Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, NY 6/20/17 (Live) Digital
Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, NY 6/20/17 (Live) Digital

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, NY 6/20/17 (Live) Digital

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Saratoga Springs, NY has long been notable for a number of things, among them: the natural mineral spas that gave the town its name and made it a highly desirable resort location; its horseracing track, which dates back to the Civil War and is, some say, the oldest continuously operated sporting venue in the country; and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (or as it’s almost invariably referred to, SPAC), originally opened in the 1960s as a home to classical music and ballet, but which soon expanded its offerings to include just about every musical genre imaginable. It’s been a favorite destination for Dead Heads since the 1980s, when the Grateful Dead visited several times before their enormous upswing in popularity rendered the facility non-viable. But post-GD offshoots of the band have returned to SPAC frequently, to the delight of Northeast fans as well as those more than willing to make the trek from around the country and the world. It’s not exactly the easiest venue to negotiate in terms of traffic and parking, but once inside, concertgoers generally declare it worth the trip, thanks to the excellent sound in the two-level covered shed, and the more than adequate amount of twirling space on the capacious lawn.

Dead & Company have played SPAC on each of the band’s four summer sojourns thus far, making their second appearance there in the waning days of the 2017 tour, and the results demonstrate that the felicitous relationship between band, fans and venue remains strong. The show gets cooking with the popular Bob Weir/John Barlow opener “Hell In A Bucket,” after which John Mayer takes it to a nice bluesy simmer with the Junior Parker classic “Next Time You See Me.” Other first-set features include a nicely laid-back rendering of “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” with swapped vocals by Bob and John and an especially fine piano solo by Jeff Chimenti. After a lovely “Looks Like Rain” and a jaunty “Dire Wolf,” the set concludes with a well-wrought version of the Weir/Barlow pairing “Lost Sailor”>”Saint Of Circumstance.”

Set Two commences with the always crowd-pleasing “China Cat Sunflower,” which seems to be headed toward a segue into its traditional setlist partner, “I Know You Rider”- until John kicks instead into the opening licks to “Deal,” and the crowd roars its astonished approval. To give everyone a bit of time to gather themselves, the band offers an exquisite shift in the action with “China Doll,” featuring Oteil Burbridge’s beautiful vocal. Then it’s time to go big again, with the ever-enthralling “Terrapin Station,” followed by a dancey/trancey “Drums,” and a nicely oblique “Space” that carries strong hints of Miles Davis’s “Milestones” without ever quite going all the way there, then coalesces into a potent one-two punch of “All Along The Watchtower” (with a reggae tinge toward the end) and “Black Peter,” before bringing the set to a close with the same “I Know You Rider” that had become unmoored from its expected place. “Going Down The Road Feeling Bad” makes for a fine capper to the evening in the encore slot.

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