The Dead, 5/9/09 L.A. Forum, Ingelwood, CAI was excited about my first West Coast Dead show after attending 46 Grateful Dead shows from 1987 through 1995... all but one on the East Coast or in the South. Last May, Nicky and I caught Phil Lesh & Friends play a gig at the Greek Theatre, but that was the closest I came to capturing a glimpse of what a Dead show would have been like in California.
Set 1: Viola Lee Blues > Bertha > Viola Lee Blues > Caution > Viola Lee Blues, Black Peter, Cosmic Charlie
Set 2: Shakedown Street > New Speedway Boogie > Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain > Drums > Space > Dark Star > Wharf Rat > Dark Star > Satisfaction
Encore: Donor Rap, One More Saturday Night
I finally had my chance. This was my fifth or sixth show seeing The Dead/The Other Ones grouping. After more than a dozen or so shows already performed on this tour, I had a good indication on the vibe of Dead shows based on personal accounts from friends who attended the shows on the East Coast and from listening to a few shows including the simulcast from Philly a couple of weekends ago. Regardless, I went to the Forum with very low expectations. I'm glad that I did because I was pleasantly surprised.
Getting to the show was a slight pain-in-the-ass. Traffic. LA. Uuggh. I blame myself for not giving us more of a cushion. Alas, Nicky and I both had work-related stuff and did not have a chance to show up at the Forum early and hang out in Shakedown. We rolled up a little later and we go stuck parking in the $20 lot in front of the Hollywood Park racetrack. As we parked, a guy in a tie-dye holding a nitrous balloon in his mouth took a piss in between two cars.
The line to get into the venue was confusing. It seemed like two lines were criss-crossing in opposite directions and lots of people were cutting the slow-as-fuck moving line. The lack of available entrances slowed down the entire process. We were inline around 7:15pm and didn't get to our seats until 8:10pm.
While standing outside, we heard the show start and the gang kicked off with Viola Lee Blues. By the time we reached the security check, the opening lyrics of Bertha floated out through the open doors. We finally got inside and realized that were went into the wrong entrance. We navigated through a dense crowd in the hallways and then used the narrow inner walkway inside the venue to reach our section. At that point, the Dead segued back into Viola Lee Blues which they wove in and out of the entire first set. By the time we found our seats and fired up, they were in the middle of a dissonant jam. Sort of muddled and a clusterfuck, much like the previous hour of my life trying to get inside.
I was unimpressed with Caution, but I appreciated the significance of the old school song. I smoked tough and patiently waited for them to return to the final verse of Viola Lee Blues. I had mixed-feelings of Black Peter. It made me miss Jerry and I wanted to hear the song, but I felt it was poorly executed. Just when I was completely bumming out about the first set, they closed with Cosmic Charlie. Talk about a set/show saver. Sort of like watching your favorite football get blown out in the first half and then miraculously score a touchdown on the last play to go into halftime with momentum.
I thought that the Forum was ill-equipped for the show based on the logistical issues of getting people inside in a timely matter. And then they ran out of bottled water. Everywhere I looked during the setbreak, I was shutout. I had to settle on a couple of Dos Equis, which cost me $20. Blah.
During the setbreak, we spotted a guy a couple of rows in front of us. He was in his mid-50s with white hair and glasses. He looked a bit like Dick Cheney, except he had his t-shirt off and wandered around shirtless and clutched two glowsticks. It looked a lot like the guy was rolling for the first time (the signs were all there... glowsticks + shirtless = roll kicked in). I begged him to keep his pants on.
I did not like Set 1. It was a C+ and that's because Cosmic Charlie saved it. However, the band built off the momentum from Charlie and the second set was substantially better than the first set. It was like two different bands were up on stage. A funk-driven Shakedown Street perked everyone up. I gotta admit that I was happy they saved it for the second set. And the New Speedway Boogie sorta came out of nowhere. I wasn't expecting it and was more than thrilled because it's easily one of my top 10 Grateful Dead songs.
The crowd erupted for a second time in the second set after the jam out of Boogie when they got teases of the first few notes to Scarlet Begonias. At that point, through the first three songs of the second set, the band more than made up from their not-so-stellar performance in the first set. Once they segued into Fire on the Mountain, I forgot all about the mediocrity from just an hour earlier.
I told Nicky that Drums > Space segments of Grateful Dead shows was the part where people who were on really bad acid freaked the fuck out, or if you were riding high on on sensational psychedelics then you loved every single beat. We sat down and smoked tough. There was a lesbian in military fatigues with a crew cut sitting next to us. I should say, she was passed out in the seat next to us. Out cold. I saw a lot of that. Lots of older heads who forgot their age and tried to party like it was
Just at the moment when the band pulled out of space, one drunk guy in our section screamed, "Pride of Cucamonga!" Alas, the band slowly noodled into Dark Star and then jammed into Wharf Rat with both Bobby and Warren Haynes sharing verses. Warren sang the "motherfucking crime" lyric and I howled. At my last ever Grateful Dead show at the Meadowlands, their version of Wharf Rat was absolutely atrocious. I think Jerry was super-smacked out that day and had no idea what the hell was going on.
They finished up Dark Star and I heard a few licks to what sounded like Satisfaction. I know that they played the Rolling Stones cover on back East so I was pretty confident that they were snaking their way out of the Dark Star jam and into Satisfaction. Usually, I loathe Bobby when he cheeses out... but this instance... he was alright. Nice work, Bobby. Loved Warren's solo on that. The entire Forum was dancing and grooving at that point, well, everyone except the passed out militant lesbian next to Nicky. She was so far gone that even a bong-rattling cover of Satisfaction could not shake her from a coma.
The second set? Smoking. I saw some Grateful Dead shows circa 1993-94 that were craptacular, so I was impressed with the song selection and execution of the second set in L.A.
As expected, Phil Lesh spoke about organ donations before they played a one song encore... One More Saturday Night. It was a rocking version, but the biggest disappointment? Where was West L.A. Fadeway? I was hoping for a West LA > Sat Nite to cap off the show, but you know what? After that delicious second set, how could I complain.
The band took a bow to a thunderous applause and they reminded us to remember what it felt like to experience the vibes, excitement, and pleasantness of the concert. They said, "It feels good. Take it home and do something good with that."
As we walked out, a group of paramedics rushed past us with a stretcher. Uh oh, someone was going to wake up in the hospital. Next time, just snort one line of molly... and not two.
We wandered through the last remnants of Shakedown. A spun-out wookie offered to sell us nugs and doses. We had plenty of medicinal marijuana and I wasn't about to buy bunk doses off the spunster. Nicky marveled at all the stray tour dogs that meandered through Shakedown and the influx of baby strollers that heady mommas where pushing around after the show.
Yeah, to sum up... hectic arrival. Blah first set saved by Cosmic Charlie. Second set was rocking and that's what I remember the most... the crowd going apeshit during Shakedown and Scarlet. Biggest complaint? Less Bobby and more Phil.
Am evening with The Dead is what you make of it. For me? I had a fun Saturday night.
Editor's Note: This post originally appeared on Coventry Music Blog.