Grateful Dead, Trey Anastasio bid final fare thee well at third Chicago show: Concert review

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Grateful Dead Begin Final Shows

The Grateful Dead began their third and final Fare Thee Well show at Chicago's Soldier Field with a bow. Gathering at center stage, the "core four" -- Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, ​Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann -- along with Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio and keyboardists Bruce Hornsby and Jeff Chimenti, stood shoulder-to-shoulder, as if to symbolize a band united.

They faced their admirers who paid big bucks -- or had big connections -- to stand in the pits down front but also made sure to turn around to the "obstructed view" seats for a nod. After all, those fans are no less loyal when it comes to loving -- and living -- the Dead. With a huddle, they were off and running.

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If the first set of the last of five shows proved anything, it's that this band knows how to cater to its audience, delivering old standbys from the bygone era -- "China Cat Sunflower," "I Know You Rider," "Samson and Delilah," "Estimated Prophet" -- with the precision of not just a highly professional outfit of musicians, but one that's finally gelling.

"China Cat" set the tone with for a stellar start with Anastasio taking the lead on vocals that, for a second, sounded eerily similar to the late Jerry Garcia. Anastasio deftly handled the guitar work, which serves as the real hook to the song and a through line to the extended jam that is "I Know You Rider." It was a seamless segue, which could not be said for previous nights (or even the rest of this show necessarily) and, again, a sign that this assembly was meant to be.

The slowed-down strut of "Estimated Prophet," with its wah-wah lead, suited the audience just fine. Looking even fuller than the record attendance from Saturday night, the cement rungs of Soldier Field literally bounced as the masses grooved and smiled along. Down on the floor, VIPs like Bill Murray, Jane's Addiction's Perry Farrell and Jon Popper from Blues Traveler, joined the elated throngs.

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Among the perma-grinners was Anastasio, who kicked up the volume and intensity on his solos, so much so that Weir found himself leaning in to maximize the guitar duel. So far, at all five of the shows, the crowd seems to respond most to Anastasio: the louder the better.

Indeed, that drive looks to be having an effect on the players as Hornsby and Chimenti kicked things up a couple notches and Weir let his vocals -- now warmed up from a week of playing stadiums -- stretch throughout "Throwing Stones," another favorite from the old days, and into the sort of crowd-accompanied chant you'd expect from U2's Bono not the guy wearing Birkenstocks and shorts. (It should be noted that U2 also played Chicago in the last week, at nearby United Center, which seats 50,000 fewer people than Soldier Field; The Dead also broke U2's Soldier Field attendance record from 2009.)

But then again, that's what the Grateful Dead has always been about: organic fandom without the pomp and circumstance.

Check back for an updated report following set 2.

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