Morrison, CO -- July 19, 2007

The trip out to Colorado had its ups and downs, which I guess is to be expected when you keep a schedule like the one we’d been keeping. After barely sleeping a wink my last night in Michigan, we took a night flight home to SF Sunday, which was followed by a 5 hour drive northward to get home around 5:30 AM. Not much time to regroup as we need to get on the road by that same evening to make it in time. I did a pretty good job preparing for the trip before leaving for Michigan, but it’s still been two weeks since I’ve been home so the quick turnaround was a little unnerving. But necessary – we definitely have a schedule to keep on top of.
We make it to Denver in time to do a little drinking the night before the show, only a relative little is a lot at a mile high! Things get a bit ugly, and feel even uglier when I get up in the morning at our prearranged, predawn hour; this is definitely not an auspicious start to the trip. Thankfully I’m able to get back to sleep on the ground there for a little while before the sun comes up. I spend most of the day, even once awake, lying on my sleeping bag on the stairs at the front of the line. There are a lot of stairs up and down this place, and not as much oxygen as I’m used to filling my lungs with. This place is fucking cool though, that’s for sure. A natural amphitheater, formed by the giant monoliths of red sandstone called Ship Rock and Creation Rock on either side, Stage Rock at the bottom, forming an acoustically fine bowl. The stairs go up and up on either side of the rows of bench-style seats; there’s a visitor center all the way at the top that I don’t make it to this time, though I’ve been up there before.
Lots of folks from the area, as well as out-of-towners like us, are in line early today. As we hang out for the day, I get into several conversations that seem to naturally turn to Jerry and the boys. This was pretty much their favorite place to play and they did so more than 25 times; surviving members have continued to put it on their tour schedules. I attended 4 of the 5 “Dead” shows here when I was on my way out to California in the summer or ’04. I did this same trip, Red Rocks to Telluride, with the Grateful Dead the last time they played here in ’87. (They at least gave us a day off for travel though!) So we compare stories and memories, of a Mighty Quinn encore with a red moon rising behind the stage, or the guy that used to climb up onto the rocks and juggle during the show (they used to allow that kind of thing until someone fell to their death), while we wait for Bob. Eventually it’s time to be let in to scramble for a seat in the 2nd row, 1st GA row. The real first row is reserved for handicapped and all I can say is that Colorado has some of the healthiest looking handicapped people I’ve ever seen. We’re fortunate to have people in front of us who are legitimately impaired and have to sit down for most of the show. We have a rope instead of a rail in front of us tonight. We’re about 20 feet back from the stage but virtually on the same level so we’ll see Bob and the band head to toe. Rainy Day Women starts us off, a fitting anthem for a high place such as this, and the crowd is grooving right away. I’m almost as surprised to hear the start of When I Paint My Masterpiece tonight as I was when Bob broke it out in Toledo! It occurs to me later that this song is another Grateful Dead connection for me, as the first time I saw it live was at Dylan and the Dead in Anaheim way back in 87 when I was a youngster, same summer that I saw the Dead play here and at Telluride. For a number of reasons there aren’t many moments from that Anaheim show that remain crystal clear, but that Masterpiece is one bit of lucidity. I also remember standing at the edge of the broken glass strewn parking lot after the show, realizing I’d have to go back into the stadium and find my shoes that I’d left inside – a nice hippie guy walked me back in and they were right there still, near the stage on Phil’s side. But I digress. I’m psyched to hear Masterpiece again, of course; it’s a jaunty, swinging version. I love Bob’s singing on it, he’s really hamming it up. He sings what sounds like, “Where I got me a date with a-somebody here named Denise! And I confirm what thought I heard in Toledo: “Train-wrecks a-running through the back of my memory!” Yeah, train-wreck! That’s a name for a particularly killer strain of weed grown up in Humboldt, the ol’ TW, so that cracks us up. Bob sings the whole song with great gusto, repeating words for added emphasis: “When I paint…a-when I paint my masterpiece!” and tossing out quite a few exclamations of “Well!” and even a “Laaaawdy!” throughout. This slides nicely into Watching the River Flow, the band cranking on it as usual from the first pedal steel lick. And then to the piano, just three guitar songs tonight, Bob must have lots he wants to get done at the keys. The first one doesn’t disappoint: I’m thrilled to hear Working Man’s Blues #2! For myself and also for Andy, whose favorite MT song it is. It sounds a little tentative at first, understandable as it’s the first outing of the tour for this one. But it quickly gains momentum, and the crowd responds nicely. Bob sings it fiercely, more so than I remember from last tour. I’m sailing on BACK, getting ready for the long HAUL. I’ll drag em all down to HELL! And especially, A-They will lay ya LOOOOW! He’s attacking the words. When he sings, “I can see for myself that the sun is saankin’” it’s with a twang on the word, but he doesn’t do what you think he would do with the corresponding rhyming word, he just sings it regular: “thinkin.’” We get some new lyrics that will be further embellished in shows to come: “Old memories of you to me have clung
What has been now can never be
Oh darling I long for the days when you and I were young
