Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, 11/5/19
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This much can be said with certainty about Long Island:
It is definitely an island – lying just off the eastern seaboard of the U.S. mainland, at the southern end of New York State; and it is indeed a very long island – stretching around 120 miles from the mouth of New York Harbor to Montauk Point. Beyond that, however, there is some confusion as to just what Long Island is. A fair number of people don’t fully realize, for example, that the two biggest and most populous of New York City’s five boroughs - Queens and Brooklyn – are, in fact, part of Long Island. This is very likely because residents of said boroughs are numbered among the overall population of the city, while people said to hail from “out on the Island” are those who live in the suburbs to the east, comprising Nassau and Suffolk counties. Geographical fine points aside, though, there is no disputing that Long Island – both urban and suburban – loves the Grateful Dead and has been part of the band’s history since they first ventured to the East Coast in the late 1960s. While the Dead’s first public performance in New York had occurred on a different island – Manhattan – at a sparsely attended free performance in Tompkins Square Park on June 1st, 1967, their first paying gig in the area happened out on the Island, in the gymnasium of the State University at Stony Brook. In the ensuing decades, the Dead (and the many offshoots featuring alumni of the band) would return to Long Island dozens of times – and Island dwellers would make up a sizable part of the fan base making the bridge-and-tunnel trek into the city and its environs for Dead-and-related shows, as well as joining the ever-growing fan caravans on tour. The Long Island venue with by far the most extensive Grateful Dead connection is the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, in the town of Uniondale. The Dead performed a total of 42 shows at the Coliseum between 1973 and 1994, tying it with Fillmore East as the band’s second-most-played venue in the New York metro area, surpassed only by Madison Square Garden. So, when Dead & Company decided to confine its 2019 Fall Fun Run to just six shows in three places with iconic status among Dead Heads, it made perfect sense for Nassau to be the middle spot on the mini-tour, and for band and audience alike, it felt like being home again.
Night one at Nassau begins with a familiar and reliable show opener, “Jack Straw,” and proceeds through a well-paced selection of first-set favorites, with highlights including “Deal,” “Peggy-O,” “Looks Like Rain” and “Cumberland Blues” leading up to a rowdy “Casey Jones” to take us to intermission.
Set two starts with the irresistible “Here Comes Sunshine” (first heard on the East Coast at this very venue on March 15, 1973), then really gets down to it with the killer combo of “St. Stephen>The Eleven.” Just when the intensity seems ready to do structural damage to the building, the band mercifully and deftly guides us to a more delicate place, with Oteil Burbridge taking the lead on a characteristically lovely “Comes A Time.” Things get chugging again with “Going Down The Road Feeling Bad,” which swaps out its usual rockin’ finish for a nicely executed vocal fadeout. Then the Rhythm Devils take charge, with a groove that seems to come from somewhere midway between Burundi and Bali before the deep drone of The Beam ushers in a brief Space segment that resolves in the propulsive rhythm of “The Other One” – or the first verse thereof, with Part 2 left dangling, to be concluded… whenever – as the mood shifts again with an especially breathtaking “Stella Blue,” poignantly sung by Bob Weir. Then party time resumes for the remainder of the evening, first with a set-closing “Not Fade Away” – featuring the kind of full-throated audience sing-along (and clap-along) for which New York Dead Heads are so justly famous – followed by a hard-charging “U.S. Blues” encore.