Finally finding a moment to reflect on an absolutely incredible weekend...
Started out with five of us driving down in my friend's VW bus (how fitting) which prooved to be a spacious and comfortable ride. The trip couldn't have been smoother in terms of border crossing and traffic and the bus behaving and staying cool. Upon arrival into Chicago mid-day Thursday we had to go to will call (because ticketmaster couldn't manage to get our tickets to us in time....ggrrrrr) and we lucked out big time. We happened to pull up as close as we could to Soldier's field and luckily for us all the fences were not up yet, will call was right there, and we were able to secure our tickets with no wait at all. I suspect those that arrived on the Friday would have had a far more difficult scenario as it seemed like you couldn't even really get access to will call unless you already had a ticket, or at the very least your confirmation in hand (credit card didn't seem to be enough) and from what I understood will call was located on the "inside".
The only real, I wouldn't go so far to say "negative", but "odd" and somewhat disappointing part of the whole weekend is the set-up really precluded any kind of full fledged shakedown from springing up. I honestly thought it was going to be one of the largest shakedowns ever, but great efforts were made to co-opt that space and generate profit. I'm sure security concerns also factored in, particularly in terms of controlling the numbers that didn't have tickets, so I can understand the approach to a degree but it felt a little foreign. Basically you couldn't really get near the stadium at all without a ticket, and most of the food, merch, etc. was on the "inside". A great illustration of this would be when we decided to buy a round of grill cheese for all of our friends before the first show...and much to our surprise that bill came to more than $70!!! We are talking kraft single slices grilled cheese for like $10 a pop. Corporate shakedown? Come on now... The second day we ventured over to the lots that were some distance from the venue and even there it didn't feel like a "usual" shakedown....tailgate party perhaps, but very very little in the way of home-made merch, eats, etc.
Friday night's show was by FAR the most "out there" and exploratory of the three. The crew I was with was just soaring. We were way up in the 400s and literally felt like we were sitting on top of the world up there. I thought I was going to be itching to find a way down onto the floor or pit as that is where I normally like to be, but to my pleasant surprise I absolutely loved floating amongst the cosmos up top. It was amazing to be so close to the big huge orange moon the first night (a beautiful tip of the hat complement to the Santa Clara rainbow), have a great angle on the stage and psychedelic screens and be able to see the magnitude of life surging through that entire stadium. Certainly got my exercise in schlepping up and down those stairs...I'm sure for many it was a significant challenge.
Highlights for 1st set, 1st night for me was when Trey tore into Jack Straw indicating that he would be a force to reckon with from the get go, and then the Crazy Fingers into Music Never Stopped was a GREAT way to close out that set. Soaring higher higher and just when you think you can't go any higher...higher still. Set break involved roaming around in mass confusion...the crowd certainly seemed to get a better handle on navigating the place as the weekend went on. Slowest beer lines EVER! Returned to my seat quite some time before they started playing and a memorable moment was just sitting on top of the world watching the amazing imagery and old videos of the band in their own element...Casal and company's accompiniment ta boot. My favourite parts were the scuba diving footage. I had seen most of that before but it resonated so differently for me in that moment. I can't really capture or articulate fully why here, and not sure I even want to try...perhaps it was just one of those intensely profound moments that is only meant to be fleeting. Somehow intensely personal yet simultaneously collective in terms of consciousness.
Scarlet Fire was dynamite and then it seemed like the Drum>Space that followed right after almost lead into a mini second set break. It wasn't a standard night by any means by my recollection. I have never paid so close attention to drum>space as I have this past weekend. And every night. The imagery combined with the crazy sounds and vibrations were just such a crazy trip. That Mickey is a full on alchemist, and it was such a pleasure to see the Rhythm Devils at work again. What a set-up!! That first night I watched Kreutzman rather intently...perhaps because I was reading his book at the time (pick it up!). He seemed to oscillate back and forth between moments of intense looking sorrow on his face to bursts of energy and knowing bliss. I felt humbled to share those moments. Perhaps it was my state of mind but all in all I felt like all the guys were working through their own psychological baggage that night, finding themselves, finding each other, finding their collective sound...the space that was explored throughout second set was a huge testament to that. I kept thinking to myself I wonder how this is coming across for those at home watching the live stream? It felt like a "you had to be there" kinda show.
The departure out at the end of night one was a complete gong show. There seemed to be zero security anywhere and the throngs of people we were following out ended up having to climb a fence to get out and avoid being crushed. That was a little more excitement than I was needing at that point, but we survived, and managed to get past the nitrous web without getting sucked into that black hole. So grateful that the wigged out kid walking right through the heart of speeding traffic and drag racers didn't get killed right into front of our very eyes. I couldn't even look. Just one foot in front of the other. Had a couple night caps back at the hotel once we finally made it back and then headed off to catch the latter half of moe. who delivered a fantastic psychedelic set that helped me slowly slowly come back down to earth. All gentle like.
Saturday day...little rough. Took some time to turn around. I just needed the antidote (i.e. the music) to start to get myself back into a good place. I had a sense that night 2 was going to be a WAY different experience and that the boys would come out swinging and they sure did. Shakedown! (Although admittedly I generally like to hear that later in the show). I agree Booche Liberty is an underrated song. The Standing on the Moon....brought me to full on tears. Just such as beautiful song. Anyone who has loved and missed and lost and hoped...I get choked just thinking back on it. The Tennessee Jed was dynamite and I was delighted that they chose to repeat Cumberland from Santa Clara. Set break was far less disorienting this night and the Birdsong to welcome us back was just blissful. Foolish Heart into a raw and tribal drum space with a Stella Blue on top was another huge highlight. My pit dwelling friends made the trek all the way up top to be with us for that song...no idea how they found us but that was a beautiful moment of solidarity. Then bring on the fireworks. "Fuck ya America!!" A nice display to be sure, and the background music that for me seemed to be somehwere between Gershwinesque and Disney Carousel made for an almost comical close to another fantastic night. We had the giggles. We kept it "relatively" tame post show after a nice (but a little too far for my collapsing feet) walk along the water.
Sunday I managed to get up and do some yoga. Was determined to feel less leacherous than I did on Saturday throughout the day and set the tone for maximum energy exchange for the final hurrah. Ate really well that day too which was a good move. China>Rider>Estimated Prophet....woooheeee! I heard one reviewer knocking estimated and I couldn't have disagreed more. It was slow, raunchy, groovey, and twisted. It put me right in my place. Even Built to Last...that was one of the best versions I could really recall hearing, and I LOVED the whimsical layers and interplay throughout Mountains of the Moon. Cassidy, Althea, TERRAPIN were the highlights of my night. Bobby delivered a sincere and moving Days Between and the crowd was bumpin' for Not Fade Away. Attics was a beautiful closer. Perfect sentiment. Ended the night by heading back to House of Blues to catch Melvin Seals, Kimock, Jackie Green, and crew. Perfect way to wind things up and then down one more time. Managed to get a somewhat respectable amount of sleep before getting up to head home to my little boy who I was missing very much.
I am so grateful that I get to experience such life altering experiences in life that make you fall in love with so much of humanity. Chicago is a beautiful inspiring city, but there were many moments that served as stark reminders of how privileged I am, how lucky we all are, and what little joy and opportunity some people have in their lives, or how little love and compassion ever get showered their way. Some of those images I will never shake. I felt it all.