Grateful Dead shows are unlike any other experience on the concert circuit today, but not for the reasons you'd think.
Regardless of the band's link to the psychedelic '60s and despite the hippy-ish cast of its following, a Dead concert isn't so much a be-in as it is an in-joke. That is, it's so full of subtle cues and shared references that much of the show, though it means a lot to the faithful, is completely lost on anyone else.
Consequently, it's all but impossible to assess a performance like last night's at the Capital Centre fairly. Look at the music objectively, and you miss most of the what the audience is hearing; describe the events with a fan's subjectivity and you essentially surrender judgment. Neither is a completely satisfactory course.
But because this reviewer is not a Deadhead, limited objectivity is the only option available. So let it be recorded that the Grateful Dead in its first night of four at the Capital Centre and at the start of its current tour was rusty but ready, starting off slowly and tentatively but ultimately settling into a groove with the second set.
Although the song list ranged from standbys like "Truckin' " to covers like "Queen Jane (Approximately)," the playing was, for the most part, standard-issue. New keyboardist Vince Welnick added considerable color with his synthesizers, and special guest Bruce Hornsby stirred things up from time to time from the piano, while the rhythm section prodded the beat with practiced lassitude.