Attending Dead shows is like riding a bike: you never forget how to do it, you try to remember enjoying the ride, but you also hope not to crash and burn (always a possibility). So, as a veteran bicyclist Deadhead (somewhere around 170 shows, though none since Jerry Garcia's 1995 passing), it was interesting to look out at the sold-out crowd gathered for the opening of the Dead's reunion tour at the Greensboro Coliseum on Easter Sunday and see how the novices took in the scene.
They were hardly a majority, but they stood out — sometimes by their age, more often by their ears (a delayed recognition of songs, only passing attention to the jams that are the Dead's raison d'etre). They'd sing along heartily to "He's Gone," which inevitably evoked the late great Garcia, whom they may never have spent time in an arena with; but when it came time to the ensuing blues groove, on which erstwhile Allman Brother and Gov't Mule Warren Haynes proved himself far more than just Jerry's stand-in, they'd be back to chatting and basking in the smells and colors.
The newbies could be forgiven their sensory overload, though. The energy of the occasion howled "Welcome Back!" with a wonderful insistence. From the legendary parking lot scene, with its minimal decadent evolution, still flaunting shwag, shwarma and 'shrooms; to the friendly Coliseum staff, fluent in the ways and means of the tie-dyed, helping attendees avoid authoritarian hassles (there were no repeats of the mass arrests that apparently plagued last month's Phish reunion in Hampton, Virginia), this small patch of Greensboro, NC turned into a psychedelic playpen.
And, yes, the band did rise again, and rise to the occasion, obviously relishing the moment. Opening with Bob Weir's "Music Never Stopped" was inspired; leading "He's Gone" into "Touch of Grey" (sung by Weir and Haynes) spoke to the core audience about survival; and by the middle of the second set, stacked with old classics like "Caution," "Cosmic Charlie" and "New Potato Caboose," songs they had long stopped performing with Garcia, the comfort level seemed complete. Bassist Phil Lesh is still the MF man, and when the free flights of musical fancy were taken, as they were all evening long, the to-and-from between him, Weir, Haynes and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti opened up one possibility after another. Missing their Captain or not, the Dead made creating an honest-to-goodness great Dead show seem as effortless and unforgettable as attending one had long been.
"Music Never Stopped"
"Touch of Grey"
"I Need a Miracle"
"All Along the Watchtower"
"Caution (Do Not Step on the Tracks)"
"New Potato Caboose"
"Help on the Way"
E: "Samson & Delilah"