Relix Revisted: The Final Grateful Dead Shows, Solider Field, Chicago, July 8 and 9, 1995

Patrick Russell on July 15, 2010

It Sure Has Been A Long, Hard Ride…

Just over 15 years ago, the Grateful Dead performed their final shows. Exactly one month after their final night in Chicago, Jerry Garcia passed away. As for the summer tour itself, it was a tumultuous affair marked by multiple gate crashing incidents. The last two nights at Soldier Field were reviewed for Relix (and published just prior to Garcia’s death). Here is a look at those final two performances, as originally published in the magazine._

The city of Chicago played host to the final shows of the Grateful Dead’s star-crossed Summer Tour ‘95. After the inordinate amount of trouble and, let’s face it folks, disaster – both man-made and natural – the Soldier Field stand was lucky to be unmarred by any major incidents. The scene has really become choked by a severe lack of perspective as of late, and perhaps it was time for a firestorm like the events of the last few weeks to sweep through and burn off some of the dead wood.

Is this a new beginning or the beginning of the end? Well, as six fairly prominent members of our little nomadic community so aptly put in the letter that made its rounds in St. Louis and Chicago, it’s all up to us. The ball’s in our court.

I realize that the band prefers the parking lot festivities be completely eliminated. This may seem like an unattainable goal, so perhaps a more direct approach is needed. A cursory post-show ground sweep of the lot will show that the primary glut of trash these days tends to consist of balloons and bottles. Ask yourselves seriously, how responsible can you realistically expect to remain when you’re drunk or getting’ yer wah-wahs out?

Losing the booze and the gas, while not necessarily the ultimate cure for our ills, would be, in the long-run, a surprisingly lengthy stride in the right direction – the only direction left to us at this point. We know what we should do, now let’s get back to what the band did.

The shows: They ranged from painful to spectacular, often leaping immediately from one extreme to the other. Jerry, in particular, seemed distracted much of the time. Aside from the moments when he was in the Zone and losing himself in the music, Jerry looked like he really just wanted to go home and forget all this. And, quite honestly, who can blame him one bit for that? Fortunately, there was plenty in both shows to make up for Jerry’s bad moments.

The first show opened with an excellent “Jack Straw.” This is one tune that suffers if it’s not wound up tight enough, and this one seemed to have a good amount of tension. The mid-song jam was hot! The “Sugaree” that followed started off a bit rusty, but a little WD-40 and they were off! It was a laid-back version with some very precise soloing from Garcia and some energetic vocals to finish.

Chicago? Blues? “Wang Dang Doodle!” This one was a lot of fun, as always, with Jerry almost scat-singing the “All night long” verses at the end. A slinky “Althea” was next. Jerry seems to be getting the old B.B. King syndrome in his old age…he can either play or sing. “Althea” was a player. “I told Alth…hmm, hmm, I was, dum, dum, dum, dee…” A nice “Queen Jae Approximately” was followed by a bouncy “Tennessee Jed,” with the words to the chorus displayed on the video screens (sans little bouncing balls) to the amusement of everyone.

“Eternity” was a personal highlight of set one. This has shown amazing growth in a year-and-a-half, perhaps having benefited from recent appearances in the depths of the second set. Here’s hoping for an extended version on the forthcoming album. “Don’t Ease Me In” got a big cheer and had everyone up and dancing. What a rockin’ version!

The second set opened with a fair-to-middin’ “China>Rider.” Jerry blew words like soap bubbles and there were a fair amount of instrumental bungles, but it was still a ragged sort of fun. Another right, shining “It’s All Too Much” followed. Vince has a good Beatlesque voice and impeccable taste in choosing Beatles’ material to cover. He tends to latch onto tunes that are just obscure enough to let him make them his own.

Then came one of the best versions of “Saint Of Circumstance” that I’ve heard in many moons. This is another one that often suffers from meandering guitar lines, but like “Jack Straw,” this was just perfect. “Terrapin Station” was a half-and-half affair, with the schwag floating to the top and the cream hiding beneath. The first half of the song was, to put it kindly, a mess. Butchered words and butterfingered playing had me not so much grooving as cringing, but then somewhere about halfway to the station, Jerry finally showed up and led us the rest of the way in relative style and comfort, ending up in a fast-paced post-song jam that nobody could seem to get enough of.

