I’d never seen the band before. But I’ve been to the Carpenter Center before. It’s a thousand or so seat 1920s theater. I saw Don McLean and Richie Havens there back in 91, and saw magicians Penn & Teller at the Carpenter Center in 2002. I saw the Dead twice last winter, and a couple of dozen times before that, back to the spring of 1986.
There were no more than 500 people in the building, balcony and first floor. Not a bad seat in the house... and it had the feel of a private party. I was on the third row. The sound was good, but the mix could have been better.... With hand signals to someone in the wings, Bob fiddled with the sound/monitors for most of the first set. There was too much Mark Karan guitar and not nearly enough Mark Karan vocals. Kenny Brooks’ sax was also too often lost in the mix. Kenny Brooks--that guy can blow! He blew the room away to end the first set with “Eyes of the World.” But I get ahead of myself....
I really like it when a show begins with “Feel like a Stranger.” “Let’s get on with the Show – let’s go.” Bob’s blues-feel started with “Maggie's Farm” and I love how he does “Minglewood.” “My number one occupation, stealing women from their other men.” The guy next to me didn’t recognize “Josephine.” Lord knows how I did. I’m not very good at remembering the names of songs. And I’m not so sure Bobby was singing all the original words to “Ramble On Rose.” Speaking of... he missed a line in “Maggie’s Farm,” pretended to jog his memory with the neck of his guitar to the side of his head, and then picked up where he left off. I just love that.
I got lost with the Jam and the next couple of tunes, “Matilda Mother > Tomorrow Never Knows > Matilda Mother, She Says” although it was hauntingly familiar, and it wasn’t whatever the guy next to me thought it was. Also, I thought I heard “Truckin” teased somewhere in there. And then they slid into “Eyes of the World” to end the first set. Not bad for more than an hour and a half.
Second set opened with Bob on acoustic and Robin Sylvester on the standup bass. This was only his fourth gig with the band.... Bobby appeared to be showing him a few things, as some of the songs started, but Robin was right in the grove. And the sound was superb on the acoustic tunes... the best version of “Desolation Row” I’ve ever heard anywhere by anyone. Stunning. Amazing. I can’t describe how good it was. “They’re selling postcards to the hanging....”
Bob slipped on his electric for “Truckin,” which reminded me of how cutting-edge the Dead was with their lighting. “Sometimes the lights all shining on me. Other times I can barely see.” Which brought home the fact that the lights never really changed. Follow spots and the basic reds and blues just a step or two up from a bar band.
About this time some stupid kid showed up who appeared to be tripping--bumping into people, climbing on the seats, beating the seat, flailing in all sorts of obtrusive ways and causing all sorts of trouble for everyone around him. But then the moment the show ended, he seemed perfectly straight. What’s wrong with people that they think it’s appropriate to be so rude to others around them?
“Estimated Prophet” was teased early in the jam after “Truckin” and it just smoked. Smoked. Hit that vibe that makes me think the world is perfect. That it’s all connected. And then... “Spanish lady come to me, she lays on me this rose.” And yes, it’s all connected. The vibe “trembles and explodes” and it keeps comin’, comin’, comin’ around. Then “Down, Down, by the docks of the city.”... “I’ll get up and fly away, Fly away” into “Corrina” with just a couple of minutes before they had to go, and after a few seconds of feedback that made Bobby mutter, “make it stop,” the encore was “Johnny B. Goode.” A really, really good choice. Robin Sylvester was singing loud and strong, with an infectious smile.
The last beats, Bobby made a gun of his hand and “shot” at drummer Jay Lane as Jay popped the drum... until he fell over backwards, knocking parts of his kit over. Roadies came out and gave him CPR, in the style of Spinal Tap. Everyone on stage was laughing, and so was I.
I really, really liked that they lined up for a final bow. It makes it more special for all of us. And reminds us that this moment will never come again. After the show, I walked back to my apartment, singing all the way.
Jim Meisner, Jr., Richmond, VA