The Dead / Bob Dylan / Robert Hunter Darien Lakes PAC, Darien Lake NY - August 8, 2003

Kicking off with less than 300 inside the amphitheatre, Dead lyricist Robert Hunter played solo, accompanied only by his guitar. Proving to be as charismatic a performer as he is storyteller, Hunter delighted early concertgoers with a wonderful rendition of the entire "Terrapin Station" suite, including lyrics unused by the Dead. Bob Dylan and band were next; having seen Mr. Zimmerman in various incarnations since 1988, I was unsure how this would stack up against recent shows but this was the best yet. Dylan and company — now featuring Freddie Koela on rhythm guitar, replacing Charlie Sexton — quickly had the crowd up and dancing after an absolutely rambunctious "Maggie's Farm." Dylan stood upright, banging on a piano throughout the show and seemed as into it as I have ever seen. The set was chock full of hits, with the selections including "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Positively 4th Street" and "This Wheel's on Fire." Since it was his last show supporting the Dead, guitarist Bob Weir was invited onstage to perform with the group and sat in on five songs, including the sublime encore of "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35." After a beautiful two-song opening sequence of "The Music Never Stopped" and an audience sing-along to "Casey Jones," Dylan reciprocated and joined the newly reformed Dead onstage for four songs, kicking off with an up-tempo, jammed out "Tangled Up In Blue." Dylan was so fired up he called for his guitar and rocked out on both "Train To Cry" and the Dead's "Alabama Getaway" — the first time he had played guitar all tour. After Dylan's exit, the band played a shortened "Scarlet Begonias" into "Fire On the Mountain" sequence that never reached the same heights as the Dylan foursome. The second set was a little lacklustre, perhaps Dylan shined too bright, but set opener "Mason's Children" and closer "Midnight Hour" were the highlights. Until the encore that is. The band made up for the mediocre second half by blowing the roof off with the trilogy of "Help On the Way," "Slipknot" and "Franklin's Tower," as their closing song. It was perhaps the strongest (and longest) closing song I have ever witnessed the band do and they played it precisely.