce their popularity, the song was likely selected for its occasion-appropriate lines “I will get by/I will survive.”
Even if it seemed like the concert had concluded, an additional return for the acoustically-framed “Attics Of My Life” was perhaps the most ideal way to cap five decades worth of material. Not only could the reflective lyrics “full of cloudy dreams unreal” be directed towards a collective road well traveled, but as pictures of members past and present flashed across the jumbotron, the cheers could’ve practically levitated the stadium. From there, hugs flowed just as freely as the smoke permeating the air amongst both the survivors on stage and the legions who joined them, concluding with Hart’s ever so succinct message to simply “be kind,” a peace-promoting pinnacle to “Fare Thee Well” that will surely live on in spite of the Grateful Dead being done.