Last night my wife and I had the good fortune to take in Dead & Company at the Garden. After learning more about the Dead through the sheer force of osmosis than most people would get through a lifetime of normal listening, this was the first time that my wife had the chance to see any surviving members of the Grateful Dead play live and we were treated to a great night of music, filled with memorable songs and awesome people.
For those of you who don’t know (if you’re reading this, you’re highly unlikely to fit this description), Dead and Company is Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart plus John Mayer as the Jerry substitute de juor, Oteil Burbridge on bass and Jeff Chimenti on keys. I know, I know, John Mayer. Get over it – the man is an incredible guitarist and he consistently charged the crowd like no other Jerry fill-in I’ve ever seen. Without him, this night would not have been nearly as good. Sorry.
The boys opened the show (at the ungodly hour of 7:15!) with Jack Straw, and if a show starts with Jack Straw, you know you’re on the right track. This led into New Speedway Boogie – not one of my favorites, but in this day and age, the chorus was cathartic. I’m still singing it this morning. After a heartfelt but basic Althea, I got my pre-show #1 wish when the band played Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo. The middle solo section was intense, but after a couple of minutes the band slowed down and spaced out, with Mayer and Bobby standing next to each other and gently playing together, listening intently the whole time. It was a calm, beautiful moment and the crowd was rapt. This led into Big River, just like my favorite Half-Step of all time (from the old Boston Garden on 5/7/77) did. This was a great moment – having listened to that version of Half-Step so many times, I’m used to hearing Big River after it, so it was amazing to hear it that way live. Mind blown.
After Big River came the consensus highlight of the night – Sugaree. Just like with the real Dead, this song became a soloing platform with John Mayer ripping into the song with glee. Things just kept getting better and better the more he soloed, and the crowd got more and more worked up until the tail end came crashing down with a furious charge. The place went bananas, as it should have. This was pure guitar shredding bliss and it led into the set closing Music Never Stopped. Look back at that setlist for a second – could you ask for anything more? The band could have stopped there and we would have left incredibly happy.
Of course, we got a second set too, and it led off with another favorite, Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain. This was a good version, but nothing really special took place. However, a brilliant He’s Gone followed, with peaks and valleys in the right places and long ending jam into, of all things, Viola Lee Blues. The transition between these two songs was great and the band really seized hold of Viola Lee, with Mayer getting to show off his blues chops, much like Jerry used to on those epic, old school versions from the mid sixties.
Things slowed down with Drums and Space. Obviously, this sequence is not everyone’s cup of tea (although one dude in front of us boogied his ass off the whole time). But it is one place where I think the band actually improved things as they went into the 90’s, and by now it’s a brilliant set piece that is so much more than Billy and Mickey banging on random drums. It also works a lot better live than on tape. At one point, Oteil came out and contributed a little bass before going backstage to listen to the rest of the piece. I enjoyed it tremendously.
Space devolved into a Miles Davis modal jam that was very well done and touched more on true jazz (for better or for worse) than the Dead ever did. This led into an impassioned Wharf Rat>The Wheel. I love both of these songs, but with this version of Dead and Company, they tend to drag a little, so while the band’s heart was in the right place, the tempo was in bed. A lot of the audience was sitting by this point, so the boys lit into a fiery (for them) Sugar Magnolia that brought the place to its feet to close the show.
But the band saved the best (as far as my wife is concerned) for the encore – Ripple. This is her favorite Grateful Dead song, and of course, with beginner’s luck, she got it. When those first notes hit, the whole arena erupted into a 20,000 person sing-along that we’ll never forget. It was quite the way to end the show and sent everyone out into the night glowing.
Long story short, Dead and Company knows what they’re doing. They are not a blazing fast band – they are more like the 1976 Grateful Dead on Quaaludes with a flashier guitarist. But they delivered the goods with a great night of awesome tunes and memories we’ll savor forever.
I’ll post the show audio when it appears on the Archive. Till then, happy weekend.
UPDATE: Here’s the audio – good AUD: https://archive.org/details/DeadCo2017-11-17