TD Garden, Boston, MA 11/17/2017 (Live) Digital
TD Garden, Boston, MA 11/17/2017 (Live) Digital

TD Garden, Boston, MA 11/17/2017 (Live) Digital

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The city of Boston has been known by various nicknames over time, not all of them related to beans: “the Cradle of Liberty” or “Birthplace of the American Revolution” come to mind. And then there’s “The Hub.” This was a shortened version of “Hub of the Solar System,” a phrase used to characterize Boston’s central position in the early social, cultural and political life of the United States, first applied by the 19th century writer and poet Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.  While that role may have diminished as the nation expanded westward, Boston has certainly remained “The Hub” in at least one way: as the epicenter of activity for New England’s large and avid contingent of Dead Heads for more than a half-century, beginning with the Grateful Dead’s first shows in the city, at a short-lived venue known as the Psychedelic Supermarket, in December of 1967. Boston has a singular distinction in Dead history as the only city outside of the San Francisco Bay Area in which the band played a show on New Year’s Eve (12/31/69). As the Dead’s popularity grew dramatically from that point, their most frequent destination in the area, playing host to 24 shows between 1973 and 1994, was Boston Garden, a decaying but magnificent old heap of a sports arena, famous as home to the Celtics and Bruins during their greatest years, as well as some of world’s rowdiest fans, who liked to express their displeasure with opposing teams or questionable referee’s calls by throwing light bulbs on the court or ice. In the rock ‘n’ roll era firecrackers became the more common weapon of choice, and at least one recording of a 70s Grateful Dead show at the Garden features a request from band to audience to kindly refrain from blowing things up. 

Fortunately, there were no unauthorized explosive devices evident in the house when Dead & Company returned to Boston in November of 2017 to play the more modern facility that had replaced the original Garden, right next door to where the old place had been, but the two performances featured plenty of fireworks of a purely musical variety. Night one gets off to a fine start with the always-dependable show opener “Jack Straw,” closely followed by “New Speedway Boogie,” the feel of which is right in John Mayer’s blues guitar wheelhouse. John shines on voice as well as strings on “Althea,” after which Bobby takes the lead again on “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” and “Big River.” A characteristically soulful “Sugaree” and a high-spirited “The Music Never Stopped” ring down the curtain on the first set in style. No time is wasted in getting things soaring after intermission, as the crowd’s happy roar at the first chords of “Scarlet Begonias” makes clear. “Scarlet’s” constant companion, “Fire On The Mountain,” an ideal vehicle for Oteil Burbridge on lead vocal, turns things up another notch before the band shifts gears into “He’s Gone,” featuring some playfully jazzy vocal trading on the coda, interrupted by a sharp left turn into the turbo-charged jug-band funk of “Viola Lee Blues.” Out of the ashes of that song’s fiery finish rises a beautifully meditative sequence featuring the Rhythm Devils, then a Space segment that soon morphs into a swinging rendition of the Miles Davis classic “Milestones.” “Wharf Rat,” “The Wheel” and “Sugar Magnolia” combine for a powerful close to the set, with “Ripple” providing a gentle encore.

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TD GARDEN, BOSTON, MA (11/17/17)

  1. Jack Straw
  2. New Speedway Boogie
  3. Althea
  4. Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo
  5. Big River
  6. Sugaree
  7. The Music Never Stopped
  8. Scarlet Begonias
  9. Fire On The Mountain
  10. He's Gone
  11. Viola Lee Blues
  12. Drums
  13. Space
  14. Milestones
  15. Wharf Rat
  16. The Wheel
  17. Sugar Magnolia
  18. Ripple