A "GRATEFUL" RETURN

By Eric Metcalfe, Contributing Critic

It had been over a decade and a half since the Grateful Dead last played in Louisville, and "Dead Heads" from across the country flocked to Freedom Hall on April 9 to see, perhaps, the greatest road show in rock music history. From the outset it was clear that this would not be the typical concert; halfway up I-65's Fairgrounds exit ramp, tie-dyed fans lined the side of the road in hopes of buying a ticket. Even though the concert didn't sell out as quickly as many had predicted, many fans were turned away at the door.

The show started with the straightforward "Hell in a Bucket" off the Dead's most recent album In the Dark. Spontaneity prevailed throughout the performance as the band went through unscripted song lead-ins (a trademark of the Dead). The first set was highlighted by the country sounding "Sugaree" and two exciting Brent Mydland keyboard solos in "Weeping Willow" and "Foolish Heart."

The intermission was long, but it provided an opportunity to enjoy the other side of the show -- the fans. Nowhere else can you meet a middle-aged couple who first saw the Dead at the Rosemont Horizon in the late '60s sitting next to fans who weren't even born in the '60s.

The second set really displayed the band's diversity. It opened with the hippest version of "Louie, Louie" since the Kingsmen remade it in 1961. A peppy rendition of "Women Are Smarter" kept the crowd on its feet. Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann temporarily extinguished the crowd's excitement with a lackluster drum solo which was followed by a semi-interesting combination light show and guitar / keyboard / bass instrumental. Though Mydland and Bob Weir (guitar and vocals) were in top form, Jerry Garcia was absolutely the crowd favorite. His remarkable vocals had fans gently swaying back and forth to "Stella Blue." "Sugar Magnolia," a Dead concert favorite, had the fans on their feet for the rest of the show. Dylan's "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" was a perfect encore for an excellent performance.

Newer Dead fans may have been disappointed since such radio favorites as "Touch of Grey," "Truckin'" and "Casey Jones" were neglected. Though I don't consider myself a true Dead Head, I still enjoyed every aspect of the show. The sound system was terrific and the volume was low by '80s concert standards (today's rock musicians tend to hide their lack of talent behind massive volume). The band made no threats to "rock the house down" or "blow us away" with sheer volume. Instead they swept us away with remarkable talent on their respective instruments.

Long live the Dead!