Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls, OH 6/28/17 (Live) Digital
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Contrary to what some condescending types on either coast might tell you, the state of Ohio is anything but “flyover country” when it comes to its role in the history of Rock & Roll, Soul, Funk and just about every other musical genre imaginable. The list of bands and individual artists that started out in the Buckeye State is long, varied and impressive, including Chrissie Hynde, The Isley Brothers, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Joe Walsh, The Moonglows, Devo, Bootsy Collins, the O’Jays, The National, Tracy Chapman, The Black Keys… well, you get the idea, and the list goes on and on. It’s widely thought that pioneering radio DJ Alan Freed first applied the name “Rock ‘n’ Roll” to the emerging genre while on the air in Cleveland, which is part of the reason that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum chose the city as its permanent home. The Grateful Dead were enshrined in said institution in 1993 but had long before that compiled their own fair share of history in the state. The Dead played some 48 shows in Ohio between 1968 and 1994, placing it high on the list of places visited most often by the band. Dead & Company has continued in the same spirit, making the Blossom Music Center (about 20 miles north of the great rock ‘n’ roll town of Akron) its penultimate stop on the Summer tour of 2017, with just two more shows in Chicago to go.
The band bursts right out of the gate with a scorching version of ‘’Hell In A Bucket,” and keeps things cooking with a terrific “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” featuring some especially inspired guitar-and-piano trading between John Mayer and Jeff Chimenti. As a change of pace, the band next delivers back-to-back renditions of two underrated gems in the Dead songbook: Bob Weir and John Barlow’s “Black-Throated Wind” and Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter’s “Row Jimmy.” Another Weir-Barlow favorite, “Cassidy,” provides fertile ground for improvisational interplay before the band closes the set with a tune that goes back to the Dead’s jug band roots: “Big Railroad Blues,” the Noah Lewis composition originally recorded by Cannon’s Jug Stompers in 1928.
Hearing a crowd erupt in joy at the unmistakable opening notes of “China Cat Sunflower” always bodes well for a great second set, and that’s certainly the case here. There have been some examples of Dead & Company confounding expectations by not going into the expected follow-up, “I Know You Rider,” but in this case, they decide to leave the tried-and-true combo intact – well, until they approach end of “Rider,” where instead of doing the familiar a cappella vocal bit and thunderous finish, they instead gently glide into “He’s Gone,” which features a nice bit of vocal interaction toward the end, before an instrumental passage that coalesces into “Truckin’.” The ensuing jam veers off in some wonderfully bizarre directions, with the familiar “get back truckin’ on” refrain resurfacing in the midst of the weirdness before the stage is left to the Rhythm Devils, who take things even farther out. Things remain nicely untethered after the other players return, for a “Space” segment that at several moments sounds as though it might want to resolve into “Dark Star,” but never quite does, instead landing us suddenly and squarely back on the solid ground of “I Need A Miracle.” That winds around to a beautifully wrought version of the always-moving “Wharf Rat,” which gives way to the sheer celebratory glee of the Olympics/Young Rascals classic “Good Lovin’” to finish the set. A soulful “Black Muddy River” encore brings the evening to an exquisite close.
|Hell In A Bucket||10:54|
|Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo||11:12|
|Black Throated Wind||8:40|
|Big Railroad Blues||5:01|
|China Cat Sunflower||10:44|
|I Know You Rider||8:51|
|I Need A Miracle||5:27|
|Black Muddy River||8:37|