Shakedown in Chicago

Grateful Dead - The Band

Soldier Field - Chicago

July 8-9, 1995

First Appeared in The Music Box, September 1995, Volume 2, #8

Written by John Metzger


Chicago's Soldier Field played host to the final two shows of summer tour, and, little did anyone know, the end of that long strange trip. The scene was huge, as is typical for Soldier Field, with plenty of opportunities for hassle-free shopping. This is quite a rare occurrence these days, but Soldier Field always does a top-notch job at playing host.

The Band opened both evenings with tight but disappointingly similar sets, featuring mainly the hits.  Even so, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, and company put on quite a show. Many hoped for for a collaboration with the Grateful Dead on Masterpiece, The Weight, or some other nice surprise, but unfortunately, none occurred. Very sweet versions of Tears of Rage and Bruce Springsteen's Atlantic City were standouts on both evenings.

On Saturday, the Grateful Dead took the stage and after a bit of tinkering, launched into a triple punch, featuring a thundering Jack Straw, a Sugaree laden with jams, and a boisterous Wang Dang Doodle. Ah, it's good to be in Chicago. Bob Weir really nails the blues tunes here, and this one was no exception! Jerry Garcia added a few guttural growls of his own on backup vocals.

Althea and Queen Jane Approximately were fairly routine, although highly enjoyable. Tennessee Jed featured some major screw-ups on the lyrics, prompting the video crew to lead a "bouncing ball" sing-along on the screens. Eternity soared into the far realms of melodic space with Garcia leading the journey, and it's always a surprise to be led back to earth with the jubilant refrains of Don't Ease Me In.

Saturday's second set had its extreme highs and lows and featured somewhat of a train theme, starting with the opener China Cat Sunflower and I Know You Rider. This pairing is always a winner, both in terms of pleasing the crowd and covering some musical ground. Vince Welnick's latest Beatles' cover It's All Too Much popped up and featured the same psychedelic meanderings as it always does.

Last summer in Las Vegas, the pairing of Saint of Circumstance and Terrapin Station proved to be a show highlight. Unfortunately, this particular pairing paled in comparison. Botched lyrics and missed musical cues were the culprits. Terrapin snaked its way into a solid Drums and Space segment, and as the band found its way into the first post-Space song, it wandered through Days Between and China Doll before landing squarely in the swirling swarm of The Other One. The group certainly had returned in full-force. After a quick conclusion, another decision needed to be made, and it proved difficult as shades of Wharf Rat, Black Peter, and Brokedown Palace(!) floated by. Finally, the first chords of one of the highlights of the entire tour rang out from Garcia's guitar, and Visions of Johanna succeeded in conquering my mind. This was as picture-perfect as it gets.

Beautiful music combined with impassioned, confident singing made this a moment I will never, ever forget. Garcia sang, "Inside the museum, infinity goes up on trial. Voices echo, ‘this is what salvation must be like after awhile.' But Mona Lisa must have had the highway blues you can tell by the way she smiles", raising his right hand into the air to make his point. The moment was truly electric (and there were many others throughout the song) as energy flowed through my body causing every hair to stand on end. This must be heaven ‘cause here's where the rainbow ends. Everything fit into its proper place.

A bouncin' One More Saturday Night closed out the set. On the encore U.S. Blues, Garcia was a bit frustrated by his inability to remember the lyrics and decided instead to just play, unleashing some of his anger with some nasty guitar strums.

On Sunday, the short, but sweet, first set started with a bouncing Touch of Grey which was followed by a tight Little Red Rooster. Yet another fantastic version of Lazy River Road followed. Garcia's guitar solo was quite different from the one he played at Auburn Hills, but was equally as good. Masterpiece featured Weir fiddling endlessly with his acoustic guitar, and Phil Lesh stepped up to the plate for his first song of the night Childhood's End, which unusually served as a highlight and inspiration for the first set. Quick versions of Cumberland Blues and Promised Land closed out the initial half of the concert, but they certainly got the audience up and moving!

During the set break, several balloon chains were formed and began to float around the stadium. Even though the Dead had just performed Unbroken Chain in St. Louis, there was hope that Lesh would somehow notice and find it in his heart to grant a final request. When the band finally returned, it began tuning to Help on the Way, though this mutated quickly as it settled down to open the second set from the launching pad of Shakedown Street. Hearing it in the second set was quite a treat, and it always indicates strange things to come.  Despite the poor vocals, the music soared way out into the nether regions before colliding with a powerful Samson & Delilah.  Sensing a need for release, Garcia slowed things way down for a flawless rendition of So Many Roads. He reached deep inside his soul to give the song a world-weary, but touching vocal treatment with astonishing sincerity. He screamed, "So many roads to ease my soul" over and over as if searching for some answer that remained elusive.

Samba in the Rain and Corina were fairly routine and drifted off into another fine Drums and Space pairing with Mickey Hart and Billy Kreutzmann pounding out rhythm after inspirational rhythm. Just when it seemed as if Unbroken Chain would never happen, it broke free from the mayhem. Those first notes from Lesh caused everyone to leap into the air with glee. Twenty-one years in the making, and it was worth the wait. The vocals were tight, and Lesh's bass playing was amazing.  The set closed with what has become a rather routine final tune Sugar Magnolia, but this version was incredible. After the joy of Unbroken Chain, the momentum reached one hell of a climax before collapsing in exhaustion at the conclusion of Sunshine Daydream.

The Grateful Dead returned fairly quickly, and proceeded to launch into an eerie rendition of Black Muddy River.  It was perfect, and once again Garcia touched something deep inside his soul.  In hindsight, the performance is even sadder, but even then, there was  a sense that everyone wanted something more.  Fortunately, the band was happy to oblige. Lesh belted out an unprecedented third song of the night, a beautiful Box of Rain. The annual Soldier Field fireworks show concluded Summer Tour to Jimi Hendrix's rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.

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Copyright © 1995 The Music Box