The Forum, Los Angeles, CA, 12/27/19 FLAC
As the final months of 2019 rolled around, West Coast Dead Heads, who had been looking on with some of envy as Dead & Company played their Fall Fun Run at the other end of the country, were overjoyed to receive the news they'd been so eagerly anticipating: that the band would honor one of the most cherished of all Grateful Dead traditions by doing that ring-out-the-old/ring-in-the-new thing with a New Year's run in the place that gave the Dead life, the San Francisco Bay Area. Meanwhile, down in Southern California, members of the tribe had their own reason to celebrate, as they learned they wouldn't be left out of the fun – Dead and Co. would warm up for the seasonal festivities with a pair of shows at The Forum, located in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood. The Forum had quite a storied history – built in the late 1960s, it ruled the roost as the area's premier sports and concert venue for more than three decades. It was probably most famous as the home of the NBA's Lakers during some of that team's greatest years, featuring such iconic stars as Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson. But the venue also hosted scores of music's greatest performers in its glory days, including the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, The Jackson 5, Prince and countless others. Oh, some guys called the Grateful Dead played a modest number of times there, too – 7 shows between 1977 and 1989 – as did such post-GD configurations as the Dead and, for a pair of New Year's shows in 2015, Dead & Company. The Forum experienced something of a decline after the principal tenants, the Lakers and the NHL's Kings, abandoned Inglewood for downtown L.A., where the state-of-the-art Staples Center could offer luxury boxes and other standard amenities of the 21st century entertainment/industrial complex. For a while the building was owned by an evangelical megachurch, and it looked like its days as a prestigious music destination were numbered, and there was talk that its most likely fate would involve a wrecking ball. But in 2012, new owners stepped up and bought the Forum, making good on a commitment to give the nearly half-century-old venue a major overhaul and modernization, and major concerts soon began to return in steadily increasing numbers. So, it looks like it'll be a while before anyone tries to tear that old building down. A good thing, too, as the Forum provided an ideal atmosphere for Dead & Company's penultimate run of the soon-to-depart year.
Night one open with a bit of the musical sleight-of-hand that's become a hallmark of Dead & Company's approach. The band starts with a gentle, intriguingly nebulous instrumental conversation that sounds like it might become ""Bird Song."" But just when we think we're being taken on that gentle flight, the rhythm becomes decidedly more earthy and explicit, and a roar goes up from the crowd as the unmistakable intro to ""Truckin'"" announces itself in no uncertain terms. The table is set for a varied feast of a first set, moving effortlessly from flat-out rockers to improvisational excursions with all the stops between, with highlights including ""Alabama Getaway,"" ""They Love Each Other,"" ""Cassidy"" and, to close it out, one stretching way back in Dead pre-history, ""Don't Ease Me In.""
Like the first half, the second begins with some of that appealing ""where's this going?"" mystery, before the threads of the developing jam come together in the opening figure to ""Playing In The Band."" As it has so often in its five-decade history, the song's 10/4 time signature (courtesy of Mickey Hart's introduction of a pattern called ""The Main Ten"" back in 1969), perfectly wedded to Bob Weir's chords and melody and Robert Hunter's visionary lyrics serve to provide a gateway to extended and deeply satisfying collective invention by the entire band, and eventually take us to the imposing edifice that is ""Terrapin Station."" From the grand final crescendo of that majestic work emerges a Jeff Chimenti piano intro to one of the most moving Hunter-Garcia collaborations, ""China Doll,"" made even more poignant by Oteil Burbridge's beautiful vocal interpretation. From that contemplative place, things quickly shift to the irresistibly driving rhythm and intense ensemble playing of Bob Weir's musical memoir of life as a teenage Prankster, ""The Other One."" The unabashed psychedelia continues in a wild Drums sequence, morphing into a swinging Space excursion. An exceptional ""Wharf Rat,"" followed by a churning ""U.S. Blues,"" close the set before the band returns with a sweet ""Ripple"" encore.