Think not bitterly of me.” Next up is Rollin’ and Tumblin’ and it feels like an old friend. We heard this one at every show in the fall and it kind of became our anthem for that tour. Tonight Bob sounds like he’s trying to be scary the way he sings, “I paaaaaaaid and I paaaaaaaaaid, my sufferin heart is alwaaaaaaays on the line!” He also says the bloods are on the vine, so maybe he is trying to be scary. It’s frenetic and furious as ever, wound up like a giant coiled spring then let loose to bounce around the stage. Only Bob can go from that cranked up craziness seamlessly into a gorgeous Every Grain of Sand. He sings it like a sermon, very precise, half spoken more than sung but with a great deal of feeling. Every time I pass that way, he declares, LAWD I always hear my name! Indeed the soaring organ tones and lights bouncing off those crazy temples of stone all around us makes it all feel like the right kind of church. When he sings, “Sometimes I look” – he turns his upper body to us and widens his eyes, as he finishes the line, “…there’s someone there!” It’s funny. Back to tearing up the blues with Cry A While. I really like the way the guitar and organ play off each other and sound together in the intro. The naturally formed acoustics here are wonderful, I can hear everyone just the right amount, and I must say Denny sounds pretty hot. Bob’s wicked on this one with a sinister laugh once or twice: “You can – heheh – cry a while!” Spirit is good as always. I think this song is great night after night, you never know which lines Bob will emphasize in some amusing or surprising way. Tonight he sings with special vigor: Sometimes I wonder WHY ya can’t TREAT me RIGHT!” There’s great interplay in the middle between Denny and Bob; I’m again struck by how well they are playing together. What can you say about Bob singing Friend of the Devil at Red Rocks? It is indisputably one of those moments when everything comes together and you can’t imagine not being there for it. After thinking back on Jerry during the day, secretly tossing around in my mind the possibility of this very song being brought out, I recognize it at the first note. Seems like a lot of people do, and the amphitheater swells with exhilaration and approval as they get into it. Bob does such a good job of it, true to the Dead’s and as I say first-note recognizable, but treated to a vocal that only Bob could manage. He sings it with an attitude, kind of utilizing that rap singing that he’s done of late on Hard Rain and others, but just a little, and still keeping the melody intact. “Friend of the devil is a friend-a-MINE” like he’s a real bad-ass with a so-what-the-fuck-are-you-going-to-do-about-it tone in his voice. The way he sings, “First one says she got my child but it don’t look like me,” like he’s indignant and with a tongue-in-cheek innocence, is priceless. Bob probably could have stopped there and no one would have complained. His mind might still be in a cave up in the hills for a second, because he comes in halfway through the first line of Highway 61. The band’s tearing on ahead of him but he catches up. Things really smoke on this one. Bob sings, “Sam said tell me quick cause, MAN, I got to run!” As I said, there’s no one who wouldn’t have gone home a happy camper after what we’d been served up already, but we get at least one more cherry on top with Shooting Star! Bob’s voice has gotten stronger as the show’s gone on and for this song it is both fierce and gentle. He really gets into his lower register by the last verse: Seen a shooting star tonight slip awaaay…another daaay…hear me saaay… and he holds the note on the last word of each line, kind of breathing it out halfway between a sigh and a growl. It’s very good singing. A great harp solo that Bob doesn’t want to end closes it out. Most Likely features some real raw sounding guitar work from Denny, bending notes in a bluesy way that’s really cool. Bob leans on the organ for a big finish. Nettie Moore is the best I’ve heard it yet, it’s just really become a great live song in large part due to Bob’s vocal delivery. Some faction of the audience is hooting or cheering after almost every line. Which makes Bob sing the next line particularly strong or weird or cool in some way, which makes the audience respond again, which makes Bob sing cool, etc. You get the idea. Musically it’s gotten really good too, with interesting little accents from Donnie and Denny throughout. By the end Bob’s hitting his bass note way low every time he sings, “The world has gone black before my eyes.” The violin swells and fades alongside Bob’s singing in a way that is really beautiful and tasteful. Summer Days is a good rollicking version, Bob gets our souls shaking. He sings, “What looks good in the night in the day is another thing,” which seems appropriate for us dragging our hung over asses out of bed so long ago this morning. I always still expect them to walk off after the final explosive verse of Summer Days, but Bob sticks around to scare the shit out of us with a monumental Masters of War. He sings it from deep in his chest, almost a low growl but not rough at all, it’s all very smooth and complimented by Denny’s slick licks. This is a really strong arrangement and there are eerie sounds from Denny and then some staccato washboard sounding shit as Bob explodes into the last verse, wrapping it up with “…‘til I’m SURE that you’re daay-ed” and then back around to the first verse for a huge finish. I am left pretty much speechless. They’re back, and it’s the best Thunder of the tour for me. Bob goes back to singing some of the verses the old way that I was just saying I missed the old way with no pause in between the lines and all looped together. Now it’s evolved to have more pauses and he kind of sings it one line up and one down. I like the insanity and danger of it when there’s less punctuation! Blowin’ in the Wind closes it all out, I love the new version of this and it’s a gentler way to end the show than Watchtower, setting us down easy.
Review Location: 
Red Rocks Amphitheater
Review Date: 
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Review Author: 
Caroline Schwarz