Dead & Company

Dead & Company closed out their summer tour with two nights at Citi Field....
Dead & Company : Live
Dead & Company : Live

You already know The Grateful Dead – The Dead, the definition of jam band, the definition of hippie. The band that created a whole genre, a whole lifestyle, and if you weren’t into them at some point in your life, someone in your life was. Admittedly, the farther out one goes from fan, the greater the caricature of them becomes, all stoned dudes in tie-dye playing endless jams. But in reality, they were possibly America’s greatest rock band, with a wide collection of great records, and an even wider collection of great live recordings (practically inventing live concert recording by fans in the process).

Bob Weir & Mickey Hart

And then frontman Jerry Garcia (the first celebrity to have a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream named after him) died in 1995, it all seemed over, as the other members went on to their other many projects. But the desire was still there for the iconic touring act, with various incarnations with its members & others, such as The Dead (QRO photos). In 2015, a series of 50th anniversary final shows were planned in Chicago, dubbed ‘Fare Thee Well’, and recruited none other than John Mayer to join them. They went so well that Mayer and Grateful members Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, and Bob Weir decided to keep this thing going as ‘Dead & Company’, bringing in Oteil Burbridge and Jeff Chimenti. And keep it going they have, even coming back after a worldwide pandemic, closing their summer tour at New York’s Citi Field with two nights, starting on Friday, July 15th.

First things first: yes, there was lot of what you expected going into the stadium show. The crowd was a mix of aged Boomers reliving their hippie years and youngsters trying to have their own hippie years. Outside Citi Field, there were young stoners with their finger in the air trying to get a ticket like we were in the days when you couldn’t have just gotten tickets online (and likely were hoping for something discounted, because ticket prices were not cheap), along with some much more circumspect older folks making requests in whispers (perhaps embarrassed that they hadn’t planned ahead). There were even people selling whippets (balloons filled with nitrous) that isn’t technically illegal, but kind of past it when now weed is legal. Inside, the drinks & food were at ballpark prices, including checking the IDs of everyone.

As a stadium show, the crowd was divided between those with seated tickets and those up front in GA, which was the outfield, with the band playing past the outfield, about where The Mets’ Apple would rise for a home team home run (thankfully for Mets fans, almost all the field, all the area anyone walked over, was covered by a hard plastic floor). There was a nice hippie dance corner in left field of young people, while older folks (like your correspondent) could sit down in their seats. If they had the right ones, as many people would at times be in the wrong section (like your correspondent), not just young stoners but even families with cute kids.

Dead & Company

Of course, this wasn’t The Grateful Dead, this was Dead & Company, and longtime fans have their opinions about the band playing on without Garcia (or still-living bassist Phil Lesh), about the band recruiting John Mayer, and more. Naturally, no one can be Jerry, and if you want to listen to those old days, there are a million great live albums & recordings to choose from. But people still want to hear those songs live (and why wouldn’t they?), by as close as one can get to the original outfit, with great artists of today filling in.

Some of the criticism is directed towards Mayer in particular, a pop star that the old fogies’ kids probably listened to (and has dated the likes of Jennifer Aniston, Jessica Simpson, and Katy Perry). It may come from it sort of being the handsome, everything-comes-easy guitar-playing popular light stoner from high school getting to live out his dream, and not the hardcore burn-out only-good-at-guitar dropout. Think of it as recruiting Dazed and Confused’s Jason London, and not Adam Goldberg or Rory Cochrane (or getting Stranger Things’ Steve Harrington instead of Eddie Munson). But it was clear on-stage that Mayer was still so psyched to be there, so psyched to living out that dream. It’s not like he needed this gig, needed to keep touring in this, but he does.

Otiel Burbridge

Plus, if you want a lower-key youngster (not that Mayer is that young anymore – he dated Jennifer Anniston & Jessica Simpson…) up there, having the time of his life and playing with both heart & skill, one just had to check out Otiel Burbridge on bass.

John Mayer & Bill Kreutzmann

Though this evening, the special appearance was Bill Kreutzmann. He had missed six consecutive shows before this, thanks to back problems and COVID, and easily could have stayed out for the last two, drums taken up by his ‘understudy’, Jay Lane (of Bob Weir & RatDog and Primus), but he came back to close out the tour. Every time the camera would focus on Kreutzmann, putting him up on the jumbo screens either side of the stage, the crowd would give a big special cheer. After the sad death of The Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts, we have to appreciate our classic rock drummers when we can.

The sets – there were two, with an intermission, another throwback element of the big show – naturally leaned towards the more popular, wider-appeal numbers, though because there were two nights, and The Grateful Dead had so many popular pieces, Dead & Company could space them out, change the set list night-to-night. And if you were bummed on Friday that you didn’t get to hear “Truckin’”, so be it. The night started on a blues boogie footing with “Bertha” and “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleoo”, but then shifted into the seventies for the more disco-inspired “Shakedown Street”. Admittedly played slower than on the eponymous album, but this isn’t the era of “livin’ on reds, vitamin c and cocaine,” though it was followed by an also-slower “Sugaree”. The band brought it back to the blues with the likes of “Tennessee Jed” and Henry Thomas’ “Don’t Ease Me In” (Dead & Company also don’t skimp on The Grateful Dead staple of killer blues/traditional covers, done their own way), before the intermission.

Back and revived after the break (the original Dead members are all in their seventies…), the second set leaned towards classic Dead jam. The compass pointed to “Terrapin Station” and “China Cat Sunflower”. “I Know You Rider” was a particular hit, the lights going up on the now-evening crowd for the chorus of, “I wish I was a headlight / On a north bound train.” There was even the super-extended jam session of “Drums” and “Space”, where the jumbo screen got special effects (and folks got a chance to sit). It all ended with a rousing rendition of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away”, perhaps the ethos of Dead & Company.

Jeff Chimenti

It wasn’t just the music that felt like the days gone by. The whole setting was like something from the old days of stadium rock, from the two sets to actually being in a stadium (including the big parking lot where undoubtedly people got high before & after – though it was clear that some had managed to sneak joints into the stadium). The extended nature of the evening paired well with Citi Field, as you didn’t have to just focus on the show from your hard-won place in the crowd, but could not only sit when needed, but get something to eat, hang out with friends on the concourse – but of course a ballpark would be well-suited, designed for extended entertainment with multiple stars.

You may have only gone through a Deadhead phase in high school or college, and hadn’t thought about them in years. But just put on your favorite record of theirs (and you had a favorite, which might even be an actual record – or CD…), and you instantly remember why you had that phase, why you enjoyed listening to The Grateful Dead. Dead & Company do a great job of recapturing that feeling, amped up for the live experience.

Dead & Company

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