The Rhythm Devils finally took over and went nuts. For all you Trekkers out there, Billy and Mickey said “screw the treaty” and took us across the Neutral Zone. Soldier Field shook with Romulan and Klingon battle drums and things looked rather hairy for a bit, but hey…we’ve got a pissed off Vulcan on our side! Back off, eh? We ended up on a water planet, and the ensuing Space was gentle and soothing.

So where exactly did the “The Other One” come from? It didn’t quite seem to fit that particular space, and though it wasn’t the best one I’ve seen, its slow pace made it a good intro for – “Stella Blue?” No… “Black Peter!” Almost. “Wharf Rat?” … “VISIONS OF JOHANNA!!” This was truly a diamond in the rough, as Jerry played and sang with precision, emotion and oomph. Amazing! Why hadn’t this level of showmanship been there all evening? No matter, it was here now!

There have never been so many people looking for tickets at a Soldier Field show as there were on Sunday night. One twisted young lady actually held a mini-auction for her extra and had the drooling massed up to 65 bucks! Imagine the possibilities if she had only had a flaming hoop.

Saturday, I had been late getting inside and missed The Band’s set, so Sunday I made an effort to arrive a bit earlier. They were in full swing by the time I got in, but I did get to hear a few tunes including a very electric “The Weight” and good ol’ “Cripple Creek.” The Band sounded good…hotter than I expected. Well worth seeing.

The Dead’s first set was standard last-show-of-the-tour far, but it had its moments. “Touch of Grey” saw a continuation of Jerry’s lackadaisical vocal work from the night before, but it also featured a third round of “We will get by!” to close the song. It was a rallying cry that put many of our minds a little more at ease. After “Little Red Rooster” we got a nice “Lazy River Road.” Sweet! Bob then gave us the annual Soldier Field “When I Paint My Masterpiece.” It was a decent version with Bob putting a big ol’ punch on the line “Well it sure has been a long…hard…ride.” Amen!

A short “Happy Trails” tease led into the first part of what would prove to be a unique Phil Lesh three-fer. “Childhood’s End” was gorgeous with Phil’s voice sounding stronger than ever. A rather mellow version of the rare “Cumberland Blues” put smiles on us all, as did Weir’s comic lyrical flubs on the “Promised Land” closer. He blew one line and smacked his forehead to a stadium full of good-natured jeers, then got to laughing so hard that he blew another line!

“Shakedown>Samson” opened the second set. Yowsa! Of course, Jerry made meatloaf out of the lyrics for the most part, but the jamming was exceptional and set the energy level for most of the rest of the set. “Samson & Delilah” growled as it usually does, and “So Many Roads” followed. The main body of the song was exquisite, the vocal climax unbelievable. I haven’t heard Jerry sing with that much soul for a long time. It literally hit emotional levels usually reserved for the likes of “Morning Dew.”

Evidently Chicago’s close proximately to Wisconsin had visions of cheese dancing in the boys’ heads because next up was a double decker dose of cheddar. Not being of the opinion that the new songs automatically suck (I like most of them…not all of them), “Samba In The Rain” and “Corrina” weren’t played badly at all. It’s just that they’re both basically set up horizontally and don’t have a lot of vertical range in terms of jamming, key changes, etc. And neither song has the most inspirational lyrics in the word. BUT…if you don’t eat your cheese, you can’t have any pudding.

After another demented Drums workout, a Space developed that was decidedly “Wheel” -ish. Then, from out of nowhere, came something amazingly unexpected. I believe that this was the first time “Unbroken Chain” has come out of Space. The mid-song jam has come a long way in just a few months, and it was fun to watch Phil physically orchestrating it. At one point, he literally leapt into a crouch with his palm down to signal a sudden drop to pianissimo for the closing verses. Well played and sung. “Sugar Magnolia” was completely on fire, and Bob put his all into his final vocal gymnastics…an above average version to cap off the final set of the tour.

One of the two encores was expected – “Brokedown Palace” if they were feeling nostalgic, or more likely, “I Fought the Law” if they were in an editorial mood. What we got, however was a beautiful “Black Muddy River” (see what can happen to even the most overplayed song if you shelve it for a while?) followed by Phil’s third song of the night, “Box of Rain.” We were ecstatic – and boy, did Phil belt it out!!

Then the evening/stand/tour culminated in one of the best fireworks displays in ages. After all we had gone through this tour, the band sent us home in style. It was as if they were saying, “You may have just witnessed the last show of our final Summer Tour. If so, take this with you and open it up now, and always remember.”