The second of three final Grateful Dead “Fare Thee Well” 50th-anniversary celebrations at Soldier Field in Chicago, IL in 2015 was something of a paradox. In the first night’s program, David Crosby shared his sentiments about the Dead. “The Byrds were anti-Hollywood in Hollywood, but I just loved how anti-establishment the Dead were.” While the anti-establishment sentiment certainly remains embedded in the music and the minds, after 50 years, the Dead’s legacy outgrew its countercultural roots and became, well, American.

If anything affirmed the Grateful Dead’s place in American history, it was their July 4th performance. The band is still truly something to behold, conjuring the disco vibes of “Shakedown Street”, the country twang of “Tennessee Jed”, the straight down blues of “Little Red Rooster”, the pure Americana folk of “Friend of the Devil” – and that was all from set one.

The show started with a “Shakedown Street”, firing everyone up for an early energizing performance. The band was loose from the getgo, with Bruce Hornsby dabbling elegantly on the ivories. “Liberty” followed suit, a soulful celebration of all things America. “Standing On The Moon” saw Trey Anastasio taking lead vocals for the first time, but the slowed down moment quickly jolted back to life with a folksy “Me & My Uncle”. Bob Weir was on fire throughout the night, with the guitarist taking the singing duties for a majority of the show.

“Shakedown Street” – 7/4/2015

[Video: oceanbearproductions]

Next up was “Tennessee Jed”, easily one of the first highlights of this second night. Anastasio’s leads were simply unparalleled as the band continued to roll through the Americana celebration. Hopping from Santa Fe (in “Uncle”) to Tennessee, the band then drove the concert out to Cumberland for the first repeated song of the run, “Cumberland Blues”. I defy you to find a person in the 70,000 that wasn’t singing along.

“Little Red Rooster” came up next, another chance for Weir to display his growling, howling vocals. The band (most likely) performed “Rooster” at their very first show in 1965, and it was on the setlist for their last-ever performance at Soldier Field in 1995. The blues standard then went into a folk standard, Garcia’s own “Friend of the Devil”. Phil Lesh handled vocal duties for the uptempo rendition of the American Beauty classic, before the band went full on party mode on the first set’s final number, “Deal”. Jam-packed, the fans were certainly ready for more.

“Little Red Rooster” – 7/4/2015

[Video: Ryan Kleinberg]

While the first set had overtones of an American celebration, the second was certainly a celebration of all things Grateful. “Bird Song” opened the set, a long flowing rendition that captured the freedom and energy of the classic Dead tune. The middle of the set featured a number of obscurities, starting with the 1967 tune “The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)”. The song was penned about the hippie scene in San Francisco, and its revival was welcomed by the masses.

They kept things going with Weir’s song “Lost Sailor”, which hadn’t been played by the Dead since 1986. Just like old times, they combined the forlorn Weir tune with “Saint of Circumstance”, leading to some wonderful opportunities for the band to lose themselves in the music. Jeff Chimenti kept things grooving on organ while Anastasio fired away on his leads.

As the song ended, the band went into the ever-funky “West L.A. Fadeaway”. This was my third time seeing the song in 24 hours (Karl Denson had performed it the night before, and Pink Talking Fish jammed on it during the pre-party), but nothing can top the thick jams that the Dead laid down on the bluesy staple. Hornsby took the lead on vocals, and showed off his chops on the piano. It was a bona fide dance party.

Next it was Anastasio, who took the mike for “Foolish Heart”. The Built to Last (1989) number slowed things down for an emotional moment, before Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart went to work for an impressive “Drums” segment. The tribal rhythms created some exciting energy, capped off by smashing beats on overpowering drums. As the band rejoined for “Space”, the sheer weirdness carried on for a large chunk of time. It was a celebration of chaos.

“Foolish Heart” – 7/4/2015

[Video: Brian Sharpe]

Of course, the chaos settled into order with a slow, soulful version of “Stella Blue”. Bob Weir took the vocals on the Jerry Garcia classic, practically choking back tears as he opened the song “All the years combined, melt into a dream…” This was clearly the band’s moment to honor their fallen brothers, a powerful opportunity that tugged on the heart strings of everyone listening. Anastasio’s soloing was on point, rising and falling with the occasion.

“Stella Blue”

[Video: mmmphish1]

Weir closed the set on a high note, playing the expected “One More Saturday Night” to round out a spacey performance at Soldier Field. The band had a couple more tricks up their sleeve, however, as the encore performance of “U.S. Blues” was actually coordinated with a light show at the Empire State Building. No, really.

To cap it all off, Soldier Field displayed extraordinary fireworks immediately following the band’s final notes. The fans watched in awe as the incredible spectacle lit the night-time sky. The band was never more paradoxical than at this moment, delivering an anti-establishment tune that synchronized with an American landmark, on American Independence Day no less, and capping it off with a dazzling fireworks display for the holiday. It seems that the July 4th “Fare Thee Well” performance will lie somewhere between “American” and “Grateful Dead”, and maybe that’s okay. Why can’t it be both?

Post-Concert 4th Of July Fireworks

[Video: oceanbearproductions]

However you want to view the performance, it’s certainly was an extraordinary effort from all seven musicians on stage. They’ll do it one more time, tonight, for the Dead’s final show at Soldier Field.

Watch the full first set below.

Grateful Dead – Fare Thee Well – 7/4/2016

[Video: LazyLightning55a]

Setlist: Grateful Dead ‘Fare Thee Well’ | Soldier Field | Chicago, IL | 7/4/2015

Set One: Shakedown Street, Liberty, Standing On The Moon, Me & My Uncle, Tennessee Jed, Cumberland Blues, Little Red Rooster, Friend Of The Devil, Deal

Set Two: Bird Song, The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion), Lost Sailor > Saint Of Circumstance, West L.A. Fadeaway, Foolish Heart, Drums > Space > Stella Blue > One More Saturday Night

Encore: U.S. Blues