For fans of the Grateful Dead, this year, the band’s 50th, has been a particularly good one. It started in May at the Merriweather Post Pavilion “Dear Jerry” tribute show, peaked at a stadium in Chicago during July’s “Fare Thee Well” concerts and, now, continues on the road with Dead and Company. The new band — a combo featuring Dead members Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart jamming with guitarist John Mayer (and without bassist Phil Lesh) — played the fifth show of its first tour at Verizon Center on Friday. Here are five observations from the nearly three-hourlong concert, which you can stream below (via the Live Music Archive and taper Alex Leary).
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1. Yes, John Mayer can play the guitar.
Let’s get this out of the way: Mayer is a more than adequate fill-in for Jerry Garcia. He sounded more dialed in than Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio did after five shows in the same role this summer. Mayer only started listening to the Dead a few years ago after hearing “Althea” on Pandora, but he seems to have immersed himself in the music. As a singer, Mayer doesn’t sound anything like Garcia, so his lead vocal turns — particularly on “Brown-Eyed Woman,” “Bertha” and “West L.A. Fadeaway” — made the songs sound fresh. As a guitarist, he mimics Garcia enough that it sounds familiar, but still puts his own, decidedly bluesy spin on the classic Dead sound. And while at times it felt like Mayer was simply soloing over his bandmates, there were still plenty of organic, full-band improvisations.
2. The Company band earned their keep.
Hart, Kreutzmann and Weir weren’t afraid to take a step back and let the hired guns earn their paychecks. During the night’s standout jam, a 19-minutelong “Eyes of the World,” the Company part of the band — Mayer, bassist Oteil Burbridge and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti — traded casual, jazzy solos back and forth. The interplay continued for a joyous “Scarlet Begonias,” sung by Mayer and the capacity crowd, that organically segued into a stellar version of “Fire on the Mountain” that featured energetic improvisations between Mayer and Chimenti.
3. Dead and Company think (a little) different.
There were things that separated Dead and Company from other post-Garcia bands. For one, they seemed well-rehearsed and tight (not things you usually associate with the Dead). The evening also showed the wide range of the Dead’s music, hitting such genres as blues, R&B, reggae, funk, jazz and, naturally, psychedelic rock. Weir sang Garcia’s “Fire on the Mountain,” something he’s rarely ever done, and shared the verses of “Touch of Grey,” the Dead’s biggest hit, with Mayer. Dead and Company also added a reggae breakdown to “The Wheel” that was as delightful as it was unexpected. Unfortunately, as with other post-Garcia bands, the overall pace of the music could have been faster, but what do you expect when three of the band’s members are senior citizens?
4. This is not the Grateful Dead, but it’s close.
For Deadheads who have been seeing various incarnations of the band for decades, all the hallmarks of a Dead show were present Friday: the throngs of tie-dye-clad people crowding the streets of Chinatown, the show’s two-set structure, the vast array of merchandise, the freeform “Drums/Space” segment, the smell of marijuana in the air. Like the other offshoot bands that have sprung up since Garcia died in 1995 — The Other Ones, Ratdog, The Rhythm Devils, The Dead, Furthur — Dead and Company felt like just the latest stop on the group’s long (and eternally strange) trip.
5. Deadheads are alive and well.
The sound at Verizon Center isn’t always perfect, but it sounded great on Friday, and the crowd of Deadheads inside was among the most attentive I’ve ever seen at the arena. Nearly every seat was filled, and the majority of fans stood for most of the show. They sang along, loudly, cheered after solos and high-fived strangers walking through the aisles. There were young fans, old friends reuniting and parents sharing the Dead experience with their kids. This wasn’t just a concert, it was a celebration — one that reiterated the fact that, when it comes to the Grateful Dead, the music really never stops.
Dead and Company
Nov. 6, 2015
Big Boss Man >
West L.A. Fadeaway
Lost Sailor >
Saint of Circumstance
Eyes of the World >
Scarlet Begonias >
Fire on the Mountain >
The Wheel >
Looks Like Rain >
In the Midnight Hour
Touch of Grey