Sam Boyd Silver Bowl
This review originally appeared in Whatzup Magazine, June 1995
The Grateful Dead have made the Las Vegas trek an annual event that usually falls on a week-end in late May. A big factor taken into consideration is the weather, which is fairly mild on the high desert around this time of year. Last year, however, the Dead delayed their appearance until June, and the unbearable heat drove a lot of Deadheads back to their air-conditioned hotel rooms on the strip.
In 1993, hail and lightening created a different type of refuge resulting in nothing less but chaos. Given the unpredictability of the weather this year, just about anything could have happened. As it turned out, the week-end of May 19-21 brought out the sunshine with a pleasant breeze in the air.
Celebrating their 30th year before an estimated 80,000 fans over the three day engagement, the Dead proved once again the music will never stop as long as more people get on the bus and enjoy this long, strange trip. Given the maverick, unconventional attributes of the Dead in Vegas, one would think this would be a marriage made in heaven. The Dead bring along a carnival of merrymakers, bent on revery,celebration and mind expansion via drugs and other well known intoxicants. Vegas is a town of transients, offering gambling, sex and alcohol 24 hours a day. They are like two missing pieces to a puzzle of nonconformity. But that isn't to say there isn't a little friction.
Because some of the Deadheads are somewhat impoverished and prone to soil up after following the band across the country, the people of Las Vegas often cast a dower eye upon the whole event. A few of the faithful decide to camp out in front of the hotels instead of in the hotels prompting some Vegas officials to sight the whole brigade a "pack of freaked out bums." Of course, they fail to mention that a lot of the hotels are solidly booked for the event by the large segment of well-to-do Deadheads; that a bountiful amount of revenue is generated for the city; and that despite their disheveled lifestyle, there's nary an incident of vandalism or violence.
Unfortunately, there was a confrontation of sorts after the show on Saturday night. Apparently, some of the more festive Deadheads didn't want the party to end and refused to leave the Silver Bowl parking lot. Las Vegas police, sensing further resistance, decided to douse the fans with a little pepper spray. There were even reports of rioting and physical exchanges. Given the whimsical nature of Grateful Dead fans, this hardly seems plausible. But, as with any movement, there's liable to be a few bad apples who might have provoked the officers into enacting such desperate measures. The truth may never be known.
During show time, cooperation was seemingly more evident. As clouds heavy with the scent of marijuana drifted aimlessly over the stadium, the capacity crowd greeted the band with a barrage of enthusiasm. For first timers, just being in the middle of a Dead show can be a mind altering experience. For veterans, it's more of a case of which songs get played and how well they are executed.
Attending a three day event like this is akin to attending a three game series between two ball clubs. One day may fair better than the other. A bad start could turn into a victorious comeback. Fans keep score by writing down the songs, the dates, the times, who did what, rating and comparing performances. A group of enterprising "tapers," positioned behind the sound board, raise their microphones in the air in hope of capturing a great sounding recording.
Due to set variation from day to day, three shows can be like one big, long show. Regardless, it is all what sets the Grateful Dead and their legion of followers apart from other bands and their fans.
In Vegas, there were indeed many special moments. On Friday the 19th, the band kicked in with a crowd pleasing "Picasso Moon." Other highlights included the funk and blues number, "Wang Dang Doodle," a rousing "Playing In The Band," and the dramatic "Standing On The Moon."
The band was apparently just warming up for the week-end as Saturday the 20th opened up with a strong "Mississippi Half Step Toodeloo." The second set rose to the occasion. Launching in to an early favorite, "China Cat Sunflower," the music melted and weaved its way into a number of styles before falling into a classic Dead sing-a-long, "I Know You Rider." Believe it or not, the Dead, as they do on rare occasion, played their most popular song, "Truckin'." Although not a particularly strong version by seasoned Deadheads' standards, it was certainly enough to get the stadium moving. Finishing off with "One More Saturday Night" more or less ended the evening on a happy and high note.
The third and final show on Sunday was by far the best of the three. Opening up with "Jack Straw" definitely set the pace as the band served up a rockin' blues-tinged set that included "Little Red Rooster" and Dylan's "Tom Thumb Blues." The second set marked the west coast debut of Phil Leshs' "Unbroken Chain," a 22 year-old gem the Dead have finally decided to play live after years of overwhelming inquiries from rabid occupants of "The Phil Zone." The entire performance climaxed with the Garcia/Hunter epic, "The Days Between," a classic in its own right despite the fact that the Dead have yet to release it commercially. It, like several other tunes scattered through the week-end, will appear on the Dead's upcoming album, scheduled for release sometime before the end of the millennium. A well know FM staple, "Sugar Magnolia," closed the show.
Newcomers, The Dave Matthews Band opened for all three days. With an album in the top twenty, Matthews and company successfully won over the Deadheads with their blend of folk rock and bluegrass.
It remains to be seen whether or not the Grateful Dead will return to Vegas in 1996 (editor's note: they didn't). For even as the city's officials seem to rant and rave about banning the group and its followers from ever setting foot into their precious town, the hotels don't seem to have much of a problem bumping up the rates of their rooms for the week-end. And they would certainly wouldn't object to taking reservations for next year.